Science World, March 7, 2005 by Britt Norlander
The ancient city of Pompeii was destined for disaster. In 79 A.D., thousands of people died when a nearby volcano erupted, destroying the town. Now, scientists have discovered that landslides also devastated the city in the centuries before the eruption.
When Italy's Vesuvius blew, it buried Pompeii in a thick layer of volcanic ash (fine, sand-size rock particles). Since the 1700s, scientists have slowly unearthed the ruins from this rocky tomb.
Scientists known as geoarchaeologists, who study the sediments at the sites of ancient civilizations, recently uncovered sediment layers that lie beneath the ash. These rocky layers formed in the city long before Vesuvius erupted. And several of these old layers contain jumbled sediment full of boulders, shards of pottery, and even animal bones.
It's thought that each of these mixed-up layers formed when a landslide swept through the town, says Jean-Daniel Stanley, a geoarchaeologist from the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. When large amounts of rain fell, loose volcanic rock and mud on the surrounding hills would break free and sweep into the city of Pompeii. "[The landslides] could take out parts of the town," says Stanley.
This discovery only adds to Pompeii's disaster-prone history. "It was a high-risk area in which to live," says Stanley.
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