Study Suggests Mount Vesuvius Eruption Vaporized Bodily Fluids and Caused Heads to Explode

Tuesday, 09 October 2018 - 12:30PM
Weird Science
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Tuesday, 09 October 2018 - 12:30PM
Study Suggests Mount Vesuvius Eruption Vaporized Bodily Fluids and Caused Heads to Explode
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© 2018 Petrone et al. CC 4.0
And all this time we thought the people of Pompeii and the surrounding areas got off relatively easy in 79 AD - sure, being covered in hot ash and having your final pose frozen in time for centuries isn't exactly a bacchanal, but according to a new study, the fate of those in the path of Mount Vesuvius may have been a lot worse.

Archaeologists at the Federico II University Hospital in Italy conducted a study on bones found in Herculaneum, an ancient city located at the western base of the volcano that bore the brunt of the two-day long eruption. The researchers found red and black mineral residue inside of skulls and on some of the bones. Through inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and Raman microspectroscopy, they were able to determine that the residue contained iron and iron oxides, which they believe was the result of super hot temperatures causing people's blood to boil and vaporize. They also examined the insides of damaged skulls and found enough evidence to hypothesize that the immense heat (between 392 and 932 degrees Fahrenheit) also caused cracking, bone charring, and internal explosions. 



Image credit: Petrone et al./PLOS One CC BY 4.0

"Such effects appear to be the combined result of direct exposure to heat and an increase in intracranial steam pressure induced by brain ebullition, with skull explosion as the possible outcome," they wrote in the study, recently published on PLOS One. As the archaeologists note in their article, previous studies have suggested that those who were killed by Mount Vesuvius probably died instantly, but the hypothesis that at least some of them had their blood boiled and their skulls internally exploded still sounds like a pretty terrible way to go out. According to Science Alert, Vesuvius is still an active volcano and there are now close to three million people living nearby. We would never tell people to leave their homes forever, but maybe this study will inspire them to at least consider Naples...maybe even the island of Capri?

Cover photo: © 2018 Petrone et al. CC 4.0
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