AUGUST 24th (or alternatively October 24th) generally has been accepted as the date of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD ... until now.
Now, graffiti written in charcoal has been uncovered which bears the date October 17th ... proving that Pompeiians were alive and well two months after the supposed destruction of the city. This discovery lends credence to the alternative date of October 24th in the year 79 AD.
Translated, it says: "On October 17th, he over-indulged in food ...."
Italy's culture minister labelled it "an extraordinary discovery."
The August 24th date was based on ancient writings that purported to share first-hand accounts.
They came from Pliny the Younger, an elite lawyer and author of ancient Rome, who wrote about the death of his even more famous uncle, Pliny the Elder.
"On the 24th of August, about one in the afternoon, my mother desired him to observe a cloud..." he wrote in a letter to Tacitus, a Roman senator and historian, about the events of that day."
"... Behind us were frightening dark clouds, rent by lightning twisted and hurled, opening to reveal huge figures of flame. These were like lightning, but bigger .... It wasn't long thereafter that the cloud stretched down to the ground and covered the sea ... Now came the ash, though still thinly. I look back: a dense cloud looms behind us, following us like a flood poured across the land ....
"Someone said: 'Let us turn aside while we can still see, lest we be knocked over in the street and crushed by the crowd of our companions.' We had scarcely sat down when a darkness came that was not like a moonless or cloudy night, but more like the black of closed and unlighted rooms. You could hear women lamenting, children crying, men shouting.
"Some were calling for parents, others for children or spouses; they could only recognize them by their voices. Some bemoaned their own lot, other that of their near and dear. There were some so afraid of death that they prayed for death. Many raised their hands to the gods, and even more believed that there were no gods any longer and that this was one last unending night for the world."
According to his account, Pliny the Elder was then a fleet commander at Misenum - modern day Miseno - across the bay from Pompeii. He took a ship to stage a rescue for those in danger from the volcano.
But he did not return from the venture.
Pliny the Younger, meanwhile, watched the destruction unfold from the other side of the bay.
"I have faithfully related to you what I was either an eye-witness of myself or received immediately after the accident happened, and before there was time to vary the truth," he wrote.
But the latest discovery calls such certainty into question.