Has anyone ever found or gone looking for similar locations, i.e. volcanic eruption sites in which unfortunate victims – human and non-human – have been entombed in the volcanic ash, with the possibility of revealing their forms by producing casts from the voids? Such sites, if they exist, could reveal exciting new knowledge about ancient peoples and animals.

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    $\begingroup$ While interesting, this is not actually about earth science $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Oct 20 '15 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps I should have rephrased it to make my thoughts clearer, e.g. “Could the burial of animals in ancient pyroclastic flows have created voids that have preserved their forms for palaeontological study (e.g. using them to create casts such as has been done at Pompeii and Herculaneum)? $\endgroup$ – Jimbo Oct 22 '15 at 6:04
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    $\begingroup$ See wikipedia [link] (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashfall_Fossil_Beds) for an example. Or for a slightly different method [link] (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhynie_chert). As for pyroclastic flows, they're highly destructive rock flows at incredibly high temperatures, and would be unlikely to preserve anything useful. $\endgroup$ – Siv Nov 5 '15 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ The Rhynie Chert is a nice example of a different type of volcanic activity-related fossilization, i.e. volcanic springs – thanks, Siv. Re. the Ashfall Fossil Beds, I wonder – in addition to the fossils, any footprint preservation? Until your comment, I hadn't appreciated that the voids at the Pompeii site formed under special conditions, i.e. flash-heating of human and animal victims at the edge of a surge, followed by later ash fall (news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/11/101102/…: $\endgroup$ – Jimbo Nov 8 '15 at 7:21

Probably the best known is more recent, the 1902 eruption of Mt. Pelée on Martinique, where 30,000 people were killed by pyroclastic flows. I don't know the extent of burial - it appears that the city may have been destroyed more by the ash cloud than the dense part of the flow.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your reply – The pyroclastic flows created in the Mount Pelée eruption of 1902 could be a potential test-site for the technology needed to locate such voids, e.g. Ground-Penetrating Radar, because it seems reasonable to assume that voids left by the victims' bodies would exist. As for something more ancient, where would one start looking? The pyroclastic flows of the Cascade Volcanoes in North America, for example? It seems like a classic “needle in a haystack” challenge. $\endgroup$ – Jimbo Oct 20 '15 at 21:57

Here is another example: Ceren (El Salvador) around A.D. 660 (discovered in 1978).

Ceren is believed to have been home to about 200 people. Researchers have excavated 12 buildings, including living quarters, storehouses, workshops, kitchens, religious buildings and a community sauna. There are dozens of unexcavated structures, and perhaps even another settlement or two under the Loma Caldera volcanic ash, which covers an area of roughly two square miles.


Thus far, no bodies have been found, an indication a precursor earthquake may have given residents a running start just before the eruption.

So no humans (yet?) and no mention of animals.

This references the article The Sociopolitical Economy of an Ancient Maya Village: Cerén and its Sacbe in the Latin American Antiquity magazine of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA).

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  • $\begingroup$ Fascinating stuff, Jan. I'd never heard of it until now - given that it was discovered in the late 1970s, I'm really surprised about the lack of wider publicity for this “Pompeii of the Americas”. For more info, the team at the University of Colorado Boulder has made the Ceren Web Resource about their studies (ceren.colorado.edu) and, of course, there's always Wikipedia! (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joya_de_Cerén). Also, the principal investigator of the site, Payson D. Sheets, has written the monograph “The Ceren Site: An Ancient Village Buried by Volcanic Ash in Central America”. $\endgroup$ – Jimbo Nov 6 '15 at 8:28

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