The final days of Herculaneum

How Herculaneum died

Herculaneum suffered serious damage in the earthquake of AD 63, and was still rebuilding when the big one hit.

In AD 79 Vesuvius blew its lid in the most famous eruption in human history, and Herculaneum was buried in a tidal wave of liquid mud that came thundering down the mountain to envelope the city with up to 82 feet of burning mud, sand, and rocks.

This muddy slurry quickly hardened to a rocky mass much more difficult to excavate than the light pumice and ash that covered the nearby city of Pompeii in the same eruption. This led to a relative delay in Herculaneum's rediscovery—they first stumbled across its theater in 1709 while digging a well, and large-scale excavations didn't start until 1927—which allowed Pompeii to gain the international fame and hog the tourism limelight.

For a long time, scholars believed that most of Herculaneum's inhabitants—unlike those in Pompeii—had time to escape, since only six bodies were found in the streets and houses (this compared to the 2,000 found at Pompeii).

Then in 1982, while excavating around the docks at what was the shoreline in ancient times, a worker discovered hundreds upon hundreds of bodies, scorched by volcanic gasses right down to the bone, huddled in the dock houses.

They had died waiting for the boats to carry them to safety.

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