9km east of Naples, Italy, there is an extinct volcano called Vesuvius. But in 79 AD, it once had a strong eruption. We know exactly that, thanks to the letter that Pliny the Younger – a judge in ancient Rome sent to the historian Tacitus at the same time.
Younger described the spreading flames and a rain of ash. It enables scientists to now estimate the scale of the eruption, releasing an amount of heat energy equivalent to 100,000 times the atomic bomb that fell on the Japanese city of Hiroshima at the end of World War II. II.
Vesuvius’ flow of molten rock, foam, and ashes swept into the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum at the time, drawing some residents who could not escape. The fire burned the flesh of the unfortunate people, but it preserved the brain tissue inside their skulls in a strange way, turning them into pieces of pistachio, sleek glass crystals.
That story was retold in a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It contains both tragic deaths, and what remains of what we consider to be eternal.
The erupting volcano engulfed Pompeii and Herculaneum.
When a volcano like Vesuvius erupts, some scientists think the cloud of toxic gas and its dense ash will flood into nearby cities and kill the vast majority of victims. But a 2001 study published in the journal Nature revealed an even more catastrophic scenario.
In particular, the volcanic debris flows into the city in the form of a glowing stream that can kill residents here in less than 1 second. Unlike the thick lava, the dust mites move at high speeds and the heat cages it produces can irrigate more than 300oC, enough to burn almost everything on its way.
And that is how the city of Pompeii was destroyed. Dockpaolo Petrone, an archaeologist at the University of Naples, Italy, said the residents of the city of Herculaneum may have suffered a similar fate.
A 2018 Petrone study unearthed about 100 human skeletons in boat houses along the ancient Herculaneum coast. And he discovered all that was left over from the volcanic disaster, when the people here could not evacuate from the volcanic stream of hot volcanic ash.
Vesuvius’ flow of molten rock, foam and ash swept into the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, drawing some residents who could not escape.
The proof is that skeletons tinted with a red and black color cannot come from coins or other metal artifacts. The results of the spectral analysis showed that there was a high level of iron residue, which could be their blood burned.
In addition, bone fragments also crack, a phenomenon that occurs when they are exposed to heat. Similarly, the skull was cracked, even the victims’ skulls exploded, a catastrophic fact that can only happen when the lava victim’s body is submerged under an extremely hot temperature.
Based on this evidence, the scientists concluded that the volcanic ash stream boiled soft brain tissue, evaporating the body fluids of ill-fated victims to the point where their skulls exploded. literally.
It turned out, not the ashes, but the extreme heat from the lava flow that killed most victims during the eruption nearly 2,000 years ago. In 1960, one of the first bodies was unearthed from the ancient lava layer at Herculaneum.
This person was found on a wooden bed, buried in volcanic ash and archaeologists found evidence of brain tissue still inside the skull. According to Petrone and colleagues, normally such brain tissue will suffer “saponification“by the temperature to convert into glycerol and fatty acids.
But in this victim, the brain tissue was vitrified, meaning that they turned into crystal crystals that resembled amnesty particles during cremation. Co-author Piero Pucci analyzed the glass material inside the skull and found traces of fatty acids, a common ingredient that makes up the brain, along with those found in human hair.
The vitrification of fatty acids and proteins in human hair has also left us beautiful specimens that are proof of their eternal existence.
No such substance was found in ash or slag around the site of the excavated skull, proving that these crystals must be formed from within the skull itself. Based on evidence from burnt wood and burning stone, Petrone and his colleagues estimated that the level of vitrification of these brains could have reached 520 ° C.
“This suggests that an extremely high temperature can burn body fat and evaporate soft tissue“, the authors concluded. It has caused some horrible and haunting deaths. However, the acidification of fatty acids and proteins in human hair has also left us beautiful specimens. is the proof of their eternal existence.