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Huge wave was probably caused by a major earthquake

Tsunami swept Israel coast 10,000 years ago, may have erased signs of human life

Researchers estimate wave was 50-130 feet high and reached 1.5-3.5 kilometers inland, possibly explaining absence of signs of human habitation in area south of Haifa

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Screen capture from video of a digital model constructed by researchers to show a huge tsunami they say likely hit Israel's Mediterranean cost thousands of years ago. (YouTube)
Screen capture from video of a digital model constructed by researchers to show a huge tsunami they say likely hit Israel's Mediterranean cost thousands of years ago. (YouTube)

Researchers say they’ve found evidence of a massive tsunami that hit Israel’s Mediterranean coast nearly 10,000 years ago, possibly wiping away any evidence of human habitation at settlements that took the brunt of the wave.

The huge wave was estimated to have been 50 to 130 feet high (15-40 meters) and probably caused by a major earthquake in the area, researchers wrote in a paper published by the online journal PLOS One on Tuesday.

The study was led by an Israeli researcher at the University of California, San Diego, in collaboration with researchers from Utah State University and the University of Haifa.

The wave is believed to have struck in the area of Tel Dor — an ancient settlement site located about 30 kilometers south of Haifa — between 9,910 and 9,290 years ago, which would make it the earliest known tsunami in the eastern Mediterranean.

As part of their general research of the coastal area, the scientists found marine sediment, including seashells and sand, in an area that had been far inland at the time the event is assessed to have happened. They believe this layer could only have been dumped by a tsunami.

“Our project focuses on reconstructing ancient climate and environmental change over the past 12,000 years along the Israeli coast; and we never dreamed of finding evidence of a prehistoric tsunami in Israel,” said lead study author Gilad Shtienberg, in a report about the findings from UCSD’s news webpage.

The tsunami that was uncovered appeared to be significantly larger than other tsunamis in the area over the past 6,000 years. Most of the recorded tsunamis washed no more than a few hundred meters inland, but this wave was believed to have traveled between 1.5 and 3.5 kilometers (about 1 to 2 miles).

An earthquake along the Dead Sea Fault System was believed to be the cause of the tsunami.

Researchers said the wave may be the reason that it has been surprisingly difficult to find evidence of villages or human life between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago in the area, as the tsunami may have wiped it away.

“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,” said Thomas Levy, another of the paper’s authors.

“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,” he told the university’s media website.

By the late Neolithic period, around 5,000 BCE, the area was again settled, Levy said.

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