"THE FURY OF THE SEA'S GOD": THE TSUNAMI PROVOKED BY THE MOUNT ETNA 8000 YEARS AGO AND THE SUBMERGED TOWN OF ATLIT-YAM
of Ignazio Burgio.
As show the studies of the INGV of Pisa, about the 6000 B. C. the east side of the Etna fell into the sea and provoked a tsunami so powerful that devastated not only Sicily and South-Italy, but the entire East Mediterranean. The researchers think that it was responsible for the abandon of the early settlements along the Near-Eastern coasts, like the town of Atlit-Yam in Israel, the underwater ruins of which lie at some hundred meters from the coast. But according to the studies of the geophysics and volcanologists, the catastrophe of 8000 years ago could repeat again, as shows the slow sliding towards the Ionian Sea of the east side of the volcano, pushed by the Pernicana Fault.
In his suggestive book “Ancient Traces” (published in Italy in 1999 by Marco Tropea), the english writer Michael Baigent
deals, among many themes, with the riddles that raise the ruins of the ancient settlement of Catal-Huyuk
, in the modern Turkey, about fifty kilometers from the city of Konya. The excavations and the studies carried out by James Mellaart
, its discoverer, in the early '60 years, showed that it's one of the most ancient town in the world, going back at least to VII millennium B. C. , with the ruins of other two Near East settlements, Jarmo
in the Kurdistan and the ancient Jerico
in Palestine. All the three sites display, as common feature, a social and economic system based on the early forms of farming. But unlike the other two, Catal-Huyuk distinguishes itself, since its oldest layers, by the advanced level of his civilization and by the high quality of its finds: “Qui furono trovate le testimonianze di un'abilità tecnica mai raggiunta prima; centinaia di coltelli, pugnali, punte di freccia e di lancia in selce e in ossidiana, la cui lavorazione tocca livelli di perfezione unici e straordinari, che superano di gran lunga quelli raggiunti nel Vicino Oriente nello stesso periodo...Furono trovati anche specchi di ossidiana perfettamente levigati, perline forate con estrema maestria, gioielli e tessuti di altissima qualità, tappeti, che testimoniano uno standard di vita elevato. Gli abitanti non usavano vasellame, ma cestini e oggetti in legno, la cui lavorazione perfetta e sofisticata non ha uguali in altri insediamenti dello stesso periodo..."
(“Here were found the evidences of a technical capability never reached before; hundreds of knives, daggers, points of arrows and of lances made with flint and obsidian, the working of which reaches levels of unique extraordinary perfection that by far exceed those reached in the Near East in the same period...Were find also perfectly smooth obsidian mirrors, little pearls pierced with extreme ability, very high quality jewels and weaves, and carpets that testify an high standard of life. The inhabitants did not use pots but baskets and wood objects, the perfect and sophisticated working of which does not have equals in other settlements of the same period....”) (Baigent, M. - Ancient Traces, Italian title: Misteri antichi, cit. p. 156).
Nevertheless this city seems prospered suddenly in the VII millennium B. C. with its already high degree of civilization, already in possession of those agricultural, technical and religious knowledges that they diffused then to East, towards mesopotamic lowlands, and to West, in Europe and in the rest of the Mediterranean Sea. An ancient “mother-civilization”, in short, founded we don't know from who, and about her equally we ignore how she learned all those refined technical and cultural knowledges.
The same Baigent, however assumes that Catal-Huyuk was founded from the inhabitants of other more ancient cities, located along the southern coast of the Anatolia, forced to abandon their settlements from the raising of the sea level. Pushed from the more and more catastrophic sea storms and floods caused by the swelling of the rivers, at the time of ice melting at the end of the last glacial age, the peoples sheltered more and more in the inside lands, carrying with themselves their knowledges, their culture and their social and economic organization. In this way it would have been founded from the beginning Catal-Huyuk, city already from the birth more developed and advanced than the little other contemporary towns.
Really, more recent diggings in '90 years have allowed to discover that this city is more ancient of at least 1000 years regarding that found from Mellaart, even if remain confirmed that just from the nearly 6500 a. C. it has been suddenly developed under all the points of view: demographic, urban, artistic, religious, etc. like as a result of a contributions from the outside. Substantially however, it seems just that the discussed author of the “Holy Graal” at least this time has seen right, because while he delivered to the press this possible reconstruction of the beginning of the human civilization, in the bottom of the Palestinian sea the Israeli archaeologists had already found from some years the evidence of the existence of human settlements submerged from the waters during the end of the last glacial age.
is a coastal place near the modern city of Haifa in the north of the state of Israel, at the feet of the famous Mount Carmel that in Christian age gave rise to the cult of the homonymous Our Lady. At a distance between the 200 and 400 meters from the coastline, at the depth of about ten meters under the sea level, the underwater Israelis archaeologists, coordinated from Ehud Galili
, Supervisor of the Israel Antiquities, have discovered since the 1984 the ruins of a human settlement that 8000 years ago had to be in surface. Near the remains of stone constructions build up from the hands of the man, the most ancient examples in the world until today verified, the researchers have recovered many stone and bone tools, fish-hook, fish-bones and bones of wild and domesticated animals, like sheep, goats and pigs, but also dogs. And of course several variety of seeds, first at all grains – wheat, barley – that certainly were already farmed, with lentils, grapes and flax. The finding, in that site, of 65 human skeletons well-ordered buried both under the ruins of the houses (like in the near Gerico, but also in Catal-Huyuk) and also in the outside, testifies not only the existence of a sophisticated religious but also the density of the inhabitants and their relative prosperity.
An element however attracted the attention of the archaeologists. The rests of a large quantity of fish not consumed from the inhabitants still were conserved in good order, perhaps like supply for own uses or also for purpose of trade. By this the archaeologists deduced that the village was abandoned suddenly and the people took to escape without to have the time to carry with themselves any food. Until to some years ago, everything seemed to give reason to the hypothesis of Michael Baigent, because just a dreadful sea storm, presumedly around the 6500 B. C. , seemed the most probable reason of the final abandonment of the village, from his inhabitants, to the inexorable invasion of the sea.
The presence of the submerged ruins of Atlit-Yam demonstrate, in short, that existed many such towns along the coasts (certainly still to discover) that once threatened by the rise of the sea level were abandoned from their inhabitants, in more or less headlong way. All these certainly took shelter in the inside regions and on the heights, and then found or settled in towns like Jerico or Catal-Huyuk, bringing there their knowledges and their traditions (for example, the custom to bury their dead persons under the floor of the houses). The memory of the sea's attack perhaps remained indelible among these peoples, like an ancestral fear, and this could explain some architectonic peculiarities in the ancient anatolic city like the typical houses with the entrance by the ceiling (perhaps built to protect themselves from an unexpected irruption of the water).
However since more an year, exactly since the December 2006, after a study of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV)
, department of Pisa, the archaeologists cleared better up the reconstruction of those ancient events, until to arrive to more bewildering conclusions (that until to some years ago only the criticized independent researchers, like Baigent and his colleagues, would done). The abandon of Atlit-Yam and of the other possible similar settlements, was caused certainly by the sea, but not because of the ice's thaw, but by a more catastrophic event: a big tsunami provoked by the collapse of a Mount Etna's side in the modern Ionian Sea.
The east side of the Mount Etna shows at present a deep depression called Valle del Bove (Ox's Valley)
, a desert and without vegetation region that many time in the history of the eruptions received the lava flows until their natural exhaustion, preventing therefore of arriving to the downhill villages. Until to the first half of the XIX century, when the volcanology was still a newborn science, many European naturalists discussed about the genesis of this valley, and someone, like the German Leopold von Buch
theorized the origin of it by a raising of the volcanic cone. But in the same years the distinguished scientist of Catania, Carlo Gemmellaro
(1787-1866) gave the right explanation: the Valle del Bove was generated by the landslide of the east side of the Mount Etna. The residual materials of that huge collapse are still now visible at the volcano's feet, in a geological deposit called Chiancone
near the modern town of Riposto
(Catania) in the ionic coast.
, president of the INGV, and the geophysics Maria Teresa Pareschi
and Massimiliano Favalli
, with theirs studies have discovered that the volcanic material involved in that collapse was about 35 kilometers cubic, and that it, just about 6000 B. C. arrived to the sea, spreading into the bottom until to 20 Km of distance by the coast, how the underseas studies testify. The most impressive thing was that the large quantities of volcanic materials fallen in the water caused a big tsunami with waves higher than 40 meters, probably the greatest seaquake in the history of the man. Through a computerized simulation and a comparison with the present situation of the sea bedrocks on the Mediterranean bottom, the researchers of the INGV of Pisa have reconstructed in every detail, minute after minute, the advance of the catastrophic water wall. After few minutes from their making, the giant waves fell into the coast of the East Sicily, passing only a little in the Tyrrhenian Sea because of the Strait of Messina. After fifteen minutes they began to submerge all the ionic coast of the Calabria and of the Puglia, and then flooded the Albania, where arrived about an hour after the collapse of the Etna. Instead, the big waves direct to east reached the Greece after two hours and with the height rather reduced, 10-15 meters, but equally devastating. Then was the turn of the North-African coast: Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt were reached after three hours by high waves of 8-13 meters. Finally after other three-four hours the tsunami arrived along the coasts of the East Mediterranean, from the South-Turkish to Cypriot, Syrians, Lebanese and Israeli shores, catching also the unaware people of Atlit-Yam. The waves were now high “only” a tenth in comparison with those immediately provoked by the Etna, assuming therefore the dimension and the intensity, to make an example, like those fallen in Indonesia in the December of 2004: however they were sufficient to devastate, to reap victims and to convince the terrified survivors to escape from the “fury of the sea's god” and to found new and more safety towns upon the uplands of the inside countries.
But the researchers of the INGV of Pisa analyzing the bottom of the East Mediterranean, has moreover discovered other things that could be revealed somewhat worrying. Under the deposits moved by the tsunami of the 6000 B. C. there are others, consequence of previous collapses of the same east side of the Etna, in even more remote ages. This phenomenon becomes particularly visible in the bottom of the Gulf of the Sirte, the sea in front of the Libya, because its characteristic concave geography amplified the upsetting action of the giant waves upon the sea bottom. Therefore these catastrophic events could have a periodic recurrence in the course of the millenniums, and our volcano could still collapse in the future provoking another big tsunami in the Ionian Sea. A premonitory sign of this, for the researchers of the Volcanology Institute of Catania, could be the slow but progressive sliding (with a rate of 1-2.7 cm. in the year) of the Pernicana Fault
, a geological break across the Etna's cone, along the north-east side, until to the coast near the village of Fiumefreddo
(not very far from above-mentioned Chiancone of Riposto). On the basis of the studies and the measurements of the same volcanologists with geodetic instruments and GPS, this fault, submitted to the lava's pressure inside the Etna, in the last years has speed up the natural movement towards the sea of a share of the east volcanic side. Especially in the eruption of the November 2002 scientists observed movements also about 1-2 cm. for day
, with landslides and cracks in the ground and in the roads. The sliding of the Pernicana Fault – responsible for the earthquakes of the 2002 in the region of Fiumefreddo - is conditioned, other this, also by the particularly internal morphology of the Etna, because it's constituted, in addition to the volcanics materials, also from very ancient clayey layers where the two edges of the fault slide with different rate and intensity (the share continuing below Ionian Sea is more quick) (cfr. in the Bibliography the articles of: Obrizzo and others; Neri and others; Criscenti; Azzaro and others).
Support us, however, to know that the discovery of the ancient tsunami devastating the Mediterranean in the 6000 B. C. has been the result of a project sponsored by the Italian Civil Protection, after the Indonesian seaquake in the 2004, in order to evaluate the risk of similar dangers in the Mediterranean Sea. It's necessary therefore to keep ever strictly supervised our beloved volcano without to skimp the indispensable funds to the INGV and to the other boards (in the last years restrained by the financial cuts). And if in the future it will be necessary, we'll must act to save not only Catania and the Sicily, but the whole East Mediterranean Sea (even at cost of leveling the Mount Etna with the excavators...).
Other article about Atlit-Yam: "With eyes to the sky": the submerged town of Atlit-Yam, the enigma of European megaliths and the birth of the celestial religions.
Other articles in English: click here
Note. The Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), Dr. Ehud Galili
, courtesy sent us a copy of an official comment published in April 26, 2008 in the Geophisical Research Letters, where himself and other researchers of the IAA criticize the thesis supported by the researchers of the Pisa's INGV (Pareschi, Boschi, Favalli) about the role of the Etna's tsunami in the desertion of the pre-pottery neolithic settlement of Atlit-Yam. On the basis of the remains of the water wells and of theirs content, as of the pathological analysis of the skeletons found in the graves, they rule out that there are signs of the passing of a tsunami, that probably occurred after Atlit-Yam was submerged by the sea: “...Instead, the data indicate that the village was abandoned ca. 8000 years B.P. due to the gradual post-glacial rise in sea level rise, similar to coastal Neolithic villages all over the world. The site was first covered by coastal sand dunes that protected it from abrasion by marine agents and then submerged by the rising sea. Due to the sea level rise, the subsequent PN villages in the region were built farther to the East...”.
Citation: Galili, E., L. K. Horwitz, I. Hershkovitz, V. Eshed, A. Salamon, D. Zviely, M. Weinstein-Evron, and H. Greenfield (2008), Comment on ‘‘Holocene tsunamis from Mount Etna and the fate of Israeli Neolithic communities’’ by Maria Teresa Pareschi, Enzo Boschi, and Massimiliano Favalli
, Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L08311, doi:10.1029/2008GL033445.
Baigent, M. - Misteri antichi – Marco Tropea Editore, 1999 Milano (original title: Ancient Traces, 1998).
Catal Huyuk – voice of the “Wikipedia free encyclopedia”.
AA.VV. - Catal-Huyuk – in: www.terracruda.com
Dan, C. - La nascita della città. Un esempio significativo: Gerico – in: L'uomo e il tempo, Mondadori, Verona, 1974.
Israel Antiquities Authority – The pre-pottery neolithic site of Atlit-Yam - in: www.antiquities.org.il
M. T. Pareschi, E. Boschi, M. Favalli, F. Mazzarini – Lo tsunami dimenticato (The lost tsunami)– in: www.pi.ingv.it/Focus/tsunami.html
(with a video of the computerized simulation).
Pareschi, M. T., E. Boschi, F. Mazzarini, and M. Favalli (2006) - Large submarine landslides offshore Mt. Etna, Geophysical Research Letters, 33 – in:
F. Obrizzo, F. Pingue, C. Troise, and G. De Natale - Ground displacements across the Pernicana Fault (Mt. Etna, Italy): a tectonic structure linked to volcanic activity - Osservatorio Vesuviano-INGV, Naples, Italy - Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 5, 11838, 2003 - in:
M. Neri, V. Acocella, B. Behnke - The role of the Pernicana Fault System in the spreading of Mt. Etna (Italy) during the 2002-2003 eruption. - INGV dept. of Catania – in: www.earth-prints.org
Criscenti, G. - Il termometro dell'Etna – in: www.galileonet.it/default
Azzaro, R., Puglisi, G., Mattia, M. - La frana di Presa (Piedimonte Etneo: origine e monitoraggio del fenomeno) – INGV sez. di Catania, in: www.ct.ingv.it/report/Smmacro20021107.pdf
(with a photographic documentation of the Pernicana Fault damages).
Pepe T. - Full costing – in: INGVnewsletter, gennaio 2007, n. 4
Note2. The author of the translation from the italian, Ignazio Burgio, apologizes with the readers for possible grammatical or syntax errors. The underwater photos of Atlit-Yam were courtesy grant, for this article and this site, from the Israel Antiquities Authority - www.antiquities.org.il
-. The other pictures were taken from the www.wikipedia.org free encyclopedia.