As I’ve said on my About page, I’m a history junkie and science geek. I love the intersection of these two disciplines: DNA markers that trace humankind’s exodus from Africa, isotope analysis of teeth and bones that tell us where and when ancient people grew up and what they ate, UV light to fluoresce bones and fingerprints on artifacts, and much more. Over half of my “history in the news” stories this round up have a major science component–from what really killed people in Pompeii to discovering a “lost” Roman city from aerial photographs to where the Dead Sea Scrolls were manufactured. You can click on the links to see the original stories. We’ll start with Pompeii.
Most historians and archaeologists believed the people at Pompeii, who where not killed by spewing rocks, died of suffocation from ash and poisonous gas. Pliny the Younger described the process in letters written 25 years later. Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo, a vulcanologist from the Naples Observatory claims “Everything that has been written in the guides, and the texts, and that has been re-told to tourists [about how people died at Pompeii] is false.” He spent years analyzing skeletal casts, testing bone tissue and simulating Vesuvius eruptions. He published his findings in the science journal PLoS One. Mastrolorenzo concludes that the people of Pompeii were instantly killed by a pyroclastic cloud, a surge of super-heated air. He also proved these high temperatures can be carried up to 12 miles away from the volcano. The Italian Civil Protection requires only those people living five miles from Vesuvius to evacuate, which puts 3 million people in and around Naples in harm’s way, in case of another eruption.