When exactly did Mount Vesuvius erupt?

ROME – It is traditionally thought that the lives of the ancient Pompeians were tragically cut short on August 24, 79 AD, when Mount Vesuvius unleashed a fury, burning Pompeii and other cities along its circumference by volcanic debris.

One research by Italian authors published Thursday gives weight to theories that shift the eruption date by two months, to late October or even early November, it cites – among other pieces of evidence. – explore in one Recent site excavation of a charcoal inscription scrawled on the wall on October 17, 79 AD.

“That inscription is certainly dated after August 24,” a date used by generations of scholars, based on the account of Roman author Pliny the Younger, who witnessed the eruption, Giovanni P. Riccardi, an associate researcher with the Vesuvius Observatory, said. of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, and one of the study’s authors. Later dating, he added, confirmed other evidence that has come through years of August dating challenges.

Since 1748, when the first excavations began, the ancient city of Pompeii has captured everyone’s imagination as a testament to the arbitrariness of nature and the fragility of humanity.

In their introduction to the study, the scientists note that nearly 2000 years after the eruption, Pompeii’s charms have inspired movies and TV series; art, including Andy Warhol’s pop version of “Vesuvius”; and music, such as the 2013 hit “Pompeii” by British rock band Bastille.

Over the years, excavations at the buried city have provided insight into the lives of the ancient Romans, and new technology has provided more detailed clues to their lives. including food habits.

Research at the site, said Sandro de Vita, a co-author working at the Vesuvius Observatory, has also provided additional hints of a later date, from the discovery of the classic autumn fruit shapes – such as walnuts, chestnuts and pomegranates – to wine that has been sealed. in dolia, or terracotta containers, indicates the end of the grape-harvesting season.

On-site excavations also discovered that braziers were in use at the time of the eruption, and that some of the victims were wearing heavy clothing, which can still be seen on the plaster casts. “All of this offers a different interpretation than what Pliny wrote,” he said.

Mr. Riccardi notes that there are no original copies of Pliny’s letter and that it only exists through copies made in the Middle Ages, meaning that slightly different, dated versions, are both same text exists.

The August 24 date comes from a copy of Pliny’s letter in the Florence-based Medicea Laurenziana library, the oldest known copy. “Just because it’s older, it’s strange that it’s considered more reliable. But this is certainly not the way to treat a historical fact,” Riccardi said.

Biagio Giaccio, another co-author at Italy’s National Research Council, says that some historians believe that in copying the text, the monks who wrote the version of Florence wanted to link the eruption to a ceremony. ancient Roman society called mundus, Held on August 24th.

The Romans believed that on that day, a circular crater leading to the underworld was opened, allowing spirits to emerge.

But the inscription fueled the debate when it was found in 2018 on a wall of the so-called Garden House, opened to the public last year.

It was probably scribbled by a worker who was restoring the mansion at the time of the eruption and wrote: “XVI K Nov in[d] ulsit pro masumis esurit[ioni], which the study’s authors translated as: “The sixteenth day before the November kale season, he indulged in food in moderation. The date corresponds to October 17.

“The idea that the disaster happened in the fall is old news, but if they can link it to deeper scientific questions about the eruption that could be interesting,” said Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard. said in an email.

Mario A. Di Vito, another co-author, added that other questions about what Vesuvius could tell us prompted the study, noting that the issue of dating is just one of many things. content discussed in an article published in Earth-Science Reviews.

“We wanted to stock up on all the available knowledge” about Vesuvius “and then raise open issues that need to be addressed by further studies,” he said. For example, he said, more is needed to know about the seismic activity that took place during an earthquake, as well as “secondary phenomena” such as debris flows in nearby towns like Amalfi “that have a huge impact. “

A multidisciplinary team analyzed the eruption “hourly,” he said, tracking impacts both near and far, noting that the study was part of a new study. Project in 2021 led by the National Institute of Geophysics has attracted about four decades of research.

And it doesn’t mean the end.

“The dating question is sensational,” he said. But the article is meant to show “certainly that there are a lot of problems that remain open to be solved.”

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