Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fossil Insects Change Date of Atlantis Eruption

As much as mountains and canyons, valleys and hills bring delight to the eye, they rouse a bundle of questions about their origin if they carry some extraordinary quality of form, shape and structure. When a jar full of insect pests was found in an ancient ground storage around 50 years ago, geologists did not take it for granted. Instead they learned that the volcanic eruption that took place in Greek island of Santorini around 1600 BC and now sculptured by mysterious forces and left untouched actually happened in early summer.

Unanswered Questions

Just like heavy waves batter the cliff, winds move sand dunes in the desert and rivers widen their banks, the "Atlantis" volcano was the main cause of the end of Minoan civilization as well as ancient communities around Egypt. Taken singly, this seems an obvious incident and scientists were able to figure out the year range the incident happened - between 1627 and 1600 BC. But the one thing that remained unanswered for quite a long time was the season it took place. The discovery of pests was really helpful in zeroing in on it. 

Perhaps geology has no more significant lesson to teach than the fact that little things bring out the truth about something big. When the insect remains were discovered in the storage jar containing sweet pea seeds, it was determined that the volcano eruption took place in the month of June. The jar in which the insect fossils lie must once have been in the storage area where the crops were infested, and it was only during the month of June that the bean weevil infested this crop. 

The Current Climate

The climate has changed since then. The place of volcanic eruption has been formerly clothed with vegetation. Proper pest control is in place. And as the distribution of land and nature of climate changed, so did the forms of life. All changed but the Akrotiri got buried in the ash and pumice preserving the site for thousands of years.

As the geologists began to climb the slopes of this ancient volcano, they found the infested peas buried in the ground-floor room of a multistory building. The date range for the fossils was later determined using a modern technique to radiocarbon date the protein called chitin found in the insect's shells. 

Throughout this long period of volcanic activity the earth's crust was repeatedly broken in that part of the world. Finding the exact date range along with the exact season of a prehistoric volcanic eruption was a Herculean task. When the pests were upheaved, many theories began to surface in terms of assigning seasons to natural calamities. The bean weevils found from the volcanic site have one annual life cycle. They were probably stored shortly before this single incident that destroyed the region. 

The condition they were found suggests that more and more accurate models of such events can be easily resolved just by knowing the season in which a particular event took place. The result? Some geologists have found their own conclusion with the insect fossil theory, others have come up with the season determination through layers of ash and pumice collected from the site.

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