A Cornell University researcher is using cutting-edge statistical analysis to narrow down the time range for one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the Holocene epoch — and settle one of modern archaeology’s longstanding disputes.
The eruption on the Greek island of Santorini, traditionally known as Thera, is considered a pivotal event in the prehistory of the Aegean and East Mediterranean region.
By parsing available data and combining it with cutting-edge statistical analysis, Sturt Manning, professor of archaeology, has zeroed in on a narrow range of dates for the eruption. His modeling identified the most likely range of dates to be: between about 1609–1560 BCE (95.4% probability), or about 1606–1589 BCE (68.3% probability).
Archeologists in the early 20th century theorized the volcano erupted around 1500 BCE, during the Egyptian New Kingdom period, and created a history around this assumption. But beginning in the 1970s, advances in radiocarbon dating threw that timeline into chaos.
“This has been the single most contested date in Mediterranean history for over 40 years,” said Manning. “I’m hoping with this paper people may suddenly go, ‘You know what, this actually limits and defines the problem in a way that we’ve never been able to do before, and narrows it down to where, usefully, we can say it’s in the Second Intermediate Period. So, we should start writing a different history.’”
The new timeline synchronizes the civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean while also ruling out several ancillary theories, such as the idea that the Thera eruption was responsible for destroying Minoan palaces on the coast of Crete as the first excavator of Akrotiri, Spyridon Marinatos, proposed in 1939.