Walter Kutschera, Institute for Isotope Research and Nuclear Physics,
University of Vienna, Austria
Synchronizing cultures in the past: Pushing methods of natural sciences and humanities to their limits
C-14 is a wonderful gift of nature for archaeology and related fields to establish absolute time scales. Yet, it has its limitations due to the natural variations of the C-14 content in the atmosphere. Great advances in both archaeological excavations and C-14 measurements by accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) led to pushing both fields to their limits, in order to decide crucial issues in ancient history. In this talk, we will focus on the synchronization of civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Second Millennium BC. In the middle of this millennium, some 3500 years ago, the volcanic eruption of Thera (the modern Greek island of Santorini) set an important time mark. Yet, its exact date is elusive. Various methods of the natural sciences (C-14 dating, dendrochronology, ice core dating, analysis of volcanic ash) and the humanities (archaeology, egyptology, history) are employed to solve the problem. So far, no consensus has been reached. We will discuss the current situation, which will show that all methods are pushed to the limit of their applicability. A possible approach for the solution of this problem will be discussed.