Archaeology

SIGNS OF A WAVE

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Science  04 Jan 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5859, pp. 13
DOI: 10.1126/science.319.5859.13a

The massive volcanic eruption of Santorini just before about 1600 BCE, or 3600 years ago, is one of the largest historical eruptions. It spread ash across the central Mediterranean and formed a massive caldera in the island of Thera. Despite its size, the scale of its effects on surrounding nascent civilizations even nearby in Crete continues to be debated. Bruins et al. now provide evidence that the eruption may have spawned a tsunami that devastated the northern coast of Crete, including a major city of the early Minoan civilization. They identified several deposits along the coast and in the ancient city of Palaikastro that include chaotic mixtures of ash, pebbles, fragments of walls and buildings, Minoan pottery, bones, and other debris. The geochemistry of the ash ties it to Santorini, and the position and stratigraphy of the debris layer are consistent with deposition by overwash in a tsunami. The highest debris implies that the height of the waves reached at least 9 m above sea level, but models of a tsunami and the extent of devastation are consistent with a much higher wave height, perhaps up to 35 m, that would have overwhelmed coastal cities. — BH

J. Archaeol. Sci. 35, 191 (2008).

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