Isotopic analysis ‘rejuvenated’ the eruption that destroyed the Minoan civilization

(ORDO NEWS) — An analysis of the isotopic signatures of the sulfate-rich layers in the Greenland ice cores determined that the volcanic cooling of 1628 BC was not caused by the Minoan eruption, but by another volcano.

Thus, the discrepancy between the results of dating the Minoan eruption, which brought the decline of the civilization of the same name, is reduced.

The middle of the second millennium BC was a turbulent time. The civilizations of Egypt and Greece were subjected to devastating invasions and conquests, a multi-megaton asteroid impact wiped out the city – presumably the biblical Sodom – and the famous Minoan civilization experienced the consequences of the colossal eruption of the Santorini volcano in the Mediterranean Sea.

The islands around Santorini were completely buried under ash, multi-meter tsunamis hit the coast of Crete, destroying the Minoan maritime infrastructure, and an ash plume covered vast territories to the east, including all of modern Turkey.

Isotopic analysis rejuvenated the eruption that destroyed the Minoan civilization 2
The contours of the thickness of the ash layer of the Minoan eruption, in centimeters

Attempts to accurately date the Minoan eruption have led to mixed results. The ash layer serves as a starting point for excavations throughout the Mediterranean: it clearly divides the fossil evidence into “before” and “after”. But the absolute dating is difficult.

The most accurate result is given by dendrochronology – counting the annual rings of fossil trees. The Minoan eruption, comparable in terms of ash volume to the eruption of Tambora in 1815, should have caused a powerful cooling , imprinted in the form of frost rings. And just such a cold snap was recorded around 1628 BC.

The catch is that this date differs from the results of other methods. Archaeological evidence points to the second half of the 16th century BC (it includes the period from 1600 to 1501 BC).

The Minoans managed to acquire artifacts of the Egyptian New Kingdom , found, among other things, on Santorini itself, under a multi-meter layer of ash.

The rise of Egyptian culture that created them began around 1550 BC, and there was no way that its objects could reach Santorini after an eruption of this magnitude – those places were simply completely depopulated.

Radiocarbon dating of plant remains buried in the ashes indicates an interval that does not fit well with frost rings and New Kingdom artifacts – from 1617 to 1601 BC.

Accounting for systematic errors can “move” this interval forward, then it will better converge with archeology and other evidence, but finally diverge from dating by rings.

Isotopic analysis rejuvenated the eruption that destroyed the Minoan civilization 3
Tree-ring anomaly on a section of a California pine corresponding to an early frost in 1628 or 1627 BC

An alternative explanation of the volcanic winter of 1628 BC could give a clue, and it was Professor Charlotte Pearson from the University of Arizona (USA) who found it.

Massive eruptions eject sulfates into the stratosphere, from where they spread throughout the earth’s atmosphere and eventually settle, falling into the glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica.

The researcher compared the isotopic composition of the sulfate layers in the cores with the composition of the ash of other known eruptions of the same period and discovered the source of the cooling and the sulfate layer of 1628 BC. It turned out to be the Aniakchak volcano in Alaska.

Thus, the main discrepancy in the dating of the Minoan eruption is finally eliminated. Despite its impressive scale, it turned out to be far from the most powerful eruption of that period.

Other sulfate layers were found in Greenlandic cores, dating back to 1611, 1562-1555 and 1538 BC – now it remains to be established which of them belongs to Santorini.


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