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IMPACT OF THE AD 79 EXPLOSIVE ERUPTION ON POMPEII, II. CAUSES OF DEATH OF THE INHABITANTS INFERRED BY STRATIGRAPHIC ANALYSIS AND AREAL DISTRIBUTION OF THE HUMAN CASUALTIES (2003)
Detailed descriptions of the effects of explosive eruptions on urban settlements available to volcanologists are relatively rare. Apart from disease and starvation, the largest number of human deaths caused by explosive eruptions in the twentieth century are due to pyroclastic flows. The relationship between the number of victims related to a specific hazard and the presence of urban settlements in the area covered by the eruption has been shown. However, pyroclastic falls are also extremely dangerous under certain conditions. These conclusions are based on archaeological and volcanological studies carried out on the victims of the well-known AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed and buried the Roman city of Pompeii. The stratigraphic level in the pyroclastic deposit and the location of all the casualties found are described and discussed. The total number of victims recovered during the archaeological
excavations amounts to 1150. Of these, 1044 well recognisable bodies plus an additional group of 100 individuals were identified based on the analysis of several groups of scattered bones. Of the former, 394 were found in the lower
pumice lapilli fall deposit and 650 in the upper stratified ash and pumice lapilli pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) deposits. In addition, a tentative evaluation suggests that 464 corpses may still be buried in the unexcavated part of the city. According to the reconstruction presented in this paper, during the first phase of the eruption (August 24, AD 79) a huge quantity of pumice lapilli fell on Pompeii burying the city under 3 m of pyroclastic material. During this eruptive phase, most of the inhabitants managed to leave the city. However, 38% of the known victims were killed during this phase mainly as a consequence of roofs and walls collapsing under the increasing weight of the pumice lapilli deposit. During the second phase of the eruption (August 25, AD 79) 49% of the total victims were on the roadways and 51% inside buildings. All of these inhabitants, regardless of their location, were killed by the unanticipated PDCs overrunning the city. New data concerning the stratigraphic level of the victims in the pyroclastic succession allow us to discriminate between the sequential events responsible for their deaths. In fact, casts of some recently excavated corpses lay well above the lower PDCs deposit, testifying that some of the inhabitants survived the first pyroclastic current. Finally, during the PDCs phase the victims died quite rapidly by ash asphyxiation. From the attitude of some casts, it seems that some people survived the initial impact of the second pyroclastic current and tried to support head and bust during the progressive aggradation of the deposit at the base of the current.
Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 126 (2003) 169^200
Dipartimento di Geo¢sica e Vulcanologia, Universita' Federico II di Napoli, Largo San Marcellino 10, 80138 Napoli, Italy