Text #9191"Long Before Burying Pompeii, Vesuvius Vented Its Wrath ". New York Times .
Pompeii spreads out as a set for the grand finale staged by Mount Vesuvius, but it appears to have been more of an encore.
Geologists and archaeologists are reporting new research today showing, they said, that the volcano erupted with even greater power and range nearly 4,000 years ago, in the Bronze Age. The findings, they add, are not reassuring to Naples and its metropolitan population of three million.
Digging into sediments west, north and east of Vesuvius, Italian and American scientists uncovered beds of volcanic ash and pumice that buried land and villages around 1780 B.C. The devastation extended 15 miles from the volcano, the first evidence that a Vesuvius eruption ever spread so far and into the Neopolitan region and beyond.
Pompeii, the luxurious resort of wealthy Romans and now the most famous still-life of volcanic doom, is just five miles southeast of Vesuvius. It was buried almost instantly in the eruption of A.D. 79.
Although the loss of life and property was less in the Bronze Age event, owing to the sparse settlement, archaeologists investigating the sediments, more than three feet deep, found poignant evidence of panic — tracks of thousands of footprints made in the ash, all leading away from the volcano. People in flight left their huts, food on the tables and livestock. Burned bones and skulls reveal that many did not make it to safety.
The research, conducted over the last two years, is described in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors are Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo and Lucia Pappalardo of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Naples, Pierpaolo Petrone of the Museum of Anthropology in Naples and Michael F. Sheridan, a volcanologist and risk analysis expert at the University at Buffalo.
“What is new,” Dr. Sheridan said in a telephone interview, “is that our research shows the effect this eruption had on the Bronze Age population that lived in the area, the size of the effect and the fact that this event was directed at what is now Naples.”
The findings also fill in more of the 25,000-year history of Vesuvius. Sedimentary studies have found that major eruptions have occurred at intervals of 2,000 to 3,000 years. The last event, in 1944 as Allied forces liberated Italy from the Fascists, was not major.
So it has been roughly 2,000 years since Pompeii, Dr. Sheridan pointed out.
“With each year, the statistical probability increases that there will be another violent eruption,” he cautioned. “This research shows that Naples can no longer assume it is relatively safe from Vesuvius.”