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Afragola, village that Vesuvius had devastated during an autumn, two thousand years before Pompeii

ARCHEOLOGY – The exceptional preservation of plant remains, including fruits and leaves, has enabled the experts to pinpoint the moment of the tragedy that struck the people of the Bronze Age.

Pompeii is neither the first nor the last victim of Vesuvius. Some 2,000 years before the eruption that swept the Roman city from the surface of Campania in the year 79, the volcano roared its fiery anger over the Bay of Naples. The explosion, even more appalling than that which buried Roman villas and temples, destroyed a Bronze Age village. Coincidentally, that other drama unfolded in the fall, like Pompeii, according to a new study.

From charred remains of fruits and plants discovered in the middle of the ruins of Afragola, a team of Italian and American researchers deduced that this ancient village would have been petrified under a meter of ash and mountains of mud between the end of the century. summer and the beginning of winter. For this, the scientists relied on the techniques of archaeobotany, which studies the plant remains, traces of pollen or seeds taken from an excavation site.

“Our analyzes revealed the presence of dogwood (Male horn), wild apple (Malus sylvestris), mountain ash (Sip) and pomegranate (Pink garnet). These species, identified by plant remains and leaf prints, are linked to the fall seasonindicate the researchers in their study published on September 29, in the scientific journal Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports . The presence of fruit whose ripening period typically extends from early to late fall suggests fall as the season for the eruption.”

Ash October

This autumnal dating of the destruction of Afragola, 14 kilometers northwest of Vesuvius, resonates with the memory of the other great historical eruption of Vesuvius which engulfed Pompeii in 79. Long dated August 29, the eruption observed by Pliny the Elder, at the beginning of the reign of Titus, would actually have taken place a few weeks later, in October. The hypothesis, raised for a long time by the rather covered clothes of the victims, was supported in 2018 by the discovery of a decisive graffiti.

Unlike Pompeii, Afragola has not yet entered the pantheon of the peninsula’s best-known archaeological sites. The village was only discovered at the beginning of the 2000s, randomly during preventive excavations carried out in this area near the city of Naples due to the construction of a railway line. It is nonetheless one of the most important discoveries concerning the Bronze Age in Western Europe due to the state of conservation of these multi-millennial remains. There are, for example, the footprints of villagers who fled the eruption. Extended over at least 4500 m2 , the village formed in its time, around 1900 and 1800 BC, one of the largest agglomerations known today in protohistoric Campania. The site would have been formed in the middle of the Early Bronze Age, at a time when human groups increased their production and increasingly hierarchized their societies.

Caught up in full swing, Afragola was swept away by a geological event known for a long time under the name of Pomici di Avellino, from the name of the Italian town where the first deposits were identified. Abandoned after the disaster, Afragola today presents its petrified remains to the tools of Bronze Age specialists.

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