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The end of Pompeii

23 August 2013 by Gina

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Let’s go back in time to 23rd August AD 79, to a little town on the Bay of Naples called Pompeii. Little did the inhabitants know that their world was going to be torn apart, quite literally, the following day when Mount Vesuvius, the volcano which overlooks the Bay of Naples, erupted.

We are very lucky to have a surviving eye-witness account of the eruption thanks to the letters of a Roman writer called Pliny. Pliny tells us that despite some warning signs, everyone was surprised by the eruption, which began on the morning of 24 August and lasted for over 24 hours.

Those who escaped Pompeii and the other towns round the Bay of Naples had a good chance of surviving, but it seems that many others thought their best chance was to take shelter, only to perish an in avalanche of searing ash, pumice and volcanic gas which surged down from Vesuvius at around midnight. Pompeii was not reoccupied, perhaps through fear of another disaster, and it was not until the 18th century when early archaeologists began to rediscover the homes of 20,000 people, alongside their possessions.

I was studying a box of Roman lamps in our stores, and it’s normal to look at the front and back of any lamp. I am sure you can imagine how excited I was to find the word ‘Pompeii’ written in ink on the back of one of them by someone who owned the lamp before it came to the museum.

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Archaeologists are continuing to study Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius, and some now believe that the town was destroyed in November AD 79 rather than August. If you’d like to learn more about the eruption of Vesuvius, the BBC website has some very interesting information.

We’re planning to refurbish the Ancient World Gallery on the third floor of World Museum and I’m always looking out for interesting objects which haven’t been on display before and which help us understand Roman people and their families. In the meantime, do come and visit us and see our wonderful collection of Roman sculpture!

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