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Ancient pests: the season of the Santorini Minoan volcanic eruption and a date from insect chitin


Attributing a season and a date to the volcanic eruption of Santorini in the Aegean has become possible by using preserved remains of the bean weevil, Bruchus rufipes, pests of pulses, from the storage jars of the West House, in the Bronze Age settlement at Akrotiri. We have applied an improved pre-treatment methodology for dating the charred insects, and this provides a date of 1744–1538 BC. This date is within the range of others obtained from pulses from the same context and confirms the utility of chitin as a dating material. Based on the nature of the insect material and the life cycle of the species involved, we argue for a summer eruption, which took place after harvest, shortly after this material was transported into the West House storeroom.

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We thank the Natural Environment Research Council for funding for a project dating insect chitin at the Oxford Accelerator Unit and the British School at Athens, in particular Cathy Morgan and Vaggelio Kyriatzi, for support through a Fitch Senior Visiting Fellowship to EP. The Archaeological Ephoreia, Greece, and colleagues from the excavation of Akrotiri are also thanked. A. Panayotakopoulos is thanked for maps and drawings. Special thanks are also due to Eftychis and Andreas Fytros for information on cultivation of Lathyrus on Santorini and for providing modern infested material for comparison. Thanks are extended to Walter Friedrich, Scott Elias, Sturt Manning and Bernd Hermann and to the editors Claus-Dieter Hillerbrand and Sven Thatje for their useful comments.

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Correspondence to Eva Panagiotakopulu.

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Communicated by: Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand

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Photograph of the West House, Akrotiri, Santorini (JPEG 15 kb)

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Radiocarbon dates from pithos 1, Room 5, West House, Akrotiri (DOC 27 kb)


Bayesian radiocarbon calibrated calendar age probability histogram based on the dates from pulses and bruchid from a single context pithos 1, south wall, Room 5, West House. This coincides with the destruction of the settlement. The diagram shows the four determinations in a single-phase model, in which the results are unordered but assume the same start and end date for the archaeological event. The dark outlines are the posterior probability distributions after Bayesian modelling. The date obtained on the olive branch by Friedrich et al. (2006) is shown as a calendar date ranging from 1600–1627 at 95.4 % probability. There are no outliers in the model (JPEG 100 kb)

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Bruchid infestation on Lathyrus clymenum, Room 5, West House (DOC 26 kb)

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Panagiotakopulu, E., Higham, T., Sarpaki, A. et al. Ancient pests: the season of the Santorini Minoan volcanic eruption and a date from insect chitin. Naturwissenschaften 100, 683–689 (2013).

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