Santorini tree rings support the traditional dating of the volcanic eruption
Science Daily, 06-03-2014
Will the dating of the volcanic eruption of Santorini remain an unsolved mystery? The question whether this natural disaster occurred 3,500 or 3,600 years ago is of great historiographical importance and has indeed at times been the subject of heated discussion among experts. After investigating tree rings, a team of scientists led by the WSL has concluded that the volcano erupted in the 16th century BC, rather than any earlier than that. A number of research studies since the 1980s have indicated that the Greek island of Santorini’s volcano may have erupted not in the 16th century BC as traditionally thought but possibly in the century before that. If this dating had been confirmed, it would have involved rewriting the whole history of the cultural development of the eastern Mediterranean region. The latest evidence for antedating the eruption was supplied by a study from Denmark that used radiocarbon dating (14C dating) to examine olive wood from the period of the eruption.
However, an international team of researchers led by Paolo Cherubini from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) has demonstrated in the scientific journal Antiquity that this method cannot provide reliable results. The scientists show that 14C dating of individual pieces of olive wood enveloped by volcanic ash is too unreliable for precise dating. “Investigating such wood samples only makes sense if it can be clearly shown that the trees were still alive at the time of the eruption. In the case of old olive trees in the Mediterranean region, it is not at all unusual for dead branches to stay in place for several decades,” says Paolo Cherubini. If 14C dating is carried out, it must use an international reference curve, which in the case of the period of the volcanic eruption is based on tree-ring measurements from trees that are more than 4,000 years old.
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