FROM fire belching mountains to blood red waves of lava, a new exhibition will capture mankind's relationship with volcanoes.

Delving into the Bodleian Libraries' extensive collection, volcanologist and exhibition curator Professor David Pyle has collated a selection of eye witness accounts, scientific observations and artwork to chart how our understanding of volcanoes has evolved over the past two millennia.

Professor Pyle said the exhibition, now available to see at the Weston Library, came about completely by chance.

He said: "It is a project we have been working on for a while and it all started from a fortunate coincidence.

"When the Weston Library opened it increased our capacity to put on exhibitions and so three years ago we were having a conversation about what we could do in the new space.

"So it all came about through a conversation."

Professor Pyle said among the lava and rock samples, maps and scientific equipment used by 19th Century scientists there were even better gems on display.

He added: "Fragments of ‘burnt’ papyrus scrolls from the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum, which were buried during the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius are pretty amazing and I think one of the most interesting pieces in the collection.

"And there is the earliest known manuscript illustration of a volcano, found in the margin of a 14th Century account of the voyage of St Brendan, an Irish monk who travelled across the north Atlantic in the 6th Century."

The exhibition examines some of the world’s biggest volcanoes including the 19th century eruptions of Krakatoa and Santorini, two of the first volcanic eruptions to be intensely studied by modern scientists.

The human encounters with volcanoes that are traced in the exhibition range from Pliny the Younger’s account of the dramatic eruption of Vesuvius to early Renaissance explorers who reported strange sightings of mountains that spewed fire and stones.

Also explored is how scientific understanding of volcanoes and the Earth’s interior have developed over time, from classical mythology and early concepts of subterranean fires to the emergence of modern volcano science, or Volcanology, in the 19th Century.

Bodley's librarian Richard Ovenden added: "Volcanoes are one of the most extraordinary marvels of the natural world and have fascinated us for millennia.

"This exhibition draws on both the rich collections held at the Bodleian and cutting edge scientific research to demonstrate the power and fascination of volcanoes through time."

A programme of talks and events will be held over the course of the exhibition, which closes Sunday, May 21.

For more information about the activities visit: