Earlier this year, we were surprised to learn that people (falsely) believed that the stone bodies of Pompeii were real bodies, and ancient in origin. Of course, they are accurate representations of the bodies of people caught up in the eruption of 79 CE, but in reality they were created by pouring plaster of Paris into the imprint of a body.
“The material from the volcano had covered the bodies of the dead, setting hard and solid around them,” Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, explained in an article for BBC Magazine. “As the flesh, internal organs and clothing gradually decomposed, a void was left – which was an exact negative imprint of the shape of the corpse at the point of death. It wasn't long before one bright spark saw that if you poured plaster of Paris into that void, you got a plaster cast that was an exact replica of the body."
It has come to our attention that people are also a bit confused about shadows found and preserved at Hiroshima after the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city on August 6, 1945. According to Yoshinori Obayashi, a volunteer who explains exhibits at the Atomic Bomb Museum, visitors to the museum sometimes believe that people were instantly vaporized by the nuclear explosion, and that only the shadows were left behind.
While it's understandable that these myths arose, with many thousands declared missing and presumed dead in the months following the attack, the "shadows" left at Hiroshima are not the vaporized remains of people killed in the atomic blast. Firstly, it requires a lot of energy to vaporize humans.
"We don't know how deep the heat rays reach into the body," Dr Minako Otani, professor emeritus at Hiroshima University explained to Japanese outlet Peace Seeds, "but even if the human body is burned, carbonized tissue or at least bones will remain."
The shadows of people and other objects, including bicycles, are not their vaporized remains. As the atomic bomb unleashed its energy upon Hiroshima, it encountered objects on its path. These objects – human, animal, or inanimate – absorbed this energy, while the bomb's force went on to bleach the surrounding area. The result looks like a shadow, while really it is the surrounding area that has been dyed.
Efforts have been made to preserve these imprints. An exhibition at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum titled "Human Shadow Etched in Stone" now displays the stone steps, photographed above, where someone chose to sit on August 6, 1945, and was likely killed instantly. Their identity remains unknown to this day.