The Plinian eruption of Mount Vesuvius, around 4,000 years ago, buried and preserved an entire Bronze Age village. Researchers are trying to pinpoint a more precise date of the eruption.
The Plinian eruption of Mount Vesuvius around 4,000 years ago buried and preserved an early Bronze Age village named Afragola. The eruption, 2000 years before the one that buried Pompeii, was so dramatic it changed the climate for many years afterwards.
The village of Afragola was situated near present-day Naples, about 10 miles from Mount Vesuvius. Archaeologists excavated an area of over 5,000 square metres of village, making it one of the most extensively investigated sites of the Early Bronze Age in Italy.
Researchers wanted to see if they could pinpoint the time of year when the eruption occurred. The level of preservation and the diversity of preserved plants at the site were the hope that at least the season could be identified.
“Extraordinary” eruption changed climate
In a paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, the researchers explain the eruption happened in different phases. Initially, there was a dramatic explosion that sent debris traveling primarily to the northeast.
“The last phase brought mostly ash and water – called the phreatomagmatic phase — mainly dispersed to the west and northwest up to a distance of about 25 km’s from the volcano,” Tiziana Matarazzo, from the UConn Department of Anthropology explains.
It buried the village in a thick layer of volcanic material. As a result, the molecules of the vegetal macro-remains were replaced and perfect casts produced in a material called cinerite. This is resistant to degradation, even after thousands of years.
“Leaves that were in the woods nearby were also covered by mud and ash which was not super-hot; so we have beautiful imprints of the leaves in the cinerite,” said Matarazzo. The imprints of leaves found at the base of the trees, along with ripe fruits, are indicative of the seasonality.
“This eruption was so extraordinary that it changed the climate for many years afterwards. The column of the Plinian eruption rose to basically the flight altitude of airplanes. It was unbelievable. The cover of ash was so deep that it left the site untouched for 4,000 years. Now we get to learn about the people who lived there and tell their stories,” said Matarazzo.
The evidence gathered so far points toward the eruption happening in autumn, when villagers gathered foods to see them through the winter.