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Natural disasters such as hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes have been happening since before recorded history, which means that they have been shaping history for centuries. Even more than that, discovering remains centuries later has provided important insight into the past, and let us see the past in ways that we would never be able to without. Of course bringing up the terms Ancient Disasters, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is Pompeii, the city that was all but eradicated by Mount Vesuvius, but there are many other disasters as well that shaped history and changed the course of life for countless people. Recently, remains of the first tsunami victim have been found from 6,000 years ago (Choi, 2017).
Pompeii isn’t the only city that was left buried for centuries, similar to Atlantis, the city of Helike was once an important city in the Peloponnesian peninsula, it was full of economic and religious culture, until an earthquake and then tsunami wiped it out (Dhwty, 2014). Luckily, there are written accounts about this site, and it is explorable today, and is still explored by archeologists trying to uncover more of the past.. The findings of all these ancient ruins has changed how we view history and given incredible insight into the past. A particularly great example of that is in fact Pompeii, an entire city which laid buried for 17 centuries before being discovered. Pompeii had been so long forgotten, that those who had heard of the discovery of the city had originally believed that researchers must be talking about the famous Roman ruler Pompey instead (Pompeii Discovery, 2018). The lack of knowledge that the people of these ancient disasters had, contributed heavily to the death toll, and to the severity of the disasters.
Having an entire city preserved for centuries of course allows for incredible discoveries, and not only in the bones and casts of bodies left behind by the volcano. We know things that we couldn’t possibly know had it not been preserved.
The complete lack of human alteration on the entire city of Pompeii has left for an incredible opportunity for the researchers and archeologists searching through the ruins, because it means that anything found is completely authentic to the time just before the eruption, something that can only be said about very few places. In fact, an entire documentary was able to be made titled “Pompeii: The Last Day” based on information that was found from excavating the untouched city. Things found such as writings on the wall that inform us of the bookkeeping system Pompeii had in place, and that the walls were used to leave messages for others in the area (Documentary Warehouse, 2016). If Vesuvius had not erupted, if the entire city of Pompeii had not been completely buried and left untouched for centuries, would we still have such strong insight into the city and the everyday lives of those who lived there?
It has been said that the people of Pompeii had no idea what a volcano was, in fact there are accounts directly from Pliny the Younger, a roman government official at the time, who states that his uncle Pliny the Elder, while watching Vesuvius erupt from Naples, decided to take the boat to Pompeii to see it closer. (McGill, 2017). Someone heading directly into the volcanic eruption area could not possibly have understood the power of that natural disaster. In the documentary cited earlier, it is also shown that many people stayed to protect their money and possessions, which proves clearly that they were not expecting to be killed by this eruption. Their lack of knowledge on natural disasters and on volcanoes ultimately lead to the death of over 2,000 people, even if many of them were scared enough to escape (McGill, 2017). Another thing that lead to such rich discovery, and left Pompeii to be such a treasure trove for the historians and archeologists whom would later excavate the city, is the lack of time that the people of Pompeii had to escape. Many left nearly all of their possessions as they fled for their lives. (McGill, 2017).
When Steven Soter, a Museum astronomer was doing research on predicting earthquakes, he became fascinated with researching Helike, a city that had been devastated by an earthquake and nearly buried underwater by the following tsunami (Cooper Jr, 2000). Remains have been found by him and his codirector, Dora Katsonopoulou, and further research has been made regarding earthquakes in the area there. The image here shows remains that were discovered of what may be an ancient road in Helike. Due to the number of quakes that have continually happened in the area surround Helike, any remains have been hard to come by, but that doesn’t stop the researchers who are still hell bent on finding anything they can to discover information about this area. Some of the most important information pulled from this archeological site, is actually information regarding earthquakes, and some things that were discovered to happen shortly before an earthquake while Soto was researching the area. There were a few things mentioned that could prove as some sort of warning signs for future earthquakes, which of course would’ve been monumentally useful for the people of the area before the earthquake that took out the entire city. There was evidence of a strong wind which ended abruptly and eerily, and dozens of dead mice found on the road all heading in one direction. The research that was being done there was what enabled them to find these things and are useful for future earthquakes, and possible tsunamis.
Without the effect that these disasters have had on the areas they have impacted, especially in the case of Pompeii, we would not have the information that we have today about the way the people lived back in those days. If the people of Pompeii were aware of what Volcanoes were, if they knew that they would surely die if they stayed or tried to save their possessions, they would likely not have stayed, and we would not have the casts of the bodies preserved how we have them today. We are continuously finding out more just by researching the area, and by doing more archeological digs there, by continuing to use science and observe history as it was. The information that we receive from these ruins is immeasurable, and the natural disasters that allowed for us to have access to this information have been crucial to understanding the culture and lifestyles of how people used to live.
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