Many people think that the only thing deadly about a volcanic eruption is the lava. All you have to do to realize that this is not the case is to look at the residents of Ancient Pompeii. Their city was destroyed in CE 79 when it was buried, not by hot lava, but by hot ash and gasses. Over nine feet of hot ash completely blanketed the city of Pompeii but it was the gasses that came first that did much of the damage and which killed many of the residents.
Before the volcano erupted, Pompeii was a very busy city and one that had much to offer in terms of culture and commerce. The town was located near where the city of Naples is located today. A large number of frescoes have shown archaeologists a lot about what daily life was like in Pompeii. It was a popular destination for many Romans who wanted an escape from the city and many holiday villas were located in the city.
Part of the reason that the area was so popular was the incredible richness of the soil. This made farming easy. Unfortunately, that rich soil had developed from years of repeated volcanic eruptions. Because there had been a number of smaller eruptions in the area for many years, the residents of Pompeii and its sister city, Herculaneum, felt secure that they would not be harmed should the volcano erupt again. They were very wrong.
Unlike previous eruptions, the eruption of CE 79 did not produce gouts of flame and rivers of molten rock and lava. In the earliest stages of the eruption, the cap blew off of the crater and the cities surrounding the volcano were pelted with rocks and other debris. The volcano also produced a lot of ash that choked the residents of Pompeii and its sister city, Herculaneum. The eruption had several stages and it was these later stages that proved to be so deadly.
The ash, rocks, gas and debris that had formed a massive cloud began to roll down the side of the mountain. It swept through Herculaneum first and killed the residents in an instant. A total of four surges of ash, toxic gas and rocks flowed through Herculaneum and Pompeii.
The destruction of Pompeii was terrifying both for the residents and for those that witnessed the destruction. Pliny the Elder (23 AD – August 25, 79), a Roman philosopher and author, and Pliny the Younger (61 AD – ca. 112 AD) a lawyer, both wrote about the destruction of the city in a number of their writings.
Excavation of Herculaneum and Pompeii involved digging down through the meters and meters of thick ash. A number of voids had been found in the ash. These were where the bodies of victims had fallen after they succumbed to the hot ash and toxic gas. As they decomposed, they left behind vacant spaces. These were later filled with plaster and the shapes of these lost victims again came to light. Many of these can be seen in various museums as well as in the city of Pompeii itself, which has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site
If you lived in Tudor England, you worried about the various illnesses that could strike without warning. One of the most terrifying, however, was not the plague but the sweat. The English Sweating Sickness, as it was often known, was a disease that struck England several times in the years between 1485 and 1551. Outbreaks took place in 1485, 1507, 1528 and 1571. One outbreak which took place in 1502 is rumored to have taken the life of King Henry VIII’s older brother Arthur, paving the way for Henry to take the throne. An image of Arthur, Prince of Wales is seen here.
It brought with it a number of symptoms. Individuals who had contracted the sweat would often feel a sensation of impending doom or tragedy. They often felt severe pain in their necks, their backs and their arms. They often felt extremely tired and profound exhaustion was another one of the most common symptoms.
In later stages, victims would break out in the heavy sweating that would give the disease its name. They would also feel exhausted and were often delirious as well. They had an urge to sleep and often never woke up from this sleep.
The sweating sickness is very different than many of the other illnesses that swept through the British population. Unlike the plague, the sweating sickness did not seem to have any rashes or skin problems associated with it. Death often happened much more quickly with the sweating sickness than with any of the other illnesses that were common at the time. As well, where someone may have developed immunity to an illness such as smallpox or the plague by living through an outbreak, this was not the case with the sweating sickness.
Although each outbreak was responsible for the deaths of many people, it appeared that the later outbreaks were particularly severe. One of the worst was the fourth outbreak, which took place in 1528. It affected the court of King Henry VIII and a large number of members of court perished during this outbreak. King Henry, who was always nervous about the chance of contracting an illness, was forced to flee to the country and accounts written at the time showed that he changed his residence each day in order to avoid contracting the disease.
Experts have been able to determine the cause of illnesses such as small pox and the bubonic plague. The cause of the sweat, however, is still unknown. It is true that there were a large number of people living in very crowded conditions and it is also true that good hygiene and cleanliness were rare. One theory is that the disease was spread by ticks and lice. The other is that it tended to spread most often when ticks and lice were at their most active. There have been a number of different theories but the belief that it is either a form of remitting fever because of these facts or that it was spread by a form of hantavirus are two of the most common.
When people think of mummies, images of linen-wrapped forms pulled from Egyptian tombs are what generally come to mind. While it is true that the most famous man-made mummies can be found in Egypt, many people do not know about the natural mummies that have been found throughout Europe. These mummies have been called “bog bodies” due to their location within the many peat bogs scattered across Europe.
Instead of using the dry desert air of Egypt to pull moisture from human remains, many of the mummies found throughout Europe were created naturally. Bodies, often those of individuals who had been a part of human sacrificial practices, were disposed of or buried in peat bogs.
These bogs had some very unique conditions which caused the bodies to become mummified instead of rotting away. Unlike Egyptian mummies, bog bodies are often extremely well preserved and in some cases were even mistaken for the bodies of individuals that were recently deceased.
A body will go through several stages as it decomposes. Microbes and bacteria break down the cells, causing a body to rot. As well, insects such as blowflies and flesh flies will either consume a body directly or lay eggs so that their offspring can do so. If conditions such as temperature, acidity and oxygen levels are not right, decomposition can either slow down significantly or, in the case of the bog bodies, stop altogether.
A peat bog is made up of partially decomposed vegetation. The conditions that make it impossible for vegetation to decompose properly are the same conditions that mummify the bog bodies. In a peat bog, the level of acidity is quite high and the temperature is quite low. Both of these factors mean that bacteria and microbes cannot aid in decomposition. As well, there is very little oxygen. There are very few insects in a peat bog, making it almost impossible for these bodies to completely rot away.
Bog bodies tend to have the skin, hair and clothing intact as none of it is able to rot away. Many of the bog bodies that have been discovered in Europe date from the European Iron age to the Roman period and were deposited in the bogs sometime between 800 BCE and 200CE. Bog bodies have taught us many valuable pieces of information about the lives of individuals who lived during this time and are among some of the most significant archeological finds to date.
In fact, it is not only clothing, skin and hair that can be found on bog bodies. In some cases, the weapons used to kill them were also found on the bodies. In the case of one bog body known as Tollund Man, a length of rope was found still wrapped around its neck. This rope had been used to strangle the man to death. This particular bog body was discovered in a bog located in Denmark on the Jutland Peninsula.
It is known that many of the bog bodies were placed there as a form of sacrifice. Some bog bodies have shown signs of torture and other practices such as augury.