Archaeologists, it must ruefully be admitted, are often the beneficiaries of past societies’ disasters. How much more do we know of Pompeii and Herculaneum owing to the ash and pumice that engulfed them on that fatal day in AD 79? Yet the plaster casts of the victims remind us vividly of the cost in human lives, and recent analysis of the eruption has underlined what a terrifying experience that must have been. Similar evidence from other parts of the world is equally sobering: the iron-clad warrior who was overcome by pyroclastic flows at Kanai Higashiura in sixth-century Japan, for example, or the victims of the 1815 Tambora eruption, excavated at Pancasila in Indonesia.
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