Saturday, September 20, 2008

Herculaneum - buried by 60 feet of boiling mud and ash

After the OneGeology meetings in Rome last week, I took two days off to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum outside Naples. Both cities were destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Pompeii was filled with ash falls and many of the residents died from poisonous gases.

Herculaneum, further west around the volcano, was filled with 60 feet of so of lahar deposits - a molten hot slurry of volcanic materials and mud

that flooded the walled city. We took the Circumvesuviana metro line to Ercolano and walked less than a kilometer down the city streets to the Herculaneum excavation. The top photo shows the old sea front of the city, with arched boat alcoves to the left. Note the vertical wall on the right is the excavated lahar deposit.

The lahar carbonized wood in the houses and buildings of the city but preserved tiles, mosaics, frescos with a freshness not found elsewhere in the old Roman Empire. The lower photo shows frescos and exquisite tile work in a Herculaneum home.

There is virtually no mention of the cause of the burial of either city in the ruins. Above Herculaneum and next door to the Pompeii ruins are modern bustling communities, forming part of the greater sprawling Naples region, all of which circle the base of this still active volcano. It last erupted in 1943 with minor ash and gases.

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