for National Geographic News
Scientists announced today the discovery of a small "kingdom" on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa thought to have been obliterated by the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. (See photo gallery: "Lost Kingdom" Found on Volcanic Island.")
The eruption of the volcano Tambora in 1815 killed 117,000 people in Southeast Asia, including those believed buried under ten feet (three meters) of pumice and ash in the recently discovered village.
The team, led by University of Rhode Island volcanologist Haraldur Sigurdsson, hailed the discovery as the "Pompeii of the East."
Pompeii is an Italian village buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Excavations there have yielded exquisitely preserved artifacts and insight to ancient Roman culture.
"[The Tambora discovery] gives us a window of the culture at that time that we couldn't get any other way," Sigurdsson said.
Tips Lead to Find
Scientists discovered the village in 2004 in a gully that cut through the thick layer of pumice and ash. Local guides had told the team about artifacts found in the area. Ground-penetrating radar later confirmed the first evidence of the village: a small house.
The researchers excavated the house, where they found the remains of two adults and their belongings: bronze bowls, ceramic pots, iron tools, pieces of furniture, and other artifacts.
The design and decoration of the artifacts suggest that the Tamboran culture was linked through trade to Vietnam and Cambodia, Sigurdsson said.
Records from a historian who visited the village prior to the eruption further suggest that the Tamborans spoke a language unlike others in Indonesia (map) but similar to the languages of Cambodia and Laos, Sigurdsson added.
Peter Lape, an anthropologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, said the discovery should add insight into a part of the East Indies before it came under the influence of Western colonists.
"[The Dutch] were trying to regulate shipping [in the East Indies], but they hadn't made much impact on the local political structure," he said. "So for places like Sumbawa, there's not much historical record."
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