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15 April 2014
Bronze Age chronology revised by ancient weather report

An inscription on a 3,500-year-old stone block from Egypt may be one of the world's oldest weather reports, and could provide new evidence about the chronology of events in the ancient Middle East.
     The stela dates to the reign of the pharaoh Ahmose, the first pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty - the beginning of the New Kingdom, when Egypt's power reached its height. It was found in pieces in Thebes (now Luxor), where Ahmose ruled.
     A new translation of a 40-line inscription on the 1.8 metre tall calcite block called the Tempest Stela describes rain, darkness and "the sky being in storm without cessation, louder than the cries of the masses."
     Nadine Moeller and Robert Ritner, both of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, believe the weather described on the slab was the result of a massive volcanic eruption at Thera - the present-day island of Santorini in the Mediterranean. The translation suggests the pharaoh ruled at a time closer to the eruption than previously thought.
     Importantly, the text refers to events affecting both the delta region and the area of Egypt further south along the Nile. If the stela does describe the aftermath of the Thera catastrophe, the pharaoh's reign, currently thought to be about 1550 BCE, could actually be 30 to 50 years earlier.
     Oriental Institute associate professor David Schloen says the revised dating could mean other events in the ancient Near East fit together more logically, such as the fall of the power of the Canaanites and the collapse of the Babylonian Empire.
     For example, the eruption and resulting tsunami would have destroyed the Hyksos' ports and significantly weakened their sea power. Disruption to trade and agriculture would have undermined the Babylonian Empire, and could explain why they were unable to fend off an invasion by the Hittites.
     Other work is underway to get accurate dating around the time of Ahmose, who ruled after the period when the Hyksos seized power in Egypt. That work also has pushed back the dates of his reign closer to the explosion.

Edited from PhysOrg (2 April 2014)

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