In August 79 AD, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the city of Pompeii, burying it in hails of volcanic ash. But how widespread was the damage?
Publishing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a research team analyzed a sedimentary sequence from the harbor of Naples and discovered the eruption affected the local water supply.
“This volcanic catastrophe not only destroyed the urban lead pipe water supply network, but … it took the Roman administration several decades to replace it,” wrote the researchers.
The Roman Empire built networks of aqueducts that transported water to the empire’s various cities. Some, such as the Aqua Marcia, carried water around 60 miles to its destination.
But as water was toted about these systems, it picked up particles of lead, which made their way into the bodies of Romans, the ground, and sewage.
“In the case of the cities and towns around Naples, sewage was piped to certain locations where it was dumped directly into the harbor which resulted in sediment build up, some of which contained lead particles,” according to Phys.org. “Modern researchers studying sediment cores can analyze the different layers of sediment and note the different amounts of lead in it and the differences in the types of lead.”
This information can help scientists understand how the system changed over time.
Interestingly, a shift in sediment lead occurred around the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The researchers suggested that volcanic ash may have clogged the pipes or destroyed portions of the system. Based on their analysis, the researchers determined the water system remained in place for 15 years following the eruption. Afterwards, it was replaced.
The lead isotopic signatures further suggest that the Naples water system grew steadily until around the fifth century, a time when the Roman Empire was marred with disasters that prevented further upgrades.
“Discontinuities in the (lead) isotopic record of the harbor deposits prove a powerful tool for tracking both Naples’ urbanization and later major conflicts at the end of the Roman period and in the early Byzantine times,” according to the researchers.
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