Pompeiians Flash-Heated to Death—"No Time to Suffocate"
Victims' lifelike poses among clues that ash was not the key killer, study says.
(Related: "Huge Vesuvius Eruption Buried Town 2,000 Years Before Pompeii.")
Volcanologist Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo and colleagues began by analyzing layers of buried volcanic ash and rock, then fed the data into a computer simulation of the Mount Vesuvius eruption.
They concluded that the volcano, some six miles (ten kilometers) from Pompeii, produced six different pyroclastic surges—fast-moving, ground-hugging waves of hot, toxic gases and ash (aerial picture of Pompeii ruins).
Most of the hundreds of fatalities occurred during the fourth surge—the first to reach Pompeii—even though that surge was relatively slow and ash-poor.
Ash-deposit analysis and computer simulations of the surges suggest that Pompeii was at the edge of the flows' reach. That would mean the fourth surge "was too weak to wreck buildings,"