Did the people in Pompeii die instantly?

Pompeii: Protocol of the Inferno

Volcanic explorers discovered the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. reconstructed - and the death of the people in Pompeii and Herculaneum

First signs of the volcanic eruption

2000 people perished when Mount Vesuvius in the summer of 79 AD. exploded. 18,000 inhabitants managed to escape from Pompeii, the Roman town on the Gulf of Naples, whose ancient ruins can still be seen today. Unlike the city of Herculaneum, for example, which was completely wiped out by currents of lava and mud, the ruins of Pompeii were preserved under a meter-high layer of ash.

Even the dead. They were literally baked in, and after the ashes had cooled and the corpses had rotted, there were cavities that were later filled with plaster of paris. If you visit Pompeii today, you will see these plastic plaster casts of the cavities in the form of suffocated people and animals. Many touch their viewers. Because often you come across families who cling to each other in fear of death. You see a dog that has tried desperately to tear itself away from its stake to the last.

Now volcano explorers have the natural disaster of 79 AD. meticulously reconstructed. Read the log of the disaster here:

Pompeii: August 22-23, 79 AD

The earth of Pompeii has been shaking almost every day since the beginning of August. Water pipes break, cracks form on houses. Vesuvius, a large volcano, does not give any indication of the impending volcanic eruption. At that time, however, people could not have interpreted any signs either: They did not even know that they were living on a volcano and they did not know any volcanic eruptions from their own experience.

But the catastrophe is looming beneath the earth's surface: Large amounts of magma rise from the earth's mantle into the earth's crust under Vesuvius and fill the magma chambers. The pressure on the plug of solidified lava that was left up in the chimney from the last eruption grows and grows.

Pompeii: August 24, 79 AD, 4 a.m. - 1 p.m.

In the early hours of the morning the fall of Pompeii begins and the catastrophe takes its course. The magma of Vesuvius has risen so high that it reaches groundwater-filled areas in the volcanic cone.

The contact of the water with the glowing mass triggers a water vapor explosion that bursts the clogged chimney of Vesuvius free. Now there was no longer any pressure on the magma, the gases dissolved in it expand suddenly and tear the molten rock to shreds.

They are thrown out of the chimney as clouds of gas and ash. The sky is darkening. At around 1 p.m., the area east of Vesuvius is covered by a layer of white ash several centimeters thick.

Pompeii: August 24, 79 AD, 2 p.m.

By the afternoon, a column-like gas-ash cloud up to 30 kilometers high had formed over the chimney of Vesuvius, in which violent thunderstorms were discharged. The uppermost part spread out on all sides and thus takes the shape of a pine crown. The pillar is driven by the wind in a south-easterly direction, then its individual components fall to the ground and form a layer of deposits two to three meters high in Pompeii and the neighboring town of Oplontis.

Pliny, the ancient eyewitness, describes not only the shape of the cloud precisely, but also the thunderstorms in it: "A gruesome black cloud, crisscrossed by fiery serpentine lines that split into long sheaves of flame, similar to lightning, only larger." Large lava bombs, lapilli and pumice hail down on the earth.

Pompeii: August 24, 79 AD, 3 p.m. - 4 p.m.

If the ash rain still consisted of white pumice in the morning, gray pumice falls in the afternoon. The color change indicates a change in the chemical makeup of the magma and sputum; the column becomes unstable. Their partial collapse results in the formation of poisonous gas clouds and the first "pyroclastic flows": These are glutase clouds that rush down the slopes of Vesuvius at high speed and then destroy Herculaneum, most of the inhabitants of which have already fled. Pompeii, which is further away from Vesuvius, is not reached by these first glowing clouds, which is why most of its inhabitants survive.

Pompeii: August 24, 79 AD, 5 p.m. - midnight

By late afternoon, the pressure from the chimney subsides a little. Further parts of the gas-ash cloud collapse. New pyroclastic currents race across Herculaneum at temperatures of up to 500 degrees Celsius and at over a hundred kilometers per hour. The area at the port is now being overrun, the refugees die in the arcades. Even those refugees who are already at sea with their boats are overtaken by the death cloud.

Pompeii: August 44, 79 AD, midnight

From early evening until late at night, the first explosive phase gives way to intense ash rain. Even hot mud now flies out of the chimney. The shreds thrown into the air turn into small spheres - pisolites - in flight, which then rain down on Pompeii. Mighty streams of mud flowing out of the crater now also reach the city, which is already under a meter-thick layer of ash.

Many houses have collapsed, others almost completely buried. The air is dry and hot and so filled with fine dust that many people suffocate in agony just taking a breath. The still living face the night full of fear.

Pompeii: August 25, 79 AD, 1-10 a.m.

Shortly after midnight, a new earthquake shook Pompeii. Buildings that have held up until now and have been a last refuge are collapsing. The people inside are struck by the rubble. When the dawn came, the eruption activity subsided. The last survivors crawl out of their hiding places and try to get out of Pompeii.

But again and again pyroclastic currents rush down the slopes of Vesuvius with hurricane-like speed. They finally devastate the region within a radius of 15 kilometers around the volcano. All life goes out. During August 25th, the explosions subsided and in the evening they stopped completely. Ash and pumice stone now cover a large area.

The heavy rains caused by massive amounts of water vapor rising into the atmosphere combine this material into dense streams of mud, which now tumble down through the valleys on the slopes of the volcano, wreaking further havoc. Within a day and night, a blooming landscape turned into a lifeless desert.

The excavations in Pompeii

It was not until 1594 that canal workers accidentally discovered old underground passages with inscriptions and bushes while working in the Sarno Valley. At the time, no one suspected that the old stony remains were the buried Pompeii. It was not until almost 200 years later, in 1748, that the first archaeological excavation took place under King Charles of Bourbon. Karl von Bourbon had also ordered the excavations in Herculaneum beforehand.

The systematic excavation of Pompeii begins in 1860 and continues to this day. Because even today more than a quarter of the ruins have still not been excavated. To this day, the excavations are extremely difficult. The archaeologists not only have to remove an almost seven-meter-thick layer of ash from the ruins, they also have to protect them from wind and weather.

During the excavations, the bright colors on many of the wall paintings, which were able to retain their beauty in the ruins, were unique: Lava had preserved all the color pigments. A few years later, however, the colors faded due to sunlight and weather conditions. That is why students at the Naples Art Academy began to paint the motifs on the walls at the end of the 19th century and thus preserve them for posterity.

Pompeii today

Today these paintings give us an idea of ​​how bright and colorful the old frescoes from Pompeii must have been. The small Italian city of Pompeii now has a population of around 25,000. The newly built city, which lies on the banks of the Gulf of Naples, was created at the time when the first excavations in Pompeii began.