Mount Vesuvius May Have Suffocated Its Victims Rather Than Vaporize Them, Study Suggests

Some 2,000 years ago, Mount Vesuvius made history by making a massive eruption that killed almost all of the fleeing residents of Herculaneum, which is a seaside outpost just near Pompeii. According to a new research, however, these people didn’t instantly die because of the blast. Rather, they were most likely slowly baked and suffocated to death, as brutal as that may sound.

Suffocated, Not Vaporized

According to previous evidence and research, the volcano’s most historic eruption, which happened back in A.D. 79, the people who were trying to escape were instantly killed by a wave of volcanic gases, heat and ash that swept through their ancient town, vaporizing everyone. However, a new analysis of some skeletons that were found in one of the town’s boathouses suggests a death that is far more grisly and slower.

The findings of the team were made possible by examining the bone structure and collagen levels (which is the most abundant protein in our bodies and is used for various purposes such as helping strengthen our bones and hydrating our skin) of ribs that are taken from around 152 individuals who made the boathouses their eternal resting place. Per the team, they were able to find more collagen than expected, especially since previous research said these people died by being vaporized due to extreme heat. Furthermore, the bone structure of their ribs also suggest that these people were able to escape the higher temperatures from outside, which likely reached as hot as 480°C.

Per the researchers, the stones in the boathouses may have provided some form of protection based on the mass of bodies found inside. Unfortunately, these findings suggest that while they were able to escape the extreme heat outside, they most likely suffocated on a surge of volcanic gas that found its way to their sanctuary, killing them. Per study author Tim Thompson, a biological anthropologist at Teesside University in Middlesbrough, England, most of the bodies found in the boathouses were that of women and children. Outside near the actual port, bodies of men were found, suggesting that they may have tried to escape by boat.

vesuvius-4783850_1920 Mount Vesuvius, located in Naples, Italy. Photo by Pixabay (CC0)