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23 Jan, 2020 14:38

Mt Vesuvius victim’s brain ‘turned to glass’ as hundreds more baked to death – studies

Mt Vesuvius victim’s brain ‘turned to glass’ as hundreds more baked to death – studies

The devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD famously entombed nearby towns in ash, and new research has now revealed the extent of the horrifying end suffered by the victims, showing some baked to death as they fled.

The seaside town of Herculaneum is one of the Roman settlements best preserved by the volcanic ash, however there has been much speculation over the years as to what exactly killed its residents as the eruption unfolded. 

A new study by Italian experts, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, examined the remains of one man in Herculaneum and found that he was inflicted with such extreme temperatures that his brain melted, with the organ later cooling into a kind of glass which was found coating the surface of his exploded skull.

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The researchers say the room the body was found in likely reached temperatures of around 520 degree Celsius during the eruption.

Hundreds of others fled to the beach in a vain attempt to escape disaster as Vesuvius blew, and a new study by researchers at Teesside University in the UK says that here the temperatures of the deadly pyroclastic flows were likely too low to have killed them instantly. 

The team examined collagen preservation and heat-induced changes in the bones of hundreds of these victims, with their results indicating they baked to death while sheltering inside stone boathouses called ‘fornici’.

“The thing about the fornici is, there is only one way in or out,” study co-author Tim Thompson told LiveScience. “Once that is covered with debris, what you end up with then is a little bit like an oven. You’ve got people trapped in there, there’s no air getting in and out, it’s dark, it’s full of dust and debris.”

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