Pompeii, forensic volcanology and STREVA

Pompeii

Last week we were lucky enough to work with the British Museum’s ‘Pompeii Live’ Team, helping to introduce some ideas about volcanic processes for their Schools Broadcast. In a series of excellent and exciting adventures we used the bins and balls to create explosions, and tried to show hard it would be for our Playmobile charioteer to out run the (liquid nitrogen) surge.  Check out Jon Stone’s Storify page that captures the fun!

pliny_tristan_corridor
This is Trepidus Maximus (Pliny for short). He ‘volunteered’ to outrun a (LN2) surge to illustrate it’s velocity relative to his fabulous horse-drawn chariot.

Of course, as much as possible, we wanted to link it to the unfolding events in 79 A.D. So, it was also a splendid opportunity to engage with some of the painstaking research that has been done to recover a true record of precisely what happened.

In addition to the volcanological aspects, the Exhibition itself is a stunning glimpse into the lives impacted by the eruption. Although much was obliterated on that day; the objects left behind  provide compelling if sometimes sombre insights into Roman life and the manner in which those lives were so abruptly truncated. ‘Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum‘ indeed.

Forensic Volcanology

Image of the Wall Painting of Terentius Neo and his wife, on display at the British Museum (C) Soprintenda Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoil e Pompeii
Image of the Wall Painting of Terentius Neo and his wife, on display at the British Museum (C) Soprintenda Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoil e Pompeii

The story of the range of techniques used and the ingenuity applied in providing these reconstructions is almost as compelling as the narrative they reveal. Although there was no tweeting, no blogging*, no 24 hour rollings news, nor even vox pops from flustered scientists we understand pretty well the timings and driving forces behind the eruptions. We also understand much about the daily lives, cultural richness, interests and foibles of those left behind. Objects ranging from pumice through to bones, and leather have been subjected to tests and analysis to provide the reconstruction. A fabulous example of forensic volcanology: the physical, biological, chemical and geological properties of the objects left behind virtually  ‘whispering’ to us about what happened. The exceptional preservation of the artefacts left mean that they are positively shouting about the people who had worn, used and created them.

Streva Forensicselvolcanesmiecionad

The aims of the  STREVA project could loosely be paraphrased as research aimed at trying to prevent another Pompeii (or even a mini Pompeii) elsewhere in the world. So, its no surprise then that we are taking a forensic approach to our initial analysis. This time, instead of archaeological whispers we are collecting real voices and sharing geophysical data and eruption records in three locations where the population have lived with and monitored long-lived eruptions. The hypothesis here is that by ‘listening carefully’ to data that ranges from seismic waveforms to  the personal recollections of those who have had to adapt when faced with volcanic activity we will identify the most important dimensions of risk.

By doing better at analysing risk (and the global report card to date says ‘could do much better‘) then we can understand the underlying causes and identify systematically the stumbling blocks to societal resilience to eruptions. So, we need to listen very carefully to each and any source of information. Luckily, the process of listening is edifying, inspiring and humbling; David Pyle wrote about our first forensic workshop in Montserrat in September.

We are about to have our second in Banos in Ecuador, organised by IG-EPN with STREVA. They’ve already run some fantastic outreach art classes with the local children and we’ll talk with scientists, mayors, communities and emergency responders around the long-lived eruption of Tungarahua.

I can’t wait.

Children's art from village affected by the activity at Tungurahua
Children’s art from villages affected by the activity at Tungurahua

* Would Pliny have been a blogger? Discuss.

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ is on at the British Museum until the 29th of September.

Pompeii Live is screened in UK Cinemas on the evening of the 18th of June, and the Schools version on the morning of the 19th of June. Follow  #PompeiiLive for updates.

Here is a link to a summary paper on 79 A.D. and its impacts from Giacomelli et al., from 2003 that can be accessed by anyone following this link. it illusrates some of the types of data that have been used.

El Volcan es mi Vecino is happening between the 12th and 19th of June around Tungarahua and Cuicocha in Ecuador. You can follow STREVA and IG-EPN on Twitter at @StrevaProject and @IGEPN

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