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19 January 2014
Neolithic mural may depict ancient eruption

First discovered and excavated in the 1960's by British archaeologist James Mellaart, the world-famous 9,000-year-old Neolithic site of Catalhoyuk in Central Anatolia, Turkey, has provided a unique window on the lives of humans at the transition from hunter-gatherer to settled agriculture societies. Among the spectacular finds was a wall-painting dated to about 6600 BCE and described by its discoverer and others as depicting a volcanic eruption - arguably the first map or graphical representation of a landscape.
     This interpretation has been contested, however, as critics have maintained that there has been little or no geologic evidence for an explosive volcanic eruption in the area contemporaneous with the age of the site.
     Now, new volcanic rock dating suggests the mural date may have overlapped with the date of an eruption from the nearby Hasan Dagi volcano. Led by Axel Schmitt from the University of California Los Angeles and colleagues from other institutions, an international team of scientists analysed rocks from the volcano in order to determine whether it was the one depicted in the mural. Samples collected from the summit and flanks of the volcano have resulted in the first radiometric ages for a Holocene volcanic eruption in the area.
     The dating indicates an eruption around 6900 BCE, which closely overlaps with the time the mural was estimated to have been painted, implying humans in the region may have witnessed this eruption.
     Says Schmitt, "We tested the hypothesis that the Catalhoyuk mural depicts a volcanic eruption and discovered a geological record consistent with this hypothesis. Our work also demonstrates that Hasan Dagi volcano has potential for future eruptions."

Edited from EurekAlert!, Popular Archaeology (8 January 2014)

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