Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


15 February 2010

The Minoan Santorini eruption and tsunami deposits in Palaikastro (Crete): Dating by geology, archaeology, 14C, and Egyptian chronology

Hendrik J. Bruins, Johannes van der Plicht & J. Alexander MacGillivray Radiocarbon 51.2 (September 2009): 397-411.


Deposits from the Minoan Santorini (Thera) eruption in the eastern Mediterranean region constitute the most important regional stratigraphic marker in the chronological perplexity of the 2nd millennium BC. Extensive tsunami deposits were discovered in Crete at the Minoan archaeological site of Palaikastro, containing reworked volcanic Santorini ash. Hence, airborne deposition of volcanic ash, probably during the 1st (Plinian) eruption phase, preceded the tsunami, which was apparently generated during the 3rd or 4th phase of the eruption, based on evidence from Thera. Average radiocarbon dates (uncalibrated) of animal bones in the Palaikastro tsunami deposits along the coast (3350 ± 25 BP) and at the inland archaeological site (3352 ± 23 BP) are astoundingly similar to the average 14C date for the Minoan Santorini eruption at Akrotiri on Thera (3350 ± 10 BP). The wiggle-matched 14C date of the eruption in calendar years is 1627–1600 cal BC. Late Minoan IA pottery is the youngest element in the Palaikastro tsunami deposits, fitting with the LM IA archaeological date for the Santorini eruption, conventionally linked at ~1500 BC with Dynasty XVIII of the historical Egyptian chronology. The reasons for the discrepancy of 100–150 yr between 14C dating and Egyptian chronology for part of the 2nd millennium BC are unknown. 14C dates from Tell el-Dabca in the eastern Nile Delta show that the 14C age of the Santorini eruption matches with 14C results from 18th Dynasty strata C3 and C2, thereby confirming grosso modo the conventional archaeohistorical correlations between the Aegean and Egypt. We propose that a dual dating system is used in parallel: (1) archaeological material-cultural correlations linked to Egyptian chronology; (2) 14C dating. Mixing of dates from the 2 systems may lead to erroneous archaeological and historical correlations. A “calibration curve” should be established between Egyptian chronology and 14C dating for the 2nd millennium BC, which may also assist to resolve the cause of the discrepancy.


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