May 1, 2006
A single olive tree may force archeologists to change their understanding of the Aegean civilizations that prospered during the Late Bronze Age. For decades, the field has been split over how long ago a volcano on the island of Thera erupted. The eruption is important because it deposited ash at many sites, serving as a kind of time stamp in the archeological record. Some archeologists have put the eruption at about 1500 BC. Now researchers have carbon-dated an olive tree buried in the eruption, putting the eruption about 1600 BC. The older date, supported by another team working independently from other evidence, could change how archeologists view the relationships between Minoan Crete, Mycenaean Greece, and the New Kingdom, in Egypt. For example, the new chronology has the Minoans reaching the height of their power before the height of Egyptian power instead of at the same time.
BOTTOM LINE: A massive volcanic eruption in the Aegean occurred 100 years earlier than thought, which may force archeologists to change the chronology of the Late Bronze Age.
CAUTIONS: The findings are not conclusive enough to end the debate over the dating of the eruption.
WHAT'S NEXT: Archeologists will work to understand what the implications of the new chronology are, even as they look for other lines of evidence that could support the findings.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Science, April 28, 2006