13th Century 'Mystery Eruption' Caused By Indonesian Volcano

A mystery eruption in the 13th century was caused by an Indonesian volcano. However, the location of the volcano was unknown until recently.

The eruption was the largest in known history, eight times bigger than Krakatu in 1883 and twice as large as Tambora in 1815. Ash from the explosion was found all over the world, including in ice cores dug from the Arctic and the Antarctic.

Findings from a study published on Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences point to Samalas volcano on Indonesia's Lombok Island as the source.

Geographer Franck Lavigne of the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, led a team of researchers to discover the source of the eruption, which the team believes happened between May and October 1257. Lavigne explained of the search, "It's been a long time that some people have been looking."

The source of the 13th century eruption is little more than a crater lake today. But the team tied sulfur and dust traces in the polar ice to data gathered from the Lombok region. The data from Indonesia included radiocarbon dates, the type and spread of ejected rock and ash, tree-rings, and even local chronicles that recall the fall of the Lombok Kingdom, which happened in the 13th century.

Lavigne likened the search for the eruption's source to a criminal investigation, adding, "We didn't know the culprit at first, but we had the time of the murder and the fingerprints in the form of the geochemistry in the ice cores, and that allowed us to track down the volcano responsible."

The eruption was chronicled in medieval texts, which describe the summer of 1258 as incredibly cold. Harvests were poor and incessant rains triggered destructive floods. Lavigne explained that the impact was felt around the world. He added, "The climate was disturbed for at least two years after the eruption.

Indonesian records also told of a massive catastrophe. Old Javanese texts found written on palm leaves talked about a massive volcanic blast that formed a caldera at Mount Samalas. The writing talks about the deaths of thousands of people. The records didn't list an exact date, but they did help narrow the field by saying it happened before the end of the 13th century.

It's also possible that the massive eruption destroyed the ancient Lombok kingdom's capital of Pamatan, much like Pompeii.

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