Scientists say they have discovered a new Pompeii on one of the tropical islands of Indonesia, a town preserved under the ash from the biggest volcanic eruption of modern times.
Academics say what they have uncovered are the last remains of a lost civilisation that was completely wiped out by the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815.
So far the researchers, a joint team from the US and Indonesia, have unearthed the remains of a thatched house, with the carbonised bodies of two people still intact inside it.
But they believe this is just one corner of an entire town that was once home to 10,000 people and lies preserved under the ground.
"There is potential that Tambora could be the Pompeii of the east and it could be of great cultural interest," Professor Haraldur Sigurdsson of the University of Rhode Island, who led the excavation.
"All the people, their houses and culture are still encapsulated there as they were in 1815."The eruption of Mount Tambora on April 10, 1815, was the biggest volcanic eruption ever recorded.
It was four times more powerful than the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.
It was so loud it was heard 1,700 miles away, and people felt the concussions of blasts from 1,000 miles around.
The eruption sent up a column of smoke 28 miles high.
Ash fell as far as 800 miles away, and it fell so thickly that the roofs of houses caved in under its weight forty miles from the volcano.
More than 10,000 people died in the immediate eruption alone, by lava, rock and hot ash.
In the weeks that followed, as many as 117,000 died from the aftermath, as crops failed in fields choked with ash, and disease broke out.
The civilisation of Tambora died out completely.
"The explosion wiped out the language.
That's how big it was," said Prof Sigurdsson.
"But we're trying to get these people to speak again, by digging."The Western world had only just encountered the Tambora civilisation when it was suddenly wiped out.
The first British and Dutch explorers reached the island of Sumbawa in the early 1800s and spoke of encountering a civilisation that spoke a language unlike any other in Indonesia.
The new finds have borne out contemporary accounts that Tambora was not a primitive society but a civilisation.
They have found bronze, pottery and glass.
In the house they found the carbonised remains of a woman in what appears to have been the kitchen, with a melted glass bottle and a metal machete close by.
The remains of a second person were found outside what appeared to be the front door.
"If it's true that they found such remains, it will reveal the culture at that time," said Atje Purbawinata of 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 researchers say the pottery they found bears a striking resemblance to pottery from the Mon Khmer civilisation in Vietnam and Cambodia at the time.
But other academics have dismissed speculation the Tambora civilisation might have migrated from Indochina, saying it is more likely the pottery arrived by trading.
The lost town was discovered by Prof Sigurdsson and his colleagues during a dig in 2004, after they followed a guide who said local people had found ancient artefacts in the area.
When the researchers started digging, they found shards of pottery and fragments of bone.
Using radar, they found the house buried under 10 feet of ash and dug down to it.
But there has been controversy over accusations from the Indonesian Institute of Science that they did not obtain a permit before digging in the area.
The eruption of Mount Tambora is of interest amid current concerns over climate change.
It spewed so much ash into the atmosphere that it caused 'global cooling' to such an extent that the following year, 1816, was known as 'the year without a summer', or 'Eighteen hundred and froze to death'.
In the US state of Maine, crops were killed by frost in June, July and August.
Brown snow fell in Hungary.
Globally, the temperature fell by 1C.