High On Mt. Vesuvius

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I gather it’s supposed to be spring, but going by the temperature outside, it seems the UK, most of Europe and even parts of the U.S. are stuck in a continuing cycle of winter weather. I don’t want to get into a debate about global warming and that. I do think climate change is happening, but I suspect it’s a combination of things and partly caused by humans.

Anyway, here’s a topic that’ll keep you warm. While we were on holiday in coooooold Cornwall last week, we caught a programme on BBC 4 about the Pompeii catastrophe. I presume you all know the story: ancient Roman city near Mt. Vesuvius is completely engulfed in ash and lava when the volcano which is part of said mountain erupts. Population almost entirely wiped out, but some of the buildings are remarkably preserved under the avalanche of ash.

The programme is called Pompeii: The Mystery Of The People Frozen In Time. It’s presented by Margaret Mountford, who you may remember from the business ‘reality-show’, The Apprentice (the UK version). She was one of the sour-faced execs sitting next to Alan Sugar in the boardroom scenes. As an historical teevee show presenter, she doesn’t show as much acumen as in her alleged business skills.

She remarks when looking at one of the casts, “It’s almost human.” Er..it is human, Mags – unless the people of Pompeii were half-lizard or something. There were a few other gaffes in her style as well, but for her first gig, she wasn’t too bad. The really interesting bit, to me, was the theory that the people weren’t killed by asphixiating on ash, or being steamrolled by magma, but by a phenomenon called a pyroclastic flow. Essentially, it’s like a tsunami, in cloud-form, of super-hot gas and rock that flows down the side of a volcano and engulfs everything in it’s path. The new theory is that the people were killed by the flow, then preserved by the falling ash.

There was a comparison between Pompeii and another city, Herculaneum, also situated close to Vesuvius. Herculaneam was a bit closer, so it’s citizens never even had a chance to be preserved when the pyroclastic flow hit – their flesh was burned completely away. All in all, it’s thought there were four or five flows during the eruption. The other cool thing was a sculptor, who used digital scanning of one of the Pompeii casts and one of the Herculaneum skulls, to create life-like busts. The Pompeii cast was a working-class male and the Herculaneum skull was a wealthy woman.

Another docu centres on Herculaneum, which was just broadcast the other night. It delves more into the day-to-day existences of the citizens. I was impressed with the presenter’s fluent Italian, but I didn’t find the overall programme quite as interesting. You can judge for yourself, though, as it’s on the BBC iPlayer for another six days – you can watch it here.

In a weird synchro-mesh, but maybe also due to the bank holiday weekend, the Frankie Howerd 1971 historical, er..’farce’ Up Pompeii was shown amongst all the ‘Carry On’ films.

Well, that’s yer lot – warmed up now? I am…until I have to go back outside. To finish, here’s a bit of the Floyd boys, from their concert/documentary, Live At Pompeii, first released in 1972:

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