Pompeii’s Pyroclastics Phollow-up

T’other day we had a couple of postings mentioning the final hours of Pompeii, both of which used the dreaded “lava” word in their various descriptions (which commenter Walter Muzzy pointed out: Blogosphere ~ Top 5 Representations of Pompeii (from Pop Classics) and Reconstructing the classics: from Pompeii to Athens. (Mary Beard)). It apparently also got the ‘ire’ of Dana Hunter over at Scientific American going enough to write Mary Beard:

[…] So how could Cambridge Professor Mary Beard, who had actually written books about Pompeii, get that important geological detail so very wrong? I figured I’d better ask. We had a brief conversation on Twitter, which brought to light the fact that she uses the word “lava” as a way of saying she’s not a volcanologist, and her book isn’t about the eruption but about life in Pompeii (not just the last few minutes of it). Fair enough. I asked her if she could at least use ash instead, to spare the feelings of geologists everywhere, and we ended up deciding that the Italian word “fango,” which means “mud,” must be popularized. It wasn’t mud that destroyed Pompeii, but the pyroclastic flow deposits did get reworked into lahars by water after deposition, so I’ll take it.** I’m glad Professor Beard wrote this article, and I’m even glad she made geologists the world over grind their teeth, because it’s a thought-provoking look at how we react to the people of Pompeii. It also points out that the city we see today is a lot more put together than Vesuvius left it. And her intentional use of the word “lava” makes us look harder at what really happened to Pompeii. I think a lot of us see the restored ruins and think of ash raining down, almost gently. Sure, it suffocated people and buried them, but it also lovingly preserved the buildings. Look! Even crockery is intact!

… the article goes on to give a very nice discussion of the various phases of destruction at Pompeii.

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