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. 2018 Aug 9;8(1):11841.
doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-29392-9.

Radiocarbon Analysis of Modern Olive Wood Raises Doubts Concerning a Crucial Piece of Evidence in Dating the Santorini Eruption

Free PMC article

Radiocarbon Analysis of Modern Olive Wood Raises Doubts Concerning a Crucial Piece of Evidence in Dating the Santorini Eruption

Yael Ehrlich et al. Sci Rep. .
Free PMC article


Charred olive wood is abundant in the archaeological record, especially around the Mediterranean. As the outermost ring closest to the bark is assumed to represent the latest time that the tree was alive, the radiocarbon date obtained from the outermost rings of an olive branch buried during the Santorini volcanic eruption is regarded as crucial evidence for the date of this cataclysmic event. The date of this eruption has far reaching consequences in the archaeology of the Aegean, Egypt and the Levant, and the understanding of their interconnections. We analyzed the radiocarbon concentrations in cross-sections from a modern olive tree trunk as well as from a living branch, and obtained near-annual resolution dates using the radiocarbon "bomb peak". In both cases we show that radiocarbon dates of the last formed wood along the circumference are not chronologically homogenous, and can differ by up to a few decades. Thus the outermost wood layer does not necessarily represent the date of the last year of growth. These findings challenge the interpretation of the results obtained from dating the olive branch from the Santorini volcanic eruption, as it could predate the eruption by a few decades. In addition, our results are also significant for any future studies based on archaeologically preserved olive wood.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interests.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Top: Map of the sampling region in northern Israel (inset, scale bar of 30 km), within larger map of the Mediterranean (scale bar of 2000 km). Bottom: live olive tree sampled at Havat Hanania (northern point in the inset map) is shown in the center of the photo. Maps generated with Google Earth.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Cross section of olive tree branch cut down alive in 2013, in Havat Hanania in northern Israel, with sampling points for radiocarbon marked with black dots around the circumference. Sample numbers (white font on gray circle) and resulting calibrated calendar years are indicated on the outer perimeter.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Transverse section of olive tree trunk, cut down in 2013 in Zippori, northern Israel, with sampling points for radiocarbon marked on cross section with small white dots (to scale of the 2.8 mm samples). Near each dot is the sample number (white font on gray circle) and the calibrated calendar years. Two radii are indicated with white lines along the sub-section to the bottom right of the figure, with the number of growth rings identified indicated (radius 1 n = 71; radius 2 n = 42). © Weizmann Institute of Science. Original olive section photo by: Itai Belson.

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