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Archaeological evidence of the cataclysm has been discovered in tsunami deposits near the ancient settlement of Tel Dor, northwest Israel. Tsunamis are a fairly frequent event along the Mediterranean coastline, with at least one occurring every century for the last 6,000 years. But there are few historical records of tsunamis occurring even earlier.
Underwater excavations and borehole drilling near Tel Dor now suggest the area was likely struck between 9,910 and 9,290 years ago during the Early to Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic period.
The tsunami would have reached a height between 54 and 131ft (16m and 40m), and travelled 0.9 to 2.1 miles (1.5 to 3.5km).
Evidence of the tsunami was uncovered by a team of researchers from the University of California, San Diego and Utah State University in the US, and the University of Haifa in Israel.
The archaeologists uncovered a layer of seashells and sand more than 9,000 years old in wetland sediments deposited between 15,000 and 7,800 years ago.
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Archaeology news: A mega tsunami struck the coast of Neolithic Israel more than 9,000 years ago (Image: Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem/GETTY)
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The findings were presented this week in the journal PLoS ONE.
The study’s lead author, Dr Gilad Shtienberg at the University of California, San Diego, said: “Tsunami events in antiquity had a profound influence on coastal societies.
“Six thousand years of historical records and geological data show that tsunamis are a common phenomenon affecting the eastern Mediterranean coastline, occurring at a rate of around eight events per century in the Aegean region over the past 2,000 years and approximately 10 per century over the past 3,000 years in the Levant basin.
“Most of the events are small and have only local impacts.”
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Tel Dor is an archaeological site located in northwest Israel, along the country’s Mediterranean coast.
The settlement was most likely founded in the Middle Bronze Age (2,000 to 1550 BC).
The site was occupied throughout the Roman period (thrid century BC) and shows signs of Byzantine and Crusader presence.
In their study, the researchers wrote: “The local environment of Dor is characterized by a series of unique embayments/pocket beaches that stand out from the linear morphology of the southeastern Mediterranean littoral shoreface.”
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Archaeology news: Researchers collected borehole samples near Tel Dor (Image: PHOTO BY T. E. LEVY)
Archaeology news: The settlement of Tel Dor is in northwest Israel (Image: Ynhockey)
Although it is unclear what triggered the neolithic tsunami, it was much more powerful than other known events in the region, which have only travelled about 984ft (300m) inland.
Tsunamis in the area tend to be triggered by earthquakes along the Dead Sea Fault system as well as underwater landslides.
It is likely the event wiped out many archaeological sites along the coast that have been dated to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A-B period 11,700 to 9,800 years ago.
Meanwhile, sites dated to the late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B-C 9,250 to 8,350 years ago and younger suggest the area was resettled after the tsunami.
Professor Thomas Levy, a researcher at the University of California, San Diego, said: “We can’t know for sure why people weren’t living there, in a place otherwise abundant with evidence of early human habitation and the beginnings of village life in the Holy Land.
“Was the environment too altered to support life? Was the tsunami part of their cultural knowledge – did they tell stories of this destructive event and stay away? We can only imagine.”
Dr Shtienberg added: “Scholars know that at the beginning of the Neolithic, around 10,000 years ago, the seashore was 4km (2.5 miles) from where it is today.
“When we cut the cores open in San Diego and started seeing a marine shell layer embedded in the dry Neolithic landscape, we knew we hit the jackpot.”
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