In A.D. 79, the Mount Vesuvius volcano in southern Italy erupted and destroyed Pompeii in a matter of hours.
The bodies of many of those who died at Pompeii were covered in ash that gradually hardened into rock. When the bodies decomposed they left behind cavities in the rock.
Almost 1700 years after the destruction of Pompeii, people began excavating the town. When the excavators found cavities created by the bodies, they filled them with plaster and removed the rock around the plaster, leaving casts in the shapes of the bodies. These plaster casts provide a glimpse into the dramatic last moments of this ancient city.
The cast on display in the Volcanoes Gallery at Auckland Museum is a copy of one of those casts. The victim was an adult male who slumped down against a wall as he was overcome by the eruption. His hands are drawn up to his mouth, perhaps in an attempt to avoid breathing in ash and poisonous gas.