Archaeologists in Pompeii have discovered charcoal graffiti inside a home that they are currently excavating in the Regio V area. Said graffiti may finally reveal the exact day that Mount Vesuvius erupted, the event quickly demolishing the town and burying it beneath a thick layer of ash in A.D. 79.
As Forbes reports, discussion over the date of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption is hardly anything new, as scholars have long debated what time of year those living in Pompeii would have met their tragic end.
What was once the most commonly accepted date for the eruption was given by the Roman author known as Pliny the Younger, who thoughtfully related his version of events in Pompeii to the historian Tacitus 25 years after the town was wiped out.
Pliny wrote Tacitus a letter in which he stated that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius had occurred on nonum kal. Septembres. Using Latin calculations, this means that Vesuvius erupted nine days before September 1, making August 24 the argued date of eruption.
However, as time has marched on, the date that historians, philologists, and archaeologists once assumed was correct has been challenged by the discovery of clothing and botanical remains at the site of Pompeii. For instance, walnuts and pomegranates have now been excavated — which would point more toward an autumn date for the eruption. Wine was also found, a product that would almost certainly not have been made before September — as the harvest of grapes would be quite incomplete.
This little graffito is possibly the most exciting and important discovery to come from the new excavations in Region V, #Pompeii. Though the year is missing, the impermanent nature of charcoal is what may date it to AD 79. https://t.co/JhJxgua10l
— Dr Sophie Hay (@pompei79) October 16, 2018
Some archaeologists have also noted that members of the public were donning autumn clothing in Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted, which reinforced the plausibility of an October date rather than an August one.
The new charcoal graffiti that has been found in Pompeii reads “XVI K Nov,” which means the 16th day before the kalends (or first) of November — which would make October 17 the exact date of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius if the graffiti is to be taken as serious evidence.
While it is true that there is no year mentioned in the graffiti, the writing itself is believed to have been written right before Pompeii was lost forever, with the house undergoing extensive renovation at this time. And because the graffiti was written in charcoal, it is also highly unlikely that it would have lasted for long had it not been buried for thousands of years. A charcoal inscription would likely have faded — or disappeared entirely — if it had been written long before Mount Vesuvius erupted.
If the graffiti that may have preserved the exact date of the eruption is proven to be accurate, not only will history textbooks need to be changed, but tomorrow would also mark the 1,939th anniversary of the day on which Pompeii — and Herculaneum — were lost to Mount Vesuvius forever.