Modern visitors to the ruins of the two main cities destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD are usually enthralled when they see the site of plaster casts of those who were killed, frozen in the midst of action. The catastrophic eruption wiped out several nearby towns and killed thousands of people. But some survived, and Miami University archaeologist and historian Steven Tuck thinks he knows where they ended up. He created a database of Roman names and matched them with records from other cities in Italy, describing his findings in a forthcoming paper in the journal Analecta Romana.
"Tuck's combination of history and archaeology has produced strong evidence that it is possible to trace Vesuvian refugees," bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove wrote at Forbes about this new work. "He finds that many refugees settled on the north side of the Bay of Naples, and that families tended to move together and then to marry within their refugee community."
The vast majority of people in Pompeii and Herculaneum—the cities hardest hit—perished from asphyxiation, choking on the thick clouds of noxious gas and ash. But at least some of the Vesuvian victims probably died instantaneously from the intense heat of fast-moving lava flows, with temperatures high enough to boil brains and explode skulls. Less is known about the fortunate survivors.