Approximately 3,500 years following the eruption of the volcano in Thera (modern-day Santorini) during the Bronze age, the skeletal remains of a human being and a dog were discovered
along the coast of Turkey among tsunami debris.
This is an unprecedented discovery by the University of Haifa’s Dr. Beverly Goodman-Tchernov and Ankara University’s Dr. Vasif Şahoğlu who published the study in the peer-reviewed journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).
These discoveries provide not only deeper insight into how truly catastrophic the volcanic eruption was for the region, but also provide researchers with further information for studying the timeline of events as well as the history of the Bronze Age. Utilizing calibrated radiocarbon ages derived from other tsunami debris, the researchers managed to estimate the skeletons as having come from sometime around 1612 BCE.
“This discovery was the outcome of many years of excavations by my colleague Dr. Prof. Şahoğlu combined with sedimentological analysis to assess the deposit origins,” Goodman-Tchernov said. “He invited me to come to Turkey in order to assist him to determine whether an ash layer at the site was linked to the Thera Eruption, and when I saw the section, I noticed that there were some similarities immediately below the ash layer to tsunami deposits I had seen elsewhere.”
The excavations lasted for a duration of 10 years and ended in 2019. They were performed by a multi-national team led by Şahoğlu with the approval of Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
A volcano, possibly Mount Etna, is seen erupting in ancient times in this artistic reimagining (illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons)
“We proceeded to study the deposit, which for many years frustrated and confused us until it became clear that our error was thinking that only a small part of the deposit was tsunami-related, and in fact, the tsunami deposit was much larger than we could have imagined,”Tcherov explained. “Once we understood this, the entire excavation area fit together logically, and the discovery of the human skeleton
was like receiving confirmation from the ancients.”
The excavation was revealed implementing several academic disciplines including archaeology, earth sciences, and geology. The evidence that the scientists gathered demonstrates that massive tsunamis hit the northern Aegean region. This flies in the face of the preconceived belief that the region’s destruction came from volcanic ash fallout.
Thera’s eruption was a watershed moment for the region causing massive death and destruction. Despite the earthquakes, ash, and tsunamis that have devastated the region, this excavation marks the first time that the remains of victims were discovered. The location where the skeletons were found hints that survivors were potentially unable to rescue him on time.
“Natural disasters, whether eruptions, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes or plagues, have long been a part of the story of humanity,” Goodman Tchernov explained. “Every one of us is descendent from people who, whether by luck, skill or accident of geography, managed to survive these challenges. Çeşme man, and other remains from the rescue effort, gives us an opportunity to time travel into the past and better understand what the people experienced at that time. Through this, we can better prepare for what is possible in the future by understanding what happened in the past.”