Scientists Aim To Settle Dispute Over Precise Date Of A Massive Volcanic Eruption Using Tree Rings

Posted: Aug 17 2018, 3:29pm CDT | by


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Scientists Aim to Settle Dispute Over Precise Date of a Massive Volcanic Eruption Using Tree Rings
Credit: Peter Brewer

Tree rings represent an environmental history going back thousands of years in time

Around 3,500 years ago, a massive volcanic eruption buried Greek island of Santorini under a thick blanket of ash. The eruption of the Thera volcano was so devastating that its effects were felt as far away as Egypt and Turkey.

By analyzing human artifacts on the site, archaeologists estimated that the eruption occurred sometime between 1570 and 1500 BC. But radiocarbon measurement from bits of trees, grains and legumes below the layer of volcanic ash suggested a different timeframe that falls within 1600 BC.

To resolve this discrepancy, researchers decided to use radiocarbon measurements from the annual rings of trees that existed at the time of the eruption. The analysis of 285 samples of annual tree rings from Irish oaks and bristlecone pines pointed to a date somewhere between 1600 and 1525, a time period which overlaps with the 1570-1500 date range from the archaeological evidence.

"There's been a huge debate about the timing of the Thera eruption and radiocarbon versus archaeological dating. What we can say now is that the radiocarbon evidence is compatible with the archaeological evidence for an eruption of Thera in the 16th century BC," said lead author Charlotte Pearson from University of Arizona.

“The volcano erupts and represents one short moment in time. If you can date precisely when that moment is, then whenever you find evidence of that moment at any archaeological site, you suddenly have a very precise marker point in time – and that's really powerful for examining human/environmental interactions around that time period."

Trees are great historians. They add a growth ring to their trunk each year and the width of those growth rings hold information about the environmental conditions during the year the ring was formed. Tree-ring record goes back thousands of years in time, so any question within this timeframe can be tackled with this method.

"What we're doing in this study is using the annual nature of tree rings to improve the existing calibration curve for radiocarbon," said Pearson. "We wanted to tackle this time period in hopes we could use this to shed new light on the Thera debate."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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