Sweet Pea Jar, Fossilized Insects Key to Dating "Atlantis" Eruption?

by Jacqueline Zuniga Paiz, age 14

A jar of sweet peas might be the key to determining the seasonal conditions that led to the “Atlantis” volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini, Greece. A recent evaluation of evidence found at the eruption site, published in the journal Naturwissenschaften, re-opened this cold case.

Around 50 years ago, fossilized insect remains were found in a jar of sweet peas at the Bronze Age settlement of Akrotiri, in Santorini. The species found were bean weevils, pesty insects that crave spring crops. Using this evidence, researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland hoped to discover the exact date of the eruption that ended the Minoan civilization sometime in 1600 B.C.E.

Specifically, the researchers at Edinburgh used a new and improved pretreatment method to date fossilized insect material. This technique targets chitin, the protein in a bean weevil’s shell.

Results from this dating process confirmed earlier hypotheses that the “Atlantis” volcanic eruption occurred between 1744 and 1538 B.C.E. Predicting that bean weevils infested the sweet pea jar from June to early July, scientists concluded that the preserved insects are indeed the best clue for dating the eruption.

“Determining the year that a prehistoric volcano eruption took place is notoriously difficult. Trying to assign a season to one is even harder,” explained Eva Panagiotakopulu, one fossil-insect analyst and palaeoecologist from the team at Edinburgh.

Panagiotakopulu and her colleagues will continue reviewing the various stages of the bean weevil’s life cycle to determine when, exactly, the lethal eruption occurred.

[Sources: National Geographic; Daily News]


Very nice work. Great piece of writing. Clearly you are a bright, young person heading for college!! – James KramerMiddleton, WI (2014-09-03 10:38)