Radiocarbon Studies Push Back Date of Thera Eruption

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Posted by on 28 Apr 2006

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The massive eruption on Thera, present day Santorini, was believed to have been so powerful that it created a column of debris and smoke, to up to 23 miles high. Said to have occurred 3,500 years ago, the volcanic eruption had caused ash to settle in faraway places like China, western North America and Greenland.

The impact of the eruption does not end there, with 40-feet high tsunamis being triggered by it. The tsunamis are said to have slammed into Crete, which is located 70 miles to the south, and is said to be the cause of the downfall of the Minoan Civilization. No one has been able to give the exact date of the eruption till today, though many assumptions have been made. Some archaeologists date the eruption to sometime around 1500 B.C. This is based on evidence collected from pottery shards found in Arkotiri, the town which was preserved almost perfectly during the blast and was covered with ash, as well as from pottery collected from Egypt, from a particular period, known as New Kingdom.

Meanwhile radiocarbon experts have dated the eruption to 100 years earlier. With the discovery of an olive branch, which was found buried in volcanic ash for centuries, is helping scientists give a fresh and more confident perspective to the date of the powerful eruption. If the findings don't agree with what has been assumed, then historical timelines for civilizations, situated around the Mediterranean basic, will require to be changed. This will also impact the knowledge we have about cultures which were thought to have traded, which will now be revealed to have existed in different times.

Two new radiocarbon studies recently conducted, details of which appeared in the April 28 issue of the Science journal, has shown results which support the other radiocarbon studies. One of the studies was led by Sturt Manning, from Cornell University, which was conducted on wood and seed samples, taken from the site in Arkotiri. Whereas the other study was led by Walter Friedrich, a geologist from the University of Aarhus, Denmark, which has made use of the single branch, which revealed the time of death of the olive tree, which is said to have been buried alive during the eruption. These two studies have set the eruption date to somewhere between 1660 and 1600 B.C. "It is the only direct piece of evidence, that has come along since the debate began", said Manning, in a talk with LiveScience.

The new date clearly indicates that the civilizations in Cyprus, Crete and elsewhere in Greece could not have traded with Egypt's New Kingdom, as the latter did not exist in this period. Also revealed from the date was that these civilizations were probably interacting with Canaanites, a civilization occupying the Levant, on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. Today that area includes Palestine, Israel, western Syria and Lebanon.

Many other anomalies have been explained due to the new date, such as the one, which states a link between Anat, a virgin goddess of war in Levant, and Athena, a very important goddess in Greek culture. Mannat added, "Once people have accepted this as plausible, they may discover that a few of the problems regarding the genesis of Western civilizations make more sense".

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