With outstretched arms, a terrified mother and child embrace before their bodies are instantly entombed under searing volcanic ash. Now, nearly 1,900 years later, they are unearthed; their fossilized bodies are being restored. The mother and child, along with nearly 100 other victims whose bodies were frozen in time, are telling the story of the 79 AD Mount Vesuvius eruption – one of the most catastrophic and infamous volcanic eruptions in European history.
Writes HNGN.com: “Plaster experts have been able to take a cast of the scene, a scared boy on his mother’s lap. At first glance, it appears the 4-year-old child ran to his mother for comfort and safety as Mount Vesuvius erupted. Thousands were killed as the Roman town was covered in volcanic ash.”
Vesuvius engulfed the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum with enormous pyroclastic surges and ashfall deposits. Volcanic gases, rock and ash spewed to a height of over 20 miles. Pulverized pumice rocketed out of the gaping mouth of Vesuvius at an astounding rate of 1.5 million tons per second – a factor of a hundred thousand times the energy of the Hiroshima bombing.
Restorers have been carefully working on 86 unearthed Roman bodies, carefully preserving the figures in plaster casts. At the laboratory of the Pompeii Archaeological Site, the entombed bodies are being prepared for an upcoming exhibit, entitled “Pompeii and Europe.”
Experts have estimated the boy was four, based on his size. The family was seeking shelter in a location called the House of the Golden Bracelet, a home on the Vicolo del Farmacista – so named from the discovery of another resident there wearing a thick bracelet of gold.
The haunting image is just one of dozens of bodies, contorted and frozen in expressions of fear. Many of the bodies show arms stretched out in horror as their lives were snuffed out. One man was killed while crouching, his hands folded to his face, undoubtedly praying to his pantheon of Roman gods and goddesses. Some bodies were found with their mouths agape – perhaps screaming.
Over a thousand bodies have been found over the years; it’s estimated that somewhere between 10,000 and 25,000 residents of the twin city-towns were killed.
A boy was found alongside the mother and child, and an adult male was in the room as well. The presumed family, perfectly preserved, died within seconds.
Adds the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius wikipage: “In 2010, studies indicated that during the fourth pyroclastic surge – the first surge to reach Pompeii – temperatures reached 300 °C (572 °F). Volcanologist Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo, who led the study noted that ‘(It was) enough to kill hundreds of people in a fraction of a second.’ In reference as to why the bodies were frozen in suspended action, ‘The contorted postures are not the effects of a long agony, but of the cadaveric spasm, a consequence of heat shock on corpses.’”
Stefania Giudice, one of the archaeologists working to restore the bodies, said: “It can be very moving handling these remains when we apply the plaster. Even though it happened 2,000 years ago, it could be a boy, a mother or a family. It’s human archaeology, not just archaeology.”
The Daily Mail, which carried multiple photos of the bodies, wrote: “People were buried in the ash, which hardened to form a porous shell, meaning that the soft tissues of the bodies decayed, leaving the skeleton in a void… Archaeologists were amazed to find human remains inside the voids. Plaster of Paris was poured inside to create casts of humans, and when this material is broken it reveals bones inside.”
Dr. Giudice said: “The bones are very brittle so when we pour in the plaster we have to be very careful, otherwise we might damage the remains and they would be lost to us forever.”
Pompeii’s terrified mother and child are a stark reminder of our earth’s cataclysmic power.