‘Violent’ earthquakes accompanied the infamous volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii

Two newly discovered skeletons likely died as the ground shook and Mount Vesuvius spewed tons of volcanic ash and boiling hot gas.
The skull of a victim of the explosion of earthquakes that accompanied the explosion of Mount Vesuvius in 79 ce.
The remains of those killed during the explosion of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE were well preserved in ash, Pompeii Archaeological Park/Italian Minister of Culture

The preserved ancient Roman city of Pompeii is best known for the catastrophic volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed the city in 79 CE. But the discovery of two skeletons at Italy’s Pompeii Archaeological Park adds to growing evidence that earthquakes  accompanied the fateful eruption. The details of the excavation were published by the Pompeii Archaeological Park on May 16 in the E-Journal of Pompeii Excavations.

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As the ground shook, massive plumes of volcanic ash and pumice and boiling hot gasses shot out of the volcano which covered and suffocated its residents. The bodies of those caught in the eruption were well preserved by the ash, offering scientists a unique window into the event. Archaeologists have found the remains of over 1,300 victims in the site southeast of Naples over the last 250 years

According to Pompeii Archaeological Park, the skeletons were discovered during a recent excavation of the Casti Amanti, or the House of the Chaste Lovers. 

“In recent years, we have realized there were violent, powerful seismic events that were happening at the time of the eruption,″ Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park told the Associated Press

Zuchtriegel added that advances in archaeological techniques and methodology, “allow us to understand better the inferno that in two days completely destroyed the city of Pompeii, killing many inhabitants.” These technological advances are making it possible to figure out the dynamic of the deaths right down to the final seconds. 

The two victims were uncovered in the House of the Chaste Lovers. CREDIT: Pompeii Archaeological Park/Italian Minister of Culture.

The remains were found in a utility room where the pair had possibly sought shelter beneath a collapsed wall. The skeletons are believed to belong to two men that were at least 55 years old at the time of the eruption. 

The team also believes that the house was likely undergoing reconstruction when the eruption and earthquake struck due to a stone kitchen counter covered in powdered lime.

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Part of the southern facing wall collapsed and crushed one of the men and the skeleton’s raised arm, “offers a tragic image of his vain attempt to protect himself from the falling masonry.” At the western wall, the entire upper section detached and fell into the room and crushed and buried the other man. 

The team also found some organic matter that they believe is a bundle of fabric, vessels, bowls, jugs, six coins, and a glass paste that possibly used to be the beads of a necklace.

“The discovery of the remains of these two Pompeians in the context of the construction site in the Insula of the Chaste Lovers shows how much there is still to discover about the terrible eruption of AD 79 and confirms the necessity of continuing scientific investigation and excavations. Pompeii is an immense archaeological laboratory that has regained vigor in recent years, astonishing the world with the continuous discoveries brought to light and demonstrating Italian excellence in this sector,” Italy’s Minister of Culture Gennaro Sangiuliano said in a statement.