Footprints preserved in ash from the Avellino eruption
The eruption of Vesuvius in August AD 79, some 1932 years ago, was an amazingly destructive event that buried the city of Pompeii under meters of ash. But did you know that there was an even more violent eruption of Vesuvius roughly 1500 years earlier?
In Nola, archaeologists have excavated three huts surrounded by fences, along with a large collection of human and animal footprints. At both sites, the footprints preserved in the ash, as well as a dearth of human remains or valuable bronze objects, leads scholars to believe that most people and their livestock had a chance to escape the eruption (caged animals, like the remains of goats found at Nola, weren’t as lucky). The impressions of other items, such as furniture, containers and fabric, give us a rare opportunity to understand what everyday life was like back then.
Since the settlements at Nola and Afragola were significantly smaller than the city of Pompeii, the level of human destruction appears to be much smaller. But the eruption itself was much bigger, and, unlike the AD 79 eruption, reached Naples itself. So when scientists think about the worst-case scenario for the next eruption of Vesuvius, they look at the Avellino eruption…and cross their fingers.