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Researchers discovered victims of Santorini volcanic eruption for the first time

Researchers draw a detailed picture of the devastation as a result of the devastating volcanic eruption on the Greek island of Santorini around 1600 BC in a new paper in the journal "PNAS". For the first time, the remains of the victims of the disaster were found - albeit in Çeşme-Bağlararası in what is now Turkey, 227 kilometers from Santorini. A young man and a dog were undoed by the devastation caused by several tsunami waves.

volcanic eruption

© Atominstitut

The Viennese researchers have a large database of chemical fingerprints from volcanic material from the Aegean Sea

The "Minoan", "Santorin" or "Thera eruptions" have ejected enormous amounts of volcanic material on the now popular Greek holiday island of Santorin. The effects of one of the most devastating volcanic eruptions in the world in the past millennia severely affected the entire eastern Mediterranean region in the late Bronze Age. However, so far there is little reliable evidence of the tsunami waves that struck many coastal regions in the wake of the disaster, writes the team supported by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and led by Vasıf Şahoğlu from the University of Ankara (Turkey) and Beverly Goodman-Tchernov from the University of Haifa (Israel), to which Johannes Sterba and Max Bichler from the Technical University (TU) Vienna also belonged, at work.


Understand events exactly

The scientists analyzed well-preserved layers of ash and chaotically arranged debris deposits at the excavation site in the coastal town of Çeşme, which is located opposite the Greek island of Chios. Some of the complex analyzes were carried out in the radiochemical laboratory of the "Center for Labeling and Isotope Production" (CLIP) of the TRIGA Center at the TU Wien, which is located at the Atominstitut. The combination of archaeological and geoscientific methods allowed the researchers to paint an astonishing picture of what happened at the time. The Viennese researchers were contacted by Şahoğlu several years ago because they had a large database on chemical fingerprints of volcanic material from the Aegean Sea. During excavations in Çeşme he came across layers of volcanic ash. The Vienna team was able to assign it to the Santorin eruption, Sterba explained in an interview with the APA. According to the new analyzes, this took place no earlier than 1612 BC.


Tsunami victim

Later in the course of the excavations it became clear "that we are dealing with a relatively complex sequence of ash layers and mixed horizons," says Sterba. Goodman-Tchernov was able to prove that the latter chaotic deposits can be traced back to tsunamis. The disaster was made even more tangible by the discovery of the remains of a young man and a dog. These are the first victims who can be assigned to the outbreak. It is true that the Bronze Age settlement of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini was buried under a thick layer of ash - similar to Pompeii. "But we don't find any victims there," said the TU Wien researcher. This is probably due to the fact that there were apparently several eruption phases. This probably made it possible for the residents of Santorini to escape. This assumption is now also supported by the new analyzes: "The victim that we have now found is really likely to have hit the primary tsunami," said Sterba. This tidal wave partly destroyed stone walls and caused buildings to collapse, including the one in which the "Çeşme man" was. After that some volcanic material settled, but a few hours later a second huge wave hit the place, which was then directly on the coastline. Then volcanic ash settled. Meanwhile, numerous fires were burning in the Aegean Sea and burning material was floating in the sea. Subsequently, a third, somewhat smaller tsunami along with marine sediments brought parts of it ashore. "Then there should have been a few days of silence and people started looking for missing people," said Sterba. The archaeologists were even able to prove attempts to find the young man in the rubble. "There are really pits where you can see that the digging was relatively wild. The victim was buried a meter deeper." The beginning of the reconstruction work was subsequently destroyed by a fourth wave of similar size to the first. That fits perfectly into the picture that the huge eruption actually took place in stages and that several giant waves chased through the region.


Precise statements thanks to modern methods

The fact that the processes can be read off so precisely is only possible through the combination of many different disciplines and the latest analysis methods. "It is extremely exciting to see what is already going on. If you bring that together, very interesting and large statements can be made," emphasized the physicist. The work also shows that there could be much more evidence of the tidal waves in the area in the future. Currently, people are only looking for tsunami signs where volcanic ash is found. That explains why there is still so little evidence of tidal waves in the region. "As a rule, they are simply not recognized unless there is a layer of ash on them," explained Sterba. While layers of ash were often removed when a site was rebuilt, the massive rubble that a tsunami leaves behind mostly remains where it happened and is simply built over. Even if many people survived the disaster, one should not underestimate its longer-term effects on the region, the researchers write in their work. "The 'Çeşme man' is a representative of those many people who did not survive this tragic day or were missing, and thus could not see what might later happen one of the greatest rebirths in human history," as the authors with a view hold on to the following heydays of antiquity.



DI Dr. Johannes H. Sterba, opens an external URL in a new window
Center for Labelling and Isotope Production,
TRIGA Center Atominstitut,
Stadionallee 2
1020 Wien
+43 1 58801 141 357, opens an external URL in a new window
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