Indonesian Volcano Site Reveals `Pompeii of the East'

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Scientists excavating at the site of the world's biggest recorded volcanic eruption on an Indonesian island have found human remains and artifacts in an area they said may be the ``Pompeii of the east.''

The discoveries were made near Tambora, on Sumbawa Island, which erupted in 1815. The volcano produced 150 cubic kilometers of ash that fell as far as 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) away. Tambora lies about 1,300 kilometers to the east of Indonesia's capital, Jakarta.

``There is a potential that Tambora could be the Pompeii of the east and it could be of great cultural interest,'' Haraldur Sigurdsson of the University of Rhode Island, who led the excavation, said in a statement published on the university's Web site. ``All the people, their houses and culture are still encapsulated there as they were in 1815.''

The archeological dig led to the discovery of two human bodies, ceramic pots and artifacts linking Tamboran culture to that of Vietnam and Cambodia. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy in 79 AD covered the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in layers of ash. Pompeii was discovered in 1748 with buildings and artifacts intact. The discovery gave insight to historians about ancient Roman life.

``If it's true that they found such remains, it will reveal the culture at that time,'' said Atje Purbawinata, head of volcano monitoring and research at the Volcanological Survey of Indonesia. ``A generation of local people might have been lost due to the eruption. Now it could be revealed what happened.''

The expedition involved teams from the University of Rhode Island and the University of North Carolina, the statement said. They spent six weeks in the island in 2004.

Still, the team didn't seek permission from the Indonesian Institute of Science, said Neni Sintawardani, department head in charge of issuing research clearance at the agency.

Igan Sutawidjaya, a senior researcher at the Volcanological Survey of Indonesia, a member of the team to Tambora, said they obtained permission from Indonesia's immigration department and the foreign ministry. He didn't know if the science agency needed to approve the trip.

``In granting a clearance, we always require them to cooperate with a qualified Indonesian so we can share knowledge,'' Sintawardani said.

Some Indonesian archeologists said the evidence of Khmer culture among the ruins could have been because of trade.

``The ceramic pots and other household materials found might be goods that the people of Tambora traded overseas, the Mon- Khmer culture has actually never been found across Indonesia,'' said Bagyo Prasetyo, an archeologist with the Center of Archeological Research in Jakarta. ``We also need to know if the team did carbon dating.''

Volcanic Explosivity Index

Tambora's eruption was rated 7 according to the Volcanic Explosivity Index, which measures the height of the eruption and the amount of ash ejected, according to the Volcano World Web site hosted at the University of North Dakota, making it the biggest recorded eruption. Mount Toba in Sumatra Island, which erupted 76,000 years ago, had a Volcanic Explosivity Index of 8.

Tambora's eruption killed about 10,000 people because of the pyroclastic flows, while an estimated 82,000 died after the eruption because of disease and hunger. The year 1815 is also known as the ``year without a summer,'' because gases released by Tambora resulted in a global cooling and led to food shortages in Europe.

``The findings were remarkable,'' said Sutawidjaya of the Volcanological Survey. A team from the agency will visit the area again in April to continue its research, he said.

Pumice, Ash

The Tambora discovery was made after cutting through a 10- foot thick deposit of pumice and ash, the statement said. The area may also have a wooden palace. Sigurdsson and his team plan to return in 2007 to complete the excavation process.

The announcement comes three weeks after scientists exploring the mountains in Indonesia's Papua province said they found a ``lost world'' of at least 35 previously undocumented species, including frogs, butterflies and plants, and a bird of paradise not seen by scientists since the 19th-century.

Indonesia, the world's biggest archipelago, has 129 active volcanoes. The nation's 18,000 islands are prone to earthquakes because the country sits along the Pacific's so-called ``ring of fire'' zone of active volcanoes and tectonic faults. The country lies above three major tectonic plates, or slabs of the Earth's crust that float on the planet's molten core.

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