The end of one of the greatest Mediterranean civilization, the Minoans, seems to have been discovered from a miniscule olive branch. Buried during a cataclysmic volcanic eruption on Santorini (ancient Thera), the precise date of the tree's death can be ascertained.
This discovery is all important because the same eruption is likely to have caused the demise of the Minoan civilization, which was primarily based on the island of Crete, 60 miles away. Volcanologists believe the eruption generated violent tsunamis and ended in a "nuclear winter" which caused successive crop failures in the area. Evidence of this explosion has been found in other areas as well, such as Greenland, the Black Sea and Egypt, Ireland and California.
The tree has been ascertained to have died between 1627BC and 1600BC by Walter Friedrich and his colleagues of the University of Aarhus in Denmark, using carbon dating techniques. Dr Friedrich said "It is important to have a very precise date for the explosion because this eruption is a global time marker. If we can date it precisely we have an important tool to correlate the times of different cultures."
A student of Dr Friedrich, Tom Pfeiffer, discovered the olive branch buried inside a rock face which was formed from volcanic debris. Upon finding 72 growth rings, including the final year's ring, the scientists deduced that the tree was alive during the eruption. Published in the journal Science, the new evidence implies the Minoans were wiped out about 150 years earlier than previous estimates. From this evidence it can be deduced that the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt -founded in the 16th century BC- was not in existence during the same time as the Minoans, but followed about a century and a half later. This is supported by an independent study by Professor Sturt Manning of Cornell University. 127 objects recovered from the Theran town of Akrotiri - buried after the eruption - were put through the carbon dating technique and found to support this theory.
Cambridge archaeologist Colin Renfrew said the studies appeared convincing to estimate the eruption in Thera.