The "cataclysmic" Minoan eruption of Thera, one of the largest in the history of the planet, took place a century earlier than previously thought, scientists say.
The ancient eruption devastated the island of Terea, present-day Santorini, and decimated new societies throughout the Mediterranean, as volcanic activity also triggered an earthquake and tsunami in the region.
Folklore claims that the eruption caused a wave so large that it drowned out an entire city, creating the mythical kingdom of Atlantis.
The researchers found an ancient olive branch buried under the rocks on the island of Santorini and used radiocarbon analysis to reveal a more accurate date for the destructive natural disaster.
Now it is believed that the eruption took place between 1627 and 1600 a. C., more than a century before the date of 1,500 a. C. previously suggested by archaeologists.
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Scientists have discovered that Thera's "cataclysmic" Minoan eruption occurred a century before previous estimates. Now it is believed that the eruption took place between 1627 and 1600 a. C., more than a century before the date of 1,500 a. C. suggested by archaeologists (stock)
Carbonized olive wood is found throughout the archaeological record and provides a consistent way of dating ancient events, especially in the Mediterranean region.
The latest research took samples of an ancient piece of wood unearthed in fragments of volcanic rock and compared it with two examples from the modern era: one from a living tree and the other from a specimen that had died a few years before.
Dr. Elizabetta Boaretto of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel took 20 samples from the living tree and 11 from the dead branches, which had been cut in 2013.
These samples were used to evaluate how the olive trees grow and apply the latest findings to the old sample unearthed in Santorini.
Until now, it was believed that the outermost ring of wood in the 3,500-year-old olive tree was formed just before the branch was buried alive by the eruption.
According to the study: "The outermost rings of an olive branch buried during the volcanic eruption of Santorini are considered crucial tests for the date of this catastrophic event."
However, Dr. Boaretto and his colleagues discovered that olives are different from most trees and that they do not produce visible growth rings every year.
Using this found knowledge, the scientists tested other samples of the ancient olive branch to discover parts of the branch almost a century older than the previous estimates for the volcanic eruption in Thera.
This cross section of one of the olive trunks is an example of the samples used by the researchers. They say that the olive tree's growth pattern was unusual and, therefore, it may mean that the original estimate of the Santorini eruption was incorrect.
The eruption is one of the largest in the history of the Earth and devastated the island of Terea, the modern Santorini (in the image), and decimated the budding societies in the islands of the Mediterranean, as it triggered an earthquake and a tsunami .
WHAT IS THE CARBON CITATION AND HOW IS IT USED?
Carbon dating, also known as radiocarbon dating or carbon 14 dating, is a method used to determine the age of an object.
It can only be used on objects that contain organic material, which was once "alive" and, therefore, contained carbon.
The carbon element appears in nature in a few slightly different varieties, depending on the number of neutrons in its nucleus.
The so-called isotopes, these different types of carbon, all behave differently.
Most of the stable carbon present on Earth is carbon 12: it represents 99% of the element of our planet.
Another carbon isotope is carbon 14, a radioactive version of carbon.
It occurs naturally in the atmosphere as part of carbon dioxide, and animals absorb it when they breathe.
Animals stop taking it when they die, and a finite amount of the chemical is stored in the body.
All radioactive substances have a half-life, the time it takes for a material to lose half of its radioactivity.
Carbon-14 has a long half-life, 5,370 years to be exact.
This long half-life can be used to discover how old objects are by measuring how much radioactivity remains in a sample.
Due to the long half-life, archaeologists have been able to date objects up to 50,000 years old.
Radiocarbon dating was first invented in the 1940s by an American chemical physicist named Willard Libby. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for his discovery.
The eruption is one of the largest in the history of the Earth and devastated the island of Terea, the current Santorini, and decimated the emerging societies in the islands of the Mediterranean, as it triggered an earthquake and tsunami.
"We analyzed the radiocarbon concentrations in cross sections of a modern olive trunk, as well as a live branch, and obtained almost annual resolution dates using the radiocarbon" peak of the pump ", explain the researchers.
"In both cases, we showed that the radiocarbon dates of the last wood formed along the circumference are not chronologically homogeneous, and can differ in up to a few decades.
"Therefore, the outermost layer of wood does not necessarily represent the date of the last year of growth."
By applying this knowledge of how plants grow and understand the maturation process of olive branches, the scientist was able to better predict when the Bronze Age eruption took place.
The authors continue: "These findings challenge the interpretation of the results obtained from the dating of the olive branch of the volcanic eruption of Santorini, since it could be prior to the eruption in a few decades."
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.