When an eruption from Mount Vesuvius buried the town of Pompeii in southern Italy in ad 79, it left behind not only intimate details of daily life in the Roman empire, but also an extraordinary record of how volcanoes behave. These archaeological and volcanic histories together offer a unique insight into how societies live and die in the shadow of a volcano. It is alarming, therefore,that volcanic deposits are being sacrificed during archaeological excavations.
The volcanic deposits should be preserved and studied where they landed — otherwise, the information they contain about the eruption is lost. When deposits were re-investigated in the 1980s, they revolutionized archaeological reconstructions of social conditions in Pompeii and in nearby Herculaneum.
We have appealed to Italy’s minister for culture to leave strategic portions of the volcanic deposits untouched during Pompeii’s latest excavations. This would help to transform Vesuvius and its Roman settlements into a natural super-museum for generations to come.