History : Apr-May 2015
56 APRIL/MAY 2015 I III II IV out of her mind by the heat, she took shelter in the atrium of the service quarters shortly before it collapsed, burying her and her hoard. A similar fate awaited a woman assumed to be the wife of a man called Cossius Libanius. Cos- sius managed to get away, but his wife returned with three slaves to salvage her jewels. All four women perished in the street, clutching their belongings. Such decisions may seem foolish to us, especially with hindsight, but they must be understood in the context of a male-dominated Roman society. It was a risk worth taking when a woman’s only freedom came from her personal wealth–the very jewels for which she died. Such patriarchal authority could also have contributed to 20 deaths in the Villa of Dio- medes. The master of the house, perhaps afraid of looters, seems to have ordered his family to stay in the villa. His wife, his small son, two oth- er young people, and a dozen servants climbed into earthenware storage chambers sunk into the villa’s floors. With them were hidden jew- els, provisions, and fabrics. All 20 died, either crushed or asphyxiated. INCINERATED THE VICTIMS as well as producing digital simulations of the eruption, they were able to model the impact of the pyroclastic flow from Mount Vesuvius into the ill-fated city. It has been established that these pyroclastic waves surged through Pompeii for one to two minutes at a time — insufficient for bringing about asphyxia. According to the Italian researchers, the cause of death for most of the Pompeians was the exposure to the tremendous heat that the pyroclastic surge generated—temperatures in excess of 500°F. The DNA analysis of the bones also reveals changes associated with such extremely high temperatures. Most striking of all is the conclusion reached from the positions in which the bodies were found: far from confirming a drawn-out agony, medical studies point to a more merciful instant death. T he first person to produce molds of the bodies of the victims of Vesuvius was the archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli in 1863. Their positions led schol- ars to believe that most had died of asphyxia after a long and agonizing torment. In a recent study, however, Italian researchers questioned this thesis. By analyzing the volcanic material, the structure of the ash, the DNA of the victims, The volcanic ash hardened around the bodies. As the soft tissue decomposed, the shape of the body was preserved as a cavity. Fiorelli’s technique (previously used to create molds of wooden furniture) produced remarkable results. Minute details could now be seen, including clothing and even facial expressions. Pyroclastic surges caused the instant deaths of many Pompeians. In the second phase of the eruption ash fell and buried the bodies. Using just a small opening, the archaeologists filled the cavities with plaster, producing molds of the bodies as they lay in their final moments.