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Woman embracing a child, Lajia Ruins Museum.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

By Robin Whitlock



All comparisons aside from Pompei, this is another tragedy PERPETRATED upon Humanity. When you see the video taking Youtube by storm, called: There are No Forests on (Flat) Earth, you will understand what i mean. The video is Earth shattering to anyone who THINKS they are aware and awake, but devestating to those who have been sleeping while 'thinking' they are awake!

Hope you take the time to watch this revelation of a movie. The Russian author of this Youtube video will be coming out with a much anticipated Part 2.

This movie discloses the FACT that WE have all been duped, snookered and naive for far too long & it's time we stop pretending we are children. I.E. Volcanoes are NOT what we thought, or were told, they are!! Prepare yourself.

This article need an informative link to Qijia culture.


The Qijia were apparently displaced and driven east as happened repeatedly in Chinese history. It is ironic that such suffering benefits us now.

Robin Whitlock's picture

Yes I agree with much of that actually

Momma Honey Badger's picture

I agree that the Chinese government should not be making comparisons between the two civilizations, as rly the only out right similarities are a volcano erupting and the utter decimation of ancient peoples. In the end, the world  has been left the rare opportunity to piece together those last horrific moments and hopefully take something from it that may hopefully better safeguard the people of today and in the generations to come.

I had a discussion abt this article with a friend of mine and of course we did some comparisons abt their similarities and differences and in the end she ended up at deciding that had she had no choice but to perish in either Pompeii or Lajia, she would have chosen Pompeii. And I think it was more about the amazing way the citizens of Pompeii were so well preserved from the ash and how detailed so many of the dead were. I think she felt as though they had died in a more humane manner because of being able to so easily read the emotions on many of their faces all these years later.

But honestly, even though the people found at Lajia are quite likely to give a far greater raw and emotionally stunned initial reaction, i would think that their deaths would be the least painful and terrifying or drown out of the towns, would they not? They ppl of Pompeii asphyxiated, they just got swallowed up by the ash and had time to contemplate their fates, hear some of the chaos around them. They had to feel the weight coming down on them and hear their loved ones cries.. It must of been pure hell. But with the skeletal remains found at Lajia, I would think the majority of the dead had to of perished quickly, if not instantaneously. They obviously had enough time to try and be that shield for their children and such, but the mass hysteria of trying to find an escape route or boats to get away or to try and find that safe place within their town that wouldn't of existed… they didn't have that much time to mourn their own fates and the fates of those they loved. And it didn't happen by stages or layers or what have you. From what I gathered reading this article they probably had just enough time to pull their kids into their arms before they died. And that's what I would of fathered.

I totally agree Ron, the Chinese government should not be comparing these two tragedies to each other whatsoever! But they should make their history better known. And educate the world on a very tragic occurrence from within their country and as was done for Pompeii, make sure these peoples death had some kind of meaning. Make sure the coming generations know that these tragedies were not a one time thing, get people interested in our world's history and inspire the next generations of archeologists, scientists, historians and explorers! There's still so much to be discovered no matter what corner of the world you're in...

Robin Whitlock's picture

That’s probably true, but its an interesting insight into the terror inflicted on ancient peoples by natural disasters nonetheless.



Robin Whitlock's picture

Robin Whitlock

Robin Whitlock is a British freelance journalist with numerous interests, particularly archaeology and the history of the ancient world, an interest that developed in childhood. He has numerous published magazine articles to his credit on a variety of subjects, including... Read More

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