What's the biggest archaeological find in history?

Another Avellino Eruption on the Way?

Biggest archaeological find
Biggest archaeological find
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Maybe you're beginning to get the idea why we selected Pompeii. So far, it's yes, yes and yes, in case you're keeping track. Let's address those final two questions we asked about the biggest archaeological find in history.

Does the find capture the imagination of non-scientists?

From the moment it was discovered, Pompeii galvanized the interest of people all over the world. As word of the excavations spread, visitors flocked to the site to see the ruins for themselves. Artists came, as well, and after viewing the mosaics, frescoes and architecture of the city, infused their works with Pompeii's Neoclassic style. Today, more than 2 million people make the trek to the ancient city each year.

Does the find help prepare us for the future?

The famous eruption of A.D. 79 wasn't the first for Mount Vesuvius. In fact, scientists now believe that Vesuvius blew its top 22,500 years ago, 17,000 years ago, 15,000 years ago, 11,400 years ago, 8,000 years ago, 3,780 years ago and then the Pompeii-burying event nearly 2,000 years ago. The eruption that occurred 3,780 years ago -- geologists refer to it today as the Avellino eruption -- was even more catastrophic and wide-ranging than the A.D. 79 event.

Given the violent history of Vesuvius, geologists now worry that Naples and the surrounding areas could face a similar catastrophe at any moment. In 2005, a team of scientists led by Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo and Michael Sheridan published a paper in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences in which they used the Avellino event as a worst-case scenario for a future eruption of Vesuvius. Based on their analysis, Sheridan and Mastrolorenzo calculated that the odds of a significant eruption increase with each passing year. They also predicted that such an event would be big enough to threaten people as far away as Naples and encouraged the city to update its emergency plan accordingly.

It is, perhaps, this glimmer of the future that elevates Pompeii above other archaeological treasures. If lessons from A.D. 79 can help protect millions of people from a future eruption of Vesuvius, then it truly is a find among finds.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Hall, Stephen S. "Vesuvius: Asleep for Now." National Geographic Magazine. September 2007.
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