Crouching, crawling, and clinging to loved ones, the people were buried by ash, which perfectly preserved their positions at the moment of death. When rain came, the layer of ash turned to concrete, entombing the bodies in an undisturbed environment. The bodies themselves then slowly decayed. When archaeologist Fiorelli found the hollow cavities where the bodies had once been, he realized that by pumping wet plaster into what were essentially molds and letting it harden, he could make perfect casts of the dead.
A beggar with a new pair of shoes died at the city gate. Perhaps he had recently swiped the shoes from a corpse. The owners of a house were hiding their valuables in a well when they fell in and died. A dog was still chained to a fence. A woman held an infant in her arms while two young girls clung to the hem of her dress. A man was trying to pull a goat by its halter outside the city wall. Thirty-four people were hiding in a wine vault with food that they never got a chance to eat.
A man, seeking refuge in a tree, died holding a branch. A young girl clutched a statue of a goddess. A man, laying next to a woman seven months pregnant, reached out to cover her face with his robe in the moment before death. A group of priests were about to sit down to a meal of eggs and fish. One of the priests had a hatchet and chopped his way from room to room as lava rushed after him. He was trapped in the last room, which had walls too thick to chop through. The remains of a woman were found next to a wine vat. Inside the vat were over 100 silver dishes and 1,000 pieces of gold. One of the silver cups bore this inscription: Enjoy life while you have it, for tomorrow is uncertain.