Volcanic ash, victims, and tsunami debris from the Late Bronze Age Thera eruption discovered at Çeşme-Bağlararası (Turkey)

Vasıf Şahoglu, Johannes H. Sterba, Timor Katz, Umit Çayır, Umit Gundo Gan, Natalia Tyuleneva, Irfan Tugcu, Max Bichler, Hayat Erkanal, Beverly N. Goodman-Tchernov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Late Bronze Age Thera eruption was one of the largest natural disasters witnessed in human history. Its impact, consequences, and timing have dominated the discourse of ancient Mediterranean studies for nearly a century. Despite the eruption’s high intensity (Volcanic Explosivity Index 7; Dense Rock Equivalent of 78 to 86 km) [T. H. Druitt, F. W. McCoy, G. E. Vougioukalakis, Elements 15, 185–190 (2019)] and tsunami-generating capabilities [K. Minoura et al., Geology 28, 59–62 (2000)], few tsunami deposits are reported. In contrast, descriptions of pumice, ash, and tephra deposits are widely published. This mismatch may be an artifact of interpretive capabilities, given how rapidly tsunami sedimentology has advanced in recent years. A well-preserved volcanic ash layer and chaotic destruction horizon were identified in stratified deposits at Çeşme-Baglararas ı, a western Anatolian/Aegean coastal archaeological site. To interpret these deposits, archaeological and sedimentological analysis (X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy instrumental neutron activation analysis, granulometry, micropaleontology, and radiocarbon dating) were performed. According to the results, the archaeological site was hit by a series of strong tsunamis that caused damage and erosion, leaving behind a thick layer of debris, distinguishable by its physical, biological, and chemical signature. An articulated human and dog skeleton discovered within the tsunami debris are in situ victims related to the Late Bronze Age Thera eruption event. Calibrated radiocarbon ages from well-constrained, short-lived organics from within the tsunami deposit constrain the event to no earlier than 1612 BCE. The deposit provides a time capsule that demonstrates the nature, enormity, and expansive geographic extent of this catastrophic event.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2114213118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number1
StatePublished - 4 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. C¸es¸me-Bag≥lararası excavations have been conducted under permits and with funding support from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Turkey. Activities occurred within the course of the Izmir Region Excavations and Research Project under the framework of Ankara University Mustafa V. Koc¸ Research Center for Maritime Archaeology (ankusam.ankara.edu.tr). Additional funding for the research has been provided by The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey Project 108K263, 114K266 (V.S¸., H.E.), Institute for Aegean Prehistory: INSTAP (V.S¸., H.E.), Ankara University Rectorates (V.S¸., H.E.), Ankara University Faculty of Languages, History and Geography (V.S¸.), Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study Center for East Crete (V.S¸.), C¸es¸me Municipality (V.S¸., H.E.), Urla Municipality (H.E.), İzmir Metropolitan Municipality (V.S¸., H.E.), Turkish Historical Society (V.S¸.), Koc¸ Foundation (H.E.), Turkish Institute of Nautical Archaeology (V.S¸., H.E.), Israel Science Foundation ISF 984-10 (B.N.G.-T.), Sir Mick Davis (B.N.G.-T.), Norman Krischer (B.N.G.-T.), Tzili Charney (B.N.G.-T.), and National Geographic Grant (B.N.G.-T.). Field observations, laboratory assistance, remarks, and feedback are from Rıza Tuncel, Evangelia Kiriatzi, Mustafa İncirlili, Yılmaz S. Erdal, Henry P. Schwarcz, Dan Tchernov, Joy Kroin, Joe Boyce, Douglas Faulmann, Kirki, Mjr. Tom, and Paul Falkowski. Special appreciation goes to the four anonymous reviewers who provided excellent insight and greatly improved the final manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Aegean
  • Geoarchaeology
  • Minoan
  • Tsunami
  • Volcanic ash

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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