Geographical sites:

  • Thera (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #599973)
    Pleiades_icon Thera (island) island Geocontext: Santorini GRE
    Description: An island of the southern Aegean Sea, Thera is the southernmost of the Cyclades. The island's present form is the result of a Middle Bronze Age volcanic eruption that destroyed a Minoan settlement on the island.
  • China (click here to focus in map) (see also GeoNames #1814991)
    Geonames_icon People’s Republic of China independent political entity


Text #8950

Freewalt. "The Theran Disruption"
[pp. 10--11]


Ancient Chinese writings attributed to the fifth century BC philosopher Mozi (Motse) as well as records in the Bamboo Annals describe phenomena that could be attributed to Thera. According to Mozi, “Heaven” ordered the destruction of the Xia Dynasty (c. 2100-1600 BC). He stated, “Ice came in the summer … The five grains appeared in mutation.” He continued, “When it came to King Jie of Xia, Heaven gave severe order. Sun and moon did not appear on time. Winter and summer came irregularly. The five grains were dried up to death.”1

The Bamboo Annals, which record the earliest legends of ancient China, also describe similar events. According to the Bamboo Annals , “In [king Jie’s] 10th year, the five planets went out of their courses. In the night, stars fell like rain. The earth shook.”2 Later in the text, the Bamboo Annals state , “The sky was overspread with mists for three days.” The mists occurred during the reign of king T’ae -Këah (T-ae Che or Tai Jia), the fourth ruler of the Shang dynasty, who was enthroned c. 1530 BC. The reign of king Jie of Xia, which ended in approximately 1600 BC, and the reign of king T’ae -Këah of Shang, which occurred nearly seventy years later (based on the chronology offered in the Bamboo Annals ) both occurred within the c. 1670-1520 BC radiocarbon date range of Thera and the ice-core and tree-ring range of c. 1740-1440 BC. Furthermore, Thera could certainly have affected China in the ways described by Mozi and in the Bamboo Annals . As the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption exemplified, volcanic gasses and ash circumnavigated the globe within twenty-two days.3 Stratospheric aerosol veils effect light and heat radiation, leading to global temperature anomalies such as summer cooling and winter warming. 38 This may explain why winter and summer came irregularly and why frost came in the summer as the records indicate. Mt. Pinatubo created a global cooling effect of 0.5 degrees C that lasted more than two years. Thera, a much stronger eruption than Pinatubo, may have created a more intense and longer lasting global temperature effect, perhaps long enough to bridge the seventy-year gap between Jie of Xia and T’ae-Këah of Shang.

  1. Yibao Mei, ed., “Condemnation of Offensive War (III),” book 5, ch. 19 of The Ethical and Political Works of Motse (Westport, CT: Hyperion Press, 1973).

  2. James Legge, The Chinese Classics: Vol. III, Part I (London: Trübner & Co, 1865), 125.

  3. Oppenheimer, Clive. Eruptions That Shook the World; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011

Text #8957

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

The dating of the Theran eruption has been corrected to 1650 BC by Manning et al. See E#5160

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