The town of Herculaneum, wedged between the gulf of Naples and Mt Vesuvius, has often been overshadowed by the better known archaeological attraction of Pompeii.

However, new research has revealed that this town which was buried by the same volcanic eruption in 79AD saw far more extreme scenes and temperatures so hot they turned peoples' organs to glass.

One of the ancient Roman victims excavated by archaeologists in the 1960s has became the centre of a study into the effects of the volcanic eruption. For almost two thousand years the roman man has been hiding a gruesome piece of evidence within his skull.

'Vitrified brain' reclaimed from an unlucky Roman resident. Photo / via the NEJM
'Vitrified brain' reclaimed from an unlucky Roman resident. Photo / via the NEJM

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, said it recovered a black, glassy substance believed to be the man's brain.

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The team from the Universities of Naples and Cambridge concluded that: "the rapid rise in extreme heat during the Vesuvius eruption in c.e. 79 resulted in the conversion of human tissue to glass."

The grizzly curiosity is believed to be the very first discovery of "Heat-Induced Brain Vitrification".

Herculaneum is Pompeii's smaller, less visited neighbour. Photo / 123RF
Herculaneum is Pompeii's smaller, less visited neighbour. Photo / 123RF

Beyond this strange find, the research has determined a great many other things about the life of the victim who lived in Roman-era Italy. The man, believed to be in his 20s, was found on the remains of a wooden bed.

The fact he was unmoved and buried under layers of volcanic ash led Dr Pier Paola Petrone, author of the study, to deduce he was killed instantly by the eruption.

Temperatures reached 520 degrees Celsius. This rapid radiant heat was enough to ignite fatty tissues, leaving them to crystallise after a "rapid drop in temperature".

Archaeologists had long believed the town of Herculaneum to have been engulfed by a pyroclastic flow – a fast moving cloud of ultra-heated gases.

However, this unfortunate Roman is one of the best examples of what happened to the unfortunate residents caught up in the eruption.

Vesuvius and Naples' buried treasures

Which buried village to visit?

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According to the Archaeological Park, 3 million tourists visit Pompeii every year.

That's roughly the same number of people who were living in the town in 79AD visiting every day. In 2016 Unesco conservationists worried that the weight of tourists were wearing out the streets.

Pompeii is visited by 3million tourists a a year. Photo / Denise Jones, Unsplash
Pompeii is visited by 3million tourists a a year. Photo / Denise Jones, Unsplash

They went as far as to tell Cruise tourists to rethink their itineraries and visit lesser known buried villages. The Pompeii Archaeological Park looks after three other such sites - including Stabiae, Boscoreale and Oplontis.

Herculaneum sees just 300,000 visits annually. Due to the intense heat of the pyroclastic flows, some of the buildings and frescoes – such as in The House of the Alcove - have been preserved in far better state than those in Pompeii.

Volcanic Mt Vesuvius is climbed by thousands of tourists each year. Photo / Victor Malyushev
Volcanic Mt Vesuvius is climbed by thousands of tourists each year. Photo / Victor Malyushev

However if you want to experience Roman ruins in a more natural state of abandonment, the Villa Poppea sees only 30000 visits a year.

Half way between Naples and Sorento the ancient town of Oplontis is one of the lesser known villages buried by Vesuvius. With impressive columns and recovered frescoes - Villa Poppaea is thought to have belonged to Nero.

http://pompeiisites.org/en/oplontis/