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Remains of two Vesuvius volcano victims found: What was the eruption of 79 AD?

The unearthed bodies, which appear as if frozen in time, are believed to be the remains of a man of high status aged between 30 and 40, and of an enslaved person aged 18 to 23.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 26, 2020 2:32:30 pm
Bodies found Vesuvius, Mount Vesuvius, Vesuvius volcano, volcano Pompeii destruction, types of volcano, express explained, rich man and slave Pompeii, indian expressThe casts of what are believed to have been a rich man and his slave, fleeing the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, are seen in what was an elegant villa on the outskirts of Pompeii. (Photo: AP)

The Italian Culture Ministry announced on November 21 the discovery of well-preserved remains of two men, who perished during the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The eruption was a catastrophic event that destroyed the ancient Roman city of Pompeii and killed around 16,000 people.

The unearthed bodies, which appear as if frozen in time, are believed to be the remains of a man of high status aged between 30 and 40, and of an enslaved person aged 18 to 23, a Reuters report said.

Archaeologists have preserved their teeth and bones, and the void left by their decomposed soft tissues has been filled by plaster using a well-perfected casting method by which it is possible to see the outline of their bodies. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Mount Vesuvius

Located in southern Italy near the coastal city of Naples, the 4,203-ft (1,281 metres) tall Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe.

Vesuvius has been classified as a complex volcano (also called a compound volcano), one that consists of a complex of two or more vents.

According to, Vesuvius typically has explosive eruptions and pyroclastic flows –– defined as a high-density mix of hot lava blocks, pumice, ash and volcanic gas.

It has erupted more than 50 times, and is considered among the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to its proximity to Naples and surrounding towns. Its last serious eruption, lasting two weeks, was in 1944 during World War II, which left 26 Italian civilians dead and around 12,000 displaced.

The eruption of 79 AD

In 79 AD, the Roman Empire-era sister cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed and buried during a catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius.

Pompeii, 8 km away from Vesuvius, served as a resort town on the Bay of Naples for Rome’s elite citizens, consisting of villas, cafes, marketplaces and a 20,000-seat arena.

In 63 AD, a major earthquake rattled the city, serving as a warning for the eruption to come. However, few residents bothered to abandon the region, known for its volatility.

Then in August of 79 AD, Vesuvius erupted, ejecting ashes, pumice and extremely hot gases to a great height, allowing the explosion to be seen from hundreds of kilometres away. A contemporary account described it as a “cloud of unusual size and appearance.”

The debris then began drifting to Pompeii and its feeling residents. Conditions later worsened as a pyroclastic surge poured down the side of the mountain, and began to flow over everything that came in its path. The city was buried under thousands of tonnes of volcanic ash.

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Archaeological excavations

Pompeii was largely forgotten for the next 16 centuries, until explorations began around 1750 on the orders of King Charles III of Bourbon.

Since then, large parts of the city have been unearthed, and several artefacts and other items of interest have been discovered: all well-preserved thanks to the layers of ashes that covered these ruins.

Over a hundred effigies, like the ones whose discovery was announced on Saturday, have been found and preserved, which offer details about the living conditions in the Roman city 2 millennia ago.

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