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Death in Pompeii - Asphyxiation or Thermal Shock?

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Death in Pompeii - Asphyxiation or Thermal Shock?

Postby Michaelyus » Sun Jul 23, 2006 4:40 pm

BBC said in Pompeii the Last Day (on a few years back here in Britain) that people died slowly from asphyxiation since no pyroclastic flow came into the city and that they were found in a life-like position. Pompeii Live (Channel 5, aired in May?) said that the position that they were preserved in was due to thermal shock as their muscles all adducted, caused by pyroclastic flow.
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Postby edonnelly » Sun Jul 23, 2006 5:52 pm

The University of Virginia gives a nice (and referenced) timeline of what hit the city when, and clearly indicates that pyroclastic flow/surge was responsible for the deaths (though this particular site is more interested in the structural damage that occurred).
The lists:
G'Oogle and the Internet Pharrchive - 1100 or so free Latin and Greek books.
DownLOEBables - Free books from the Loeb Classical Library
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Re: Death in Pompeii - Asphyxiation or Thermal Shock?

Postby perispomenon » Sun Jul 23, 2006 9:00 pm

Michaelyus wrote:BBC said in Pompeii the Last Day (on a few years back here in Britain) that people died slowly from asphyxiation since no pyroclastic flow came into the city


I recall seeing a documentary which stated that in the city, people died from asphyxiation, and that people who had been able to flee the city and were close to the sea, were hit by a pyroclastic flow.
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Postby Michaelyus » Sun Jul 30, 2006 3:33 pm

perispomenon wrote:I recall seeing a documentary which stated that in the city, people died from asphyxiation, and that people who had been able to flee the city and were close to the sea, were hit by a pyroclastic flow.


In Herculaneum it is widely acknowledged that the lack of ash in the correct layer of earth indicates pyroclastic surge. That was by the sea in the port, with the dozens in the boat-house with their brains exploded in their skulls and some of their bones blackened with carbonisation.

In Pompeii on the other hand, there were reports of pyroclastic flow hitting one of the cities' walls, searing all that was there. But the people at the Marina in Pompeii are unlikely to have experienced this. I know that a lot did die of gas poisoning related asphyxaition from sulphur fumes within homes, and some died of respiratory collapse (from the oxygen deficiency and being cramped in the homes). Still others died of injuries from collapsing buildings. I would however have thought that the amount of ash ejected that blew over Pompeii must have caused some asphyxiation, although, now that I come to think of it, it may have been that the wind was too strong to allow settling to kill.

There must have been more than one surge and flow, and many would have died over the asphyxiation before truly momentous volcanic events happened.
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Postby cdm2003 » Mon Jul 31, 2006 2:50 pm

Michaelyus wrote:There must have been more than one surge and flow, and many would have died over the asphyxiation before truly momentous volcanic events happened.


That could very well be the case (hopefully)...death from the heat, fire, or pyroclasm would have caused the limbs to adduct (the "pugilist pose" in which some of the bodies remain) or at least exposure to the heat before rigor set in. Nothing sounds as awful as death-by-volcano. :shock:
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Postby IreneY » Mon Jul 31, 2006 5:37 pm

Asphyxiation does
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Postby ThomasGR » Mon Jul 31, 2006 7:42 pm

Recently I've watched a video about Poempeji. On Herculaneum, death was caused primarily by pyroclastic waves, but not in Pompeji. Here we have ashes and pebbles that caused asphyxiation. Otherwise, pyroclastic waves would cause flesh to be burned down to the bones and (perhaps also) evaporate; that happened in Herculaneum.
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Postby annis » Mon Jul 31, 2006 8:39 pm

ThomasGR wrote:Here we have ashes and pebbles that caused asphyxiation. Otherwise, pyroclastic waves would cause flesh to be burned down to the bones and (perhaps also) evaporate, whiched happened in Herculaneum.


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τίς πατέρ' αἰνήσει εἰ μὴ κακοδαίμονες υἱοί;
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Postby klewlis » Sat Aug 05, 2006 4:48 pm

I'm currently reading "Pompeii and Herculaneum" by Andre Bellechasse--all the more fascinating since I was just in Pompeii a few months ago!

He goes through the stages of the volcano's eruption, based on the layers of materials left in the city, which can be seen in certain places to this day. It is my understanding from this book that most of the inhabitants died due to asphyxiation, and were buried afterwards (he says it was wet ash that caused the casts of the people to be preserved). Many of the people were found to be covering their mouths with their clothing, which would also indicate that breathing was the problem. However, there were also lots of things falling from the sky, and there is evidence that people and animals attempted to reach higher places (upper storeys, etc) in order not to be buried...

Excellent book, btw. I do recommend it.
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Postby Michaelyus » Sun Aug 06, 2006 1:18 pm

klewlis wrote:It is my understanding from this book that most of the inhabitants died due to asphyxiation, and were buried afterwards (he says it was wet ash that caused the casts of the people to be preserved). Many of the people were found to be covering their mouths with their clothing, which would also indicate that breathing was the problem. However, there were also lots of things falling from the sky, and there is evidence that people and animals attempted to reach higher places (upper storeys, etc) in order not to be buried...


Here it implies that asphyxiation was the main cause, accompanied by respiratory failure. But there is also evidence that pyroclastic flows and even surges reached Pompeii (would that be the "wet ash" - pyroclastic matter would probably never occur to me as wet; to me this would be the ejected ash mixed with water (from the clouds) and possibly with some dissolved sulphuric compunds?), causing the thermally induced muscular adduction and the characteristic pose.
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Postby cdm2003 » Mon Aug 07, 2006 2:18 am

klewlis wrote:...there were also lots of things falling from the sky, and there is evidence that people and animals attempted to reach higher places...


And hence the birth of the Roman legend of "Pullus-Parvus." :shock:

Sorry...couldn't resist the terrible Classical joke possibilities. :D
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Postby klewlis » Mon Aug 07, 2006 6:23 am

Michaelyus wrote:
klewlis wrote:It is my understanding from this book that most of the inhabitants died due to asphyxiation, and were buried afterwards (he says it was wet ash that caused the casts of the people to be preserved). Many of the people were found to be covering their mouths with their clothing, which would also indicate that breathing was the problem. However, there were also lots of things falling from the sky, and there is evidence that people and animals attempted to reach higher places (upper storeys, etc) in order not to be buried...


Here it implies that asphyxiation was the main cause, accompanied by respiratory failure. But there is also evidence that pyroclastic flows and even surges reached Pompeii (would that be the "wet ash" - pyroclastic matter would probably never occur to me as wet; to me this would be the ejected ash mixed with water (from the clouds) and possibly with some dissolved sulphuric compunds?)


That was the implication in the book... rain mixed with ash and other debris from the volcano (it goes into detail about the type of volcano, the various components of the ejection, etc, but I have to admit I don't understand it all).

, causing the thermally induced muscular adduction and the characteristic pose.


Is there a characteristic pose? The casts that I saw were in varied poses... some crouched as though against a wall, some laying on their stomachs, some laying on their backs...? There are a few samples in my Pompeii pictures here.

(Unfortunately, my camera battery died half way through the day... JC had a camera also, but his pictures were lost by a bad internet cafe guy in Venice! So we are missing pictures of the theatre, stadium, etc.).
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Postby Michaelyus » Wed Aug 09, 2006 12:19 pm

Well, the pugilist pose is caused by extreme thermal shock to the muscles. They adduct very quickly and the limbs all draw in (if they were killed by pyroclastic surges). The fingers tighten (hence the pugilist reference).

However, certain people are on their stomach etc. This could be down to the asphyxiation killing them before the thermal shock killed them.
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Re: Death in Pompeii - Asphyxiation or Thermal Shock?

Postby Sheepdisease » Mon May 10, 2010 8:06 pm

Could someone please give me a definitive answer (including references to credible sources - excluding google and Wikipedia), whether the residents of Pompeii were unaware of their impending doom?

Many sources claim they were, it is something which features in a lot of tourist guides like this one: http://www.partner.viator.com/en/3888/t ... d508-2958P, which says 'On a fateful summer's day in 79 A.D., Mt. Vesuvius erupted, spewing volcanic ash over the prosperous city of Pompeii. Unaware of the imminent danger, most people continued on with their daily lives and as a result the entire town and around 20,000 of its inhabitants were buried under tons of ash and pumice.'.
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