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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 00:59 GMT
'Pompeii of the East' discovered
Excavation (URI News Bureau)
There's potential that Tambora could be the Pompeii of the East
Professor Haraldur Sigurdsson
An expedition to the site of the largest volcanic eruption in modern times has uncovered a lost kingdom.

More than 100,000 people died when Mount Tambora erupted on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa in 1815.

Remains of a house with two occupants buried under ash have been unearthed for the first time in a discovery hailed the "Pompeii of the East".

Scientists say bronze bowls, ceramic pots and other recovered artefacts shed light on an old Indonesian culture.

"There's potential that Tambora could be the Pompeii of the East, and it could be of great cultural interest," said Professor Haraldur Sigurdsson, of the University of Rhode Island, US, who has been researching the area for 20 years.

Map of Sumbawa (BBC)
"All the people, their houses and culture are still encapsulated there as they were in 1815. It's important that we keep that capsule intact and open it very carefully."

The lost village was discovered by Sigurdsson and colleagues from the University of North Carolina and the Indonesian Directorate of Volcanology during a six-week archaeological dig in the summer of 2004.

They explored a gully in the jungle cutting through a deep deposit of volcanic rock and ash where a guide said local people had discovered ancient objects.

The first evidence of the village - pottery shards, carbonised wood and fragments of bone - were soon found. Using radar to look underground, they were able to find a house buried beneath 3m (10ft) of ash and excavate it.

Researchers excavated a Tamboran home

"That house was totally carbonised," Professor Sigurdsson told the BBC News website. "But inside there were two bodies, burnt or carbonised as well, and all their belongings. The rest of the town is still down there."

Objects discovered so far, particularly the bronze objects, suggest the Tamborans were wealthy people with links to Vietnam and Cambodia.

Their language was probably related to that of the Mon-Khmer group of languages that are now scattered across Southeast Asia.

The professor intends to return to the village next year to look for a large wooden palace that he believes is buried there.

Records suggest that the eruption of Mount Tambora was one of the most violent in human history.

The Tambora caldera is visible from space in this radar image

The explosion took place in April 1815, affecting a huge area, including the Maluku islands, Java, and parts of Bali and Lombok.

Some 10,000 local people were killed by flows of hot gas, ash and rock. As many as 117,000 died in total as disease epidemics and starvation due to crop failures contributed to the death toll.

The year 1816 became known as "the Year Without a Summer" because of the global cooling that followed the eruption due to the release of huge amounts of volcanic ash into the atmosphere.

All photographs courtesy of URI News Bureau.

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