Pompeii: The New Dig, 29 April 2024, BBC Two, “The Final Hours”

Pompeii The New Dig

In this third and final episode of Pompeii: The New Dig, airing on BBC Two on Monday 29 April, archaeologists uncover evidence of the city’s final hours before it was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. As the excavation of a wealthy residence, a bakery, and a laundry progresses, secrets are revealed about the lives of Pompeii’s residents during this catastrophic event.

Nineteen hours after the eruption began, most of Pompeii lay buried under metres of pumice. Roofs had collapsed, claiming many lives, but some residents miraculously survived. As the eruption began to subside, a sense of uncertainty loomed—were the worst of their troubles over?

The Final Hours of Pompeii: A City Frozen in Time

The ancient Roman city of Pompeii, located near Naples in southern Italy, met its tragic end in the summer of 79 CE when Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying the city and its inhabitants under a blanket of volcanic ash. Nearly 2,000 years later, we reconstruct the final few hours of this once-vibrant city.

Pompeii, likely founded in the 7th or 6th century BCE, was a flourishing center of Roman life. With a population of 11,000 to 15,000 people, it boasted food markets, temples, restaurants, and baths. The city was alive with culture and commerce, benefiting from its prime location near strategic Roman roads and the Mediterranean basin.

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On October 22, AD 79, a series of earth tremors occurred, though these worried very few residents. The true catastrophe began on August 24 when Vesuvius erupted, spewing a column of smoke nine miles into the sky. A rain of pumice, gas, and rock followed, prompting many residents to flee into the streets in a desperate attempt to escape.

One household, that of Iulius Polybius, sheltered 12 people, including a young pregnant woman. They decided to remain inside, likely believing it to be safer for the pregnant woman. This decision proved fateful, as volcanologist Claudio Scarpati noted that a large number of deaths occurred during the first hours of the eruption due to collapsing roofs and falling debris.

As the eruption continued, the front part of Polybius’ house collapsed, and the inhabitants took shelter in the rear rooms. Unfortunately, this provided no escape from the deadly pyroclastic currents—fast-moving flows of hot gas and rock at temperatures up to 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit. These currents swept through the garden and into the house, suffocating its inhabitants.

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The eruption ended with a final phase of pumice rain, burying Pompeii. The solid roofs of Polybius’ house collapsed, leaving a long, deathly silence. While some residents managed to escape the city, the eruption’s impact was widespread, and hundreds of victims were recovered outside the city walls.

Pompeii’s story serves as a reminder of the destructive power of nature. The city lay buried and forgotten for nearly 1,700 years until its rediscovery in 1748. Archaeologists unearthed remarkably well-preserved ruins, including entire buildings, tools, wine bottles, and even uncooked loaves of bread. The site provided a unique glimpse into Roman life, with frescoes, graffiti, and wall paintings offering insights into ancient art and culture.

The final hours of Pompeii were marked by panic, difficult decisions, and tragic endings. The city’s residents, going about their daily lives, could never have imagined the catastrophe that awaited them.

Pompeii: The New Dig – The Final Hours airs on BBC Two at 9.00 pm on Monday, 29 April 2024.

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Isabelle aka Izzy Jacobs is the UK previews specialist at memorabletv.com. Isabelle is particularly drawn to crime dramas, but she also has a not so secret love for all things reality TV. In addition to her work at memorabletv.com, Isabelle is also an avid traveler and a devoted foodie.