Ancient mural may be first picture of volcanic blast
Colin Barras, New Scientist, 30-10-2013
Was humanity’s first depiction of a volcanic eruption daubed on the wall of a house in Turkey 8500 years ago? Geological evidence now supports this controversial claim. In 1963, archaeologist James Mellaart found a large mural on the wall of a house in Çatalhöyük, the largest known Stone Age town. He interpreted it as depicting a plan layout of the town’s dwellings with a twin-peaked volcano, Hasan Dağ, looming behind – captured dramatically in the process of erupting. If correct, the interpretation makes the mural the earliest depiction of a geological observation.
But not everyone agrees with Mellaart, partly because there was no evidence that Çatalhöyük’s people saw Hasan Dağ erupt, says Axel Schmitt, a volcanologist of the University of California in Los Angeles. Now Schmitt and his colleagues have found that evidence, and are presenting their work at the Geological Society of America conference in Denver, Colorado today. They climbed Hasan Dağ and collected samples from layers of pumice, a volcanic rock formed during an explosive eruption. By extracting zircon crystals from the pumice and using radiometric dating, they confirm that the rocks are about 9000 years old – roughly the same age as the mural. What’s more, the geological evidence suggests the mural was a relatively accurate depiction of the eruption, says Schmitt. Previous interpretations of the image by volcanologists have suggested it was a small “Strombolian” eruption, he says, characterised by the ejection of bright cinder particles and chunks of molten rock tens of metres above the crater. “The available volcanological evidence is in accordance with this interpretation.”