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The first object visitors see, in the centre of the space, is a 3.5 metre-high recreated vent from a typical Auckland volcano glowing with rough a'a lava. To one side of it, under a cloud of ash, is a typical Auckland house. These two objects represent two major themes of the exhibition - the science of volcanoes themselves and their effects on human life.
The highly interactive exhibition will give visitors a walk through deep sea black smokers and also a grandstand as-live view of a volcanic eruption in Auckland.
The gallery is installed with a series of modules telling various stories, containing artefacts, film and video. Exhibits will tell the story of human interaction with volcanoes from Māori myths and the witnessing of Rangitoto's emergence, including footprints preserved in ash, to their use as pa sites and quarries. Historic disasters such as Tarawera and Tangiwai are encountered as are the catastrophic effects for life in New Zealand that another major Taupō or Taranaki eruption would create.
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.