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ARCHAEOLOGY: New Carbon Dates Support Revised History of Ancient Mediterranean
Science Magazine ^ | 4/28/2006 | Michael Balter

Posted on 04/27/2006 4:59:30 PM PDT by Lessismore

During the Late Bronze Age, the Aegean volcanic island of Thera erupted violently, spreading pumice and ash across the eastern Mediterranean and triggering frosts as far away as what is now California. The Theran town of Akrotiri was completely buried. Tsunamis up to 12 meters high crashed onto the shores of Crete, 110 kilometers to the south, and the cataclysm may ultimately have sped the demise of Crete's famed Minoan civilization. For nearly 30 years, archaeologists have fought over when the eruption took place. Those who rely on dates from pottery styles and Egyptian inscriptions put the event at roughly 1500 B.C.E., whereas radiocarbon experts have consistently dated it between 100 and 150 years earlier.

Now, two new radiocarbon studies on pages 548 and 565 claim to provide strong support for the earlier dates. The studies "convincingly solve the problem of the dating of the Thera eruption," says archaeologist Colin Renfrew of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the work. If correct, the earlier dates would have "major consequences" for the relationships between Egypt, Minoan Crete, and Mycenaean Greece, says archaeologist Jeremy Rutter of Dartmouth College: "The issue of which direction artistic and other cultural influences was traveling may change significantly."

But many archaeologists who have long defended the later dates are unmoved. "I am not impressed," says Egyptologist Manfred Bietak of the University of Vienna in Austria, who prefers to rely on detailed Egyptian records for the same period. Archaeologists on both sides agree on one thing: The pottery found at Akrotiri since Greek archaeologists began excavating there during the 1960s has a distinctive style featuring spirals and floral motifs, known as Late Minoan IA (LM IA). The LM IA period also corresponds to what archaeologists consider the height of Minoan civilization. Because pottery was widely traded across the Mediterranean, sites that have pottery styles later than LM IA--such as Late Minoan IB, which features depictions of dolphins, octopi, and other sea creatures--must postdate the eruption. This makes it possible to construct relative chronologies for the region despite the debates over absolute dating.

One team, led by archaeologist Sturt Manning of Cornell University, dated 127 radiocarbon samples from Akrotiri and other Aegean sites thought--based on relative chronologies--to span a period from about 1700 to 1400 B.C.E. Manning and colleagues used a new radiocarbon calibration curve (described last year in the journal Radiocarbon) as well as sophisticated statistical models and cross-checked some samples among three different dating labs. They dated the eruption to between 1660 and 1613 B.C.E., within 95% confidence intervals.

That's a fairly close match to the findings of a second team, led by geologist Walter Friedrich of the University of Aarhus in Denmark. In 2002, Friedrich's graduate student Tom Pfeiffer found an olive branch, complete with remnants of leaves and twigs, that had been buried alive in pumice from the eruption. Radiocarbon dating fixed the death of the branch's outermost ring, and thus the eruption of Thera, between 1627 and 1600 B.C.E., again at 95% confidence levels. The authors of both papers argue that these earlier dates rule out the "conventional" chronology of about 1500 B.C.E.

"That is great news about the olive tree," says dendrochronologist Peter Kuniholm of Cornell, although he cautions that it is more difficult to assign specific years to the rings of a slender olive branch than to more commonly used trees such as conifers and oaks. Archaeologist Gerald Cadogan of the University of Reading, U.K., adds that the dates given by the two papers are "pretty consistent" and that their validity is bolstered because they are "put in context by other dates from before and after from elsewhere in the Aegean."

Manning and colleagues say the early dates suggest that the conventional linkage between Minoan and Egyptian chronologies, which puts the apex of Minoan civilization contemporaneous with Egypt's 16th century B.C.E. New Kingdom, is wrong. The New Kingdom, especially during the rule of Pharaoh Ahmose, was the high point of Egyptian power. Rather, the Minoans would have reached their own heights during the earlier Hyksos period, when the Nile delta was ruled by kings whose ancestors came from the Levant. Rutter says Egyptologists have tended to discount the importance of the Hyksos, whom Ahmose eventually chased out of Egypt: "The Hyksos have gotten lousy press."

This chronological realignment would also mean that the famous gold-laden Mycenaean Shaft Graves--excavated by German entrepreneur Heinrich Schliemann in the late 1800s and known to correlate with the LM IA period as well as the beginnings of Mycenaean power in the Aegean--would also be contemporaneous with the Hyksos. Some archaeologists had speculated that the Mycenaeans owed their rise to a strategic alliance with the New Kingdom; the new radiocarbon dates would instead raise the possibility that they were allied with the Hyksos, Rutter says. At the very least, Manning says, "it would make the Hyksos world much more important and interesting." Manning adds that the earlier chronology would create "a different context for the genesis of Western civilization."

But many proponents of the later chronology are sticking to their guns. The radiocarbon dates create "an offshoot from the historical Egyptian chronology of 120 to 150 years," says Bietak. "Until the reasons for this offshoot are solved, we are chewing away at the same old cud."

Bietak and others have argued that radiocarbon dating is not infallible and that the earlier date for the Thera eruption is contradicted by excavations in Egypt and on Thera itself. He and other archaeologists have found LM IA pottery in stratigraphic layers that Egyptian records date to later periods, and at Akrotiri they have unearthed a style of Cypriot pottery that apparently does not show up until the 16th century B.C.E. in Egypt. "There are no current grounds for thinking that the Egyptian historical chronology could be out by more than a few years," says archaeologist Peter Warren of the University of Bristol, U.K. "This chronology has been constructed by hundreds of expert Egyptologists over many decades."

Nevertheless, Rutter says, the Science authors "have done what they can to overcome" the objections by advocates of a later date for Thera. And both sides agree that there is a lot at stake in the debate. Until it is resolved, Warren says, at least for the Late Bronze Age, "we would have to forget about serious study of the past and relationships between peoples."


TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: akrotiri; alaska; aniakchak; archaeology; archives; calliste; caperiva; catastrophism; crete; davidrohl; dendrochronology; eruption; eruptions; godsgravesglyphs; greenland; hyksos; manfredbietak; michaelbalter; mikebaillie; minoans; peterwarren; radiocarbondating; rohl; santorini; sturtmanning; thera; volcanism; volcano; volcanoes
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1 posted on 04/27/2006 4:59:33 PM PDT by Lessismore
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To: Lessismore

Oh. From the headline, I thought this was a story about Helen Thomas.


2 posted on 04/27/2006 5:03:27 PM PDT by pogo101
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To: Lessismore
"The Hyksos have gotten lousy press."

They must have been conservative Republicans.

3 posted on 04/27/2006 5:06:18 PM PDT by Argus
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To: SunkenCiv

GGG ping


4 posted on 04/27/2006 5:12:37 PM PDT by To Hell With Poverty ("This is our Common and we're going to stay here until we leave!" - Random Boston Commie)
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To: pogo101

LOL. I would love to have her carbon dated. Wonder what era they would find she lived in?

vaudine


5 posted on 04/27/2006 5:32:10 PM PDT by vaudine
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To: Lessismore

I traveled to Crete and Sanotini back in '71 and had been aware of the impact that the Theran explosion had on the entire eastern Mediterranean. If this was in 1500BC, then the theory that it was partly responsible for some of the miracles [parting of the Red Sea] during Moses' age now need to be revised.


6 posted on 04/27/2006 5:37:54 PM PDT by auzerais
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Comment #7 Removed by Moderator

To: vaudine
LOL. I would love to have her carbon dated. Wonder what era they would find she lived in?

I believe Helen Of Thera died in the Upper-Middle ERA Era; just about the time the ERA was also starting to look moribund.

About 10 years after she was embalmed, Disney exhumed her, and used her corpse in Computer Assisted Total Animatronics experiments; like some Disney films, she was never released, but escaped.

The rest, as they say, is history.

8 posted on 04/27/2006 5:48:59 PM PDT by ApplegateRanch (Deportación por los todos ilegales ahora: Si, se puede!)
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To: vaudine
I would love to have her carbon dated.

I believe we can get a more accurate age by sawing her in half and counting the rings.

9 posted on 04/27/2006 5:52:53 PM PDT by randog (What the...?!)
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To: auzerais; SunkenCiv
GGG Ping.

"I traveled to Crete and Sanotini back in '71 and had been aware of the impact that the Theran explosion had on the entire eastern Mediterranean. If this was in 1500BC, then the theory that it was partly responsible for some of the miracles [parting of the Red Sea] during Moses' age now need to be revised."

This event was a worldwide affecting event. The tree-rings world wide recorded an event at 1628BC+- which I believe provided all the plagues and fire-works for the Exodus. The plume would have had to be 30 miles high to have been seen in the Nile Valley, "Torch by night - Staff by day."
. The Pinatibo equption was 26 miles high and the recent Alaskan eruption was 34 miles high.

10 posted on 04/27/2006 5:56:21 PM PDT by blam
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To: Lessismore; auzerais
Moses' Comet
11 posted on 04/27/2006 5:59:30 PM PDT by blam
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To: vaudine
Wonder what era they would find she lived in?

I notice you used past tense. Seems right

12 posted on 04/27/2006 6:14:05 PM PDT by maine-iac7 ("...but you can't fool all of the people all of the time," Lincoln)
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To: randog
I believe we can get a more accurate age by sawing her in half and counting the rings.

Thanks a lot! I snorted Coke on my monitor, scairt the cat who took off on all fours - with claws out - gotta go now, get some iodine

13 posted on 04/27/2006 6:16:59 PM PDT by maine-iac7 ("...but you can't fool all of the people all of the time," Lincoln)
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To: blam
which I believe provided all the plagues and fire-works for the Exodus

God uses His own tools for His purposes

14 posted on 04/27/2006 6:19:43 PM PDT by maine-iac7 ("...but you can't fool all of the people all of the time," Lincoln)
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To: To Hell With Poverty; blam

Thanks! Will ping when I get home. I was going to ping it when there were no replies, but the freakin' work duties called my name, plus my coworker rudely closed two or three windows, and opened up one of her own. Talk about no web etiquette.


15 posted on 04/27/2006 6:24:48 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: TonyRo76

Then use your own designation. Remember, I am quite happy to use other folk's orthographic representations of dates simply to have evidence that they are narrow-minded bigots who cannot stand to have others give any offense in their presence.


16 posted on 04/27/2006 6:41:09 PM PDT by muawiyah (-)
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To: blam
I've seen the "pillar of fire by night" and "column of smoke by day" around here when a big chunk of the Eastern Shore on the Delmarva Peninsula was in extreme drought and grass and brush fires raged all over the place.

Quite an interesting display. Consequently, if Thera were at all responsible for the effect seen by the Hebrews as they fled East, it must have been in the cooling effect that fostered the growth of grass in the Sinai which then burned.

That'd place Exodus at 2 or 3 years later than this event. Aftershocks could have been felt in the Nile Valley for half a decade ~

17 posted on 04/27/2006 6:45:05 PM PDT by muawiyah (-)
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To: muawiyah
Given that a explosion that large (mushroom cloud over 30 mi high) would have had the earth ringing like a bell. I believe that the parting of the red sea would have been due to a tsunami. If this event took place 2-3 years after the volaco erupted then the claim that the parted sea was actually a bay of the med does not work. I have seen very little evedence that spreading ceters are capable of producing earthquakes large enough to generate tsunamis.

Does anyone know if there has been any seafloor mapping in the southern third of the red sea that would be able to detect landslide scars?

18 posted on 04/27/2006 7:27:27 PM PDT by Fraxinus
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To: Lessismore

Bump for later.


19 posted on 04/27/2006 7:28:06 PM PDT by Styria
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To: TonyRo76

"» B.C.E.

Far as I'm concerned, the very use of this date designation casts suspicion on the source."


What are you talking about? You mean that doesn't stand for Before Christian Era?


20 posted on 04/27/2006 8:44:52 PM PDT by Chewbacca (Hell knows no fury than fiery habenaro Dorito's eaten before bedtime.)
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