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Scientists discover source of 13th century “mystery eruption”

Lombok Island, Indonesia. Photo by Trekking Rinjani/Flickr

Scientists claim they have found the source of a mysterious volcanic eruption that has eluded glaciologists, volcanologists and climatologists for more than 30 years.

In a report published by the PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they conclude the source is the Samalas volcano on Lombak Island in Indonesia. Their evidence would prove the source of one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the Holocene geological era, which lasted 12,000 years.
Ice core records the large sulfate deposits were used to radiocarbon date the eruption to 1257 A.D.

“Babad Lombok,” historical records from Indonesia written on palm leaves in Old Javanese, describe a catastrophic eruption on Lombok that devastated land surrounding the volcano, including the kingdom’s capital Pamatan. Thousands died.

Other medieval records from Europe show the continent experienced an exceptionally warm winter at the beginning of 1258, a climate response typical of high-sulfur eruptions in the tropics.

A volcano of this size would have left large parts of Lombok, Bali and Sumbawa uninhabitable for decades. The entire capital of Pamatan is likely buried on the island. The report calls the potential discovery of Pamatan as a “Pompeii of the Far East” and could provide important context for Indonesian history and how humans responded to destructive volcanic explosions.

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