Pompeii of the East: 4,000 year-old victims of Chinese earthquake captured in their final moments
The victims of an earthquake that struck the Chinese community of Lajia in Qinghai Province on the Upper Yellow River have been put on display by the Lajia Ruins Museum. It’s a scene that the China People Daily says brings tears to the eyes of visitors as victims are seen huddling together in terror, while women are embracing young children in an attempt to protect them.
Like the victims of Pompeii, the Roman city overcome by the explosion of Vesuvius in 79 AD, the residents of the building in Lajia are preserved in sudden brutal death. While the humanity of the Pompeiians is preserved by the casing of volcanic ash and mud, in Lajia the full horror is brutally apparent in their skeletal remains.
Plaster cast of a Pompeii victim, still with a grimace on his face. Source: BigStockPhoto
The disaster was caused by a mudslide triggered by an earthquake which crushed a Bronze Age building including all those inside. It was a family home within which the occupants sought refuge in the hope of survival. The remains of a woman and child, probably a boy, are preserved against one of the walls. The woman’s skull looks upwards as her arms encircle the child. Another woman and child can be seen upstairs in a similar posture while the skeletons of two children clinging to an adult lie against another wall. The people here belonged to China’s Bronze Age Qijia culture , which means their remains are 4,000 years old, the earthquake hitting the area around 2,000 BC.
In Pompeii, the remains of a four-year old child clinging to his mother were displayed earlier this year . Here there are no skeletons to shock visitor’s sensibilities - the petrification of ancient ash and mud sees to that.
Pompeii casts: A mother and child frozen in time in their final moments ( Pompeii in Pictures )
Pompeii was struck suddenly by what is known as a Pyroclastic Flow . This is a fast-moving cloud of extremely hot gas and rock which can move at speeds of up to 450 miles per hour (700 km/h). This meant instant death for those who ignored the warnings Vesuvius had given previously, many of them farmers. The flow hugs the ground as it moves and spreads laterally. It consists of two parts: a basal flow consisting of heavier rocks and particles and a hot ash plume that hovers above it. The French term nuée ardente (‘glowing cloud’) is entirely appropriate. The basal flow destroys everything in its path while the ash plume incinerates anything in the air, instantaneously. Pompeii wasn’t the only town to suffer Vesuvius wrath, Herculaneum was devastated too along with a great many rural villas in the surrounding area.
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Estimates vary as to how many people were killed by the Vesuvius eruption, but it was somewhere between 10,000 and 25,000. Many of them were struck down at the city’s port where they tried to find cover in warehouses or in sheltered spots on the dock. Others tried, too late, to scramble upon the last remaining ships and boats while still more retreated to their homes, probably praying to their household gods for salvation. The young boy and his mother were found by modern archaeologists in what they call the House of the Golden Bracelet . This was the home of a wealthy family, decorated with frescoes on the walls and with a large garden. The ash cloud, with a temperature of around 300 degrees C, carbonized all this in moments.
“Even though it happened 2000 years ago, it could be a boy, a mother, or a family” said Stefania Giudice of Naples National Archaeological Museum. “It’s human archeology, not just archeology.”
The unfortunate town of Lajia has now been branded the “Pompeii of the East” . It was one of the cradles of ancient Chinese civilization , which means the area is now of huge archaeological importance.
Woman shielding a child, Lajia Ruins Museum. Credit: China News
Artifacts found at the site have included mirrors, stone knives and oracle bones used for divination. The residents of Lajia were first discovered in 2000 in a subterranean dwelling which was later found to be the base of a loess cave, one of several in a settlement in which the dwellings consisted both of caves and houses. One of the artifacts turned out to be the oldest noodle in China, made from wheat flour. A sacrificial platform in the centre of the town contained the grave of its priest surrounded by numerous jade objects.
Featured image: Woman embracing a child, Lajia Ruins Museum. EuroPics / CEN.