Herculaneum: the dead do tell talles

1:38 PM

Like Pompeii, Herculaneum was a Roman city wiped out by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. The story of its destruction is different, however. During the initial phase of eruption, winds carried ash and pumice over Pompeii for many hours, burying the town in over two meters of material. Herculaneum, though closer to the volcano, escaped this rain of debris for almost a day, giving the residents plenty of time to assess the danger. Initially, few human remains were found at Herculaneum. So it was assumed that the population had wisely escaped. Then in 1982, a shocking discovery was made. 

Along what was then the waterfront, piles of remains were found on the beach and in large vaulted chambers. Yet as the 300 men, women and children sat in the semi-darkness debating whether to return to their homes or flee down the coast, a scorching cloud of superheated volcanic ash burst into the crowded shelters. They were instantly fried alive. As the volcano spent its fuel, the vast cloud it created began to collapse, causing deadly pyroclastic surges and flows. The first surge raced down at a hundred feet per second. It blasted the people on the beach with a cloud superheated to 750° F. At such temperatures, body tissues practically vaporize and the brain boils. From their postures, we can tell they died instantly. After the surge came the flow, burying them with heavier volcanic material.

Now, unlike the victims of Pompeii, these were lying below the water table. The fine volcanic material was moist, and fully enveloped them. The water was pH balanced, so the bones were well preserved. The result of this terrible event was an archeologist's dream: a significant sample of an ancient population, men, women, and children, who all died of the same causes at the same time. This can yield information you can't get from a cemetery, where people are buried over a long period. The skeletons were still fully articulated and just as they died. Skull depressions show many of them were routine head-scratchers; this means they were lousy, poor things. Their teeth had fewer cavities than ours—sugar was unknown to them. Dental wear shows some used their teeth at work, most likely as fishermen, mending their nets. In general, this population had excellent teeth with few lesions and edge-bite occlusion. Twenty-seven percent had some degree of hypo plastic lines in the dental enamel, suggesting that childhood illnesses were common.

The ancient population was taller than modern Neapolitans, but shorter than modern Americans. Also, their children grew at a slower rate than Americans of the same ages.

Biochemical analysis suggests that their diet was more dependent on sea fish than on red meat. Lead analysis shows slightly higher values for the adult male population than for the females.

Some degree of arthritis was apparent in 42% of the population. Traumata occurred to 22.7% of these people. Signs of healed anemia in any degree are present in 34.1%; etiology could have been nutritional deficiency or heterozygotes thalassemia. Two individuals and their pathologies are presented: one case of congenital bilateral hip dysplasia and the other of healed rickets.


Aprox 45 years old woman was found buried in ash with her gold jewellery: rings and braclets.
This photo was made few hours after discovery. 2000 years old jewellery was in perfect condition. 

This man, found on the ancient shore of Herculaneum, was wearing a belt of silver and bronze plaques and carrying a long sword and stabbing dagger. He is thought to be a soldier. The volcanic surge hurled him down with huge force, breaking his bones. His blackened skeleton shows death was instantaneous. Exposed to the full force and high temperature of the surge, his body was burnt to the bone in seconds. 



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