Presenting… Vesuvius Unlocked

From 6 March - 1 May

Eruptions of Vesuvius formed a fiery backdrop to the Bay of Naples from 1631 until 1944. During this period, eruptive activity fluctuated from the steady emission of small lava flows to violent and dramatic fire-fountains and ashy plumes.

As Vesuvius was accessible and easy to climb, it became an open air laboratory for natural philosophers and scientists, and inspired some dramatic writing, poetry and art.

John Phillips, Watercolour and ink on paper, c. 1868

John Philips created this coloured map of lava-currents for his book on Vesuvius, published in 1869. Lava flows are coloured by date (17th Century – pink; 18th Century – orange; 19th Century - Green), and shows how older flows are progressively buried as Vesuvius grows. It was mainly based on accounts of past eruptions.

John Phillips, the first Keeper of the Museum, was one of those drawn to the ‘watch-fires’ of the volcano. Phillips visited in March 1868, while Vesuvius was erupting. His aim was to ‘collect an authentic history’, and observe and sketch the wonders of the volcano.

John Phillips amassed a large collection of rocks from Vesuvius, many of them purchased. Some of these samples were collected shortly after an eruption.

By studying the lavas of known age, we can create a timeline of the inner workings of the volcano. The first step in this is to look at the rocks in close detail alongside first hand observations.

Other features from our Presenting... series
William Burchell
Bruno Debattista’s horseshoe crab trace fossil
Museum memories
A space traveller’s arrival
Alfred Russel Wallace
William Smith
The science of disguise
Our new Collections Manager - Hilary Ketchum
The Breath of Life
Pine cones, great and small
Charles Darwin's insects
The Oxford Dodo
Fossils of the Gault Clay
A wartime gift
The other Audubon
The wonderful diversity of bees
A plesiosaur named Eve
The Worldwide Web
Dr Buckland and the Bear
Pioneers of Photography
'Flight' of the Dodo
Charles Lyell
Delightful Dung Beetles
John Obadiah Westwood
John Eddowes Bowman
All that glitters...
Daughters, wives, sisters... and scientists

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