Pompeii, the lost Roman city buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, has long been a source of fascination to archaeologists. But its sister city Herculaneum, buried in the same eruption but to a much greater depth than Pompeii, reveals far more detail of how the Romans lived.
For many years the city appeared to have been abandoned and it was assumed the inhabitants had managed to escape in the hours before Herculaneum was engulfed by the volcano. Then in the 1980s a macabre discovery was made. Burrowing through the volcanic mud, archaeologists found hundreds of bodies huddled pitifully together. Vesuvius is still active and is on course to erupt again. The lure of its rich volcanic soil and the delights of the Bay of Naples have attracted a far greater population than lived there in Roman times. And while civil servants at the Vesuvius observatory express confidence that there will be ample warning and time to evacuate the surrounding population, many geologists disagree. Evidence from an eruption in 4000 BC reveals that the volcano is capable of destroying Naples, a cataclysm far greater than that of 79 AD. If that were to happen today it could engulf 3 million people. On that scale, in an area where motorway traffic jams are a fact of daily life, present evacuation plans are completely inadequate.
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