Friday, January 15, 2010


From the time I was a little girl, I've heard about Pompeii. I'm Italian and this took place in Italy, but my father's fascination with this city and its catastrophe went deeper than that. He owned a slew of books about it and often talked about it and the 'encased' bodies that lie there, right where they died.

Today I was talking to a young woman who had recently taken a trip there and she told me about one particular 'mummy,' that of a young pregnant girl:

I thought about this through the day. In fact it haunted me. The person who told me about her said experts did know a little about her history. I wanted to know more.

I found this, from

'At around 1:00 p.m. on Aug. 24, 79 A.D., Pompeii residents saw a pine tree-shaped column of smoke bursting from Vesuvius. Reaching nine miles into the sky, the column began spewing a thick pumice rain. Many residents rushed in the streets, trying to leave the city.

"At that moment, Polybius' house was inhabited by 12 people, including a young woman in advanced pregnancy. They decided to remain in the house, most likely because it was safer for the pregnant woman. Given the circumstances, it was the right strategy," Scarpati said.

Once considered relatively innocuous by volcanologists, this first phase of the eruption in fact produced 38 percent of the deaths.

"Contrary to what was previously believed, a large number of deaths occurred in the first hours of the eruption. Many skeletons of those who tried to escape show fractured skulls, meaning that they died from collapsing roofs or large fragments falling from the eruptive column," Scarpati said.

By examining the density of volcanic deposits in relation to an accumulation rate of six inches per hour, the researchers concluded that it took up to six hours for the roofs of Polybius' house to collapse.

At around 7:00 p.m., by which time the front part the house had collapsed, the inhabitants took shelter in the rear rooms, whose steeper roofs had not been damaged by the falling material.

"There were three adult males, three adult females of various ages, four boys, one girl, one child and one fetus in the last month of intrauterine life. The fetus was associated with the skeleton of a young (16 to 18-year-old) female," Scarpati said.

Analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down through the maternal line, revealed that six individuals belonged to the same family.

"The age of five out of six individuals suggests that they were siblings. Another subject, about 25 to 30 years old, might have been a cousin. The three adult women were unrelated," molecular biologist Marilena Cipollaro, of the Second University of Naples, told Discovery News.

Cipollaro's analysis also revealed that two related subjects suffered from spina bifida, a birth defect resulting in an incomplete closure of the spinal column.

Most likely, the group of people in Polybius' house included the parents, their children, a cousin and his young, pregnant wife, plus a pair of servants.

They all witnessed the terrible evolution of the eruption. In the early hours of Aug. 25, a nearly 10-foot-thick carpet of pumice had already covered the streets and bottoms of buildings.

Polybius' family perished in their home's back rooms.'

So we know she was young, perhaps 17 years of age and she was in her eighth month of pregnancy. See how she lies there, as if trying to cover her mouth? Was she lying on her belly to try to protect her unborn child from falling debris?

She was creating life only to have it preserved forever in its death.

Why didn't they try to escape the ashes? It seems they were rozen in time, right where they stood.

This video is really good tho, for some reason, a bit of theological explanation is tossed in at the end. I wouldn't have posted it except, prior to that, there are some really good excavation shots:

This is my favorite, tho. I have the idea it was a video put together by an teenager. She did a great job.


  1. As a kid I was pretty fascinated by Pompeii. I can't help but think what excitement your dad would have hearing about the dna and more details we have found out since you were a small child. The fascination with Pompeii is a little like being obsessed with the Titanic, isn't it? Really enjoyed this post Beej thanks!

  2. Awsome... Thanks for sharing this with us Beej..

  3. You both are most welcome! I was a bit worried that it would bore y'all.

    The DNA thingy even excited me!


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