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Residents of Italian Village Killed by Vesuvius' Superheated Ash

April 12, 2001

Three hundred residents of the Italian village of Herculaneum took refuge in a boathouse when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, but their efforts were for naught. A cloud of superheated ash swept over them, killing them so quickly that they could not even raise their arms in a typical defensive reaction, Italian researchers report in today's Nature. While most of the residents in nearby Pompeii suffocated as they were buried in ash, the Herculaneum residents died from shock as the hot air hit them, vaporizing their flesh and leaving behind only bones, frozen in the postures they were in when the cloud hit. The bones themselves, such as the feet of a child (pictured above), exhibit cracking and flexing caused by the intense heat; the skulls were fractured by the violent brain vaporization, said archeologist Alberto Incoronato of the Universita degli Studi di Napoli Federico II.

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