Preserving Pompeii

This photograph was taken from The National Geographic

When asked to find a picture that represented something that changed the world, many iconic events came to mind; The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Apollo 11, 9/11. These were all events I was considering, but I wanted to constrict my options even further so I asked myself, what were the similarities within these events. The difference that stood out to me the most were the situation in which these iconic events took place. For instance, the atomic bombings and 9/11 were both catastrophes in which the victims were unaware before they were attacked. Though Apollo 11 was a planned event that would change science for the better, for years to come.

Out of preference, I decided to judge between the atomic bombings and 9/11, as I find the incredulity that came with them both intriguing and surreal. But after careful consideration, I realised that they were missing something. Neither of these events are as astonishing as they could be.

This is because they are technically self-inflicted as humans are constantly killing each other, so the event could never shock everybody because somebody must know what’s going on. This Is how Pompeii came to mind; a natural disaster that was the most unexpected it could be. Though the signs of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius were there, in AD 79 no one knew the eruption of a mountain could even take place. Making the city of Pompeii completely unprepared, which resulted in a crisis. The city was buried within by the end of the second day 24th August – 25th August, which an be seen in an animation from Melbourne Museum A Day In Pompeii

However what I was interested in, is what we found years later. A city that was buried and forgotten about, turned out to be archaeologist gold mine. Not only were the city’s remains still present, but its inhabitants also were preserved by the volcanic ash. This can be seen in the photograph above, which is a plaster cast of a victim killed by the eruption. He is laying on his right side with both arms in front as if he is trying to lift himself or keep his head up. To me, looking at this picture is strange knowing so little about how someone has lived, yet so much about how someone has died. This is why I truly chose this photograph. All the other photographs; from the Bombings, 9/11, Apollo 11 were all taken at the time, references to an event were witnesses are still alive today. That is what makes Pompeii so special, we can visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the bombing took place, we can watch videos of the Apollo 11 take off, but with regards to Pompeii; Nature took its own picture. I could go to Pompeii and see the ending result of a catastrophe, where these people would have looked exactly the same right after the event.

Furthermore, these people were beyond confused in the last hours of their lives, I couldn’t even imagine dying in such circumstances. But here’s the thing, now we can! Pompeii holds so much more mystery than these other events. I could interpret this photo in any way I like. Who was this man/women? Did they have a family? What was their job? Why did they die in this position? What were they thinking about in their last moments? The possibilities are endless and because of this 3D snapshot in time, we can keep on guessing.

This is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that this event happened so long ago, and the best affirmation we could have hope for. The other piece of documentation is vivid letters sharing the account of a Roman called Pliny. His account of the event contributed to the study of volcanoes and seismic activity creating the volcanologists of today. You could even say his documentation and contribution to our knowledge of volcanic activity has saved the lives of millions that could have been in that situation in years to come. Do you think he knew that?


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