Mt. Vesuvius is the most famous volcano in Europe (see photos of volcano & historic eruptions).  It has erupted on a semi-regular basis over the last 2000 years.  Vesuvius is a ~300,000 year old subduction zone stratovolcano located just east of the major Italian city of Naples, coastal Campania, southern Italy.


The most famous Vesuvius eruption occurred on 24-25 August, 79 A.D.  An enormous ash eruption and collapsing ash column destroyed and buried three Roman towns (Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae).  A written eyewitness account of the eruption has survived.  Pompeii has been extensively excavated by archaeologists since its discovery in the mid-1700s.  It is widely considered to be the most significant archaeological site on Earth.  Pompeii is rarely mentioned in ancient historical records, but historians & archaeologists understand Pompeii better than Rome itself in many ways.  The most famous Pompeii discoveries are casts of people (& animals) preserved in the volcanic deposits.  The casts are empty spaces in the ash & pumice.  They have been filled with plaster & the matrix subsequently removed.  Expressions of pain & anguish can still be seen preserved on some of the Romansí faces. (see plaster casts of Romans in Pompeii - scroll down).


The rocks shown below are phonolite pumice from the August 79 A.D. eruption that buried Pompeii.  This eruption produced ash and pumice having phonolite and tephriphonolite compositions (= alkaline, intermediate, extrusive igneous rocks).


Phonolite pumice (air-fall deposit) from 24-25 August 79 A.D. plinian eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.  Pumice at center is 3.0 cm across.  Sample collected from the ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii (generously donated by the Pompeii Archaeological Superintendent).



Roman victims of the 24-25 August 79 A.D. Vesuvius ash eruption at Pompeii, Italy.  These are plaster casts made from external molds of human corpses in the ash-pumice deposit at Pompeii. (photos by Isabell Giannetto)


Roman victims (above & below) of the 24-25 August 79 A.D. Vesuvius eruption at Pompeii, Italy. (photos by Isabell Giannetto)

Above: human skeletal elements are still preserved in this specimen - note the teeth and the sutures between invidual bones of the skull.

Below: this individual sat down and covered his mouth and nose to help prevent suffocating in the volcanic ash - it didnít work.



Porphyritic tephrite or phonolite from a mid-December 1631 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.  The 1631 event was an effusive-explosive, subplinian eruption that followed 131 years of inactivity.  Centimeter scale.



Air-fall lapilli from the 22-26 March 1944 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.  Lapilli refers to erupted fragments of rock that are coarser in grain size compared with ash.  Each lapilli grain shown here is about 2 to 2.5 mm in size.



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