The History of Italian Volcanoes Revised by Archeomagnetism



The volcanoes Etna and Vesuvius are famous for their historical record, which goes back to Greek and Roman times. The name “Etna” first appears in one of Pindar's Pythian odes (475 B.C.E), and the Vesuvius outburst in 79 C.E. was reported in detail by Pliny the Younger. Other written accounts mention Stromboli and Vulcano (located on the Aeolian Islands), so it might seem that the eruptive history of these Italian volcanoes for the past few millennia is well known.

This is not the case, however, because of many limitations in the historical data. There are enormous gaps due to social events such as wars, barbarian invasions, and the Dark Ages. In particular, the historical record has no valuable account at Etna from 252 to 1062 C.E. Furthermore, the preserved documents are too imprecise to identify the lavas and eruptive systems. Most of the ages prior to 1700 C.E. displayed in the present research catalogs were attributed by pioneering geologists in the 1800s on the mere basis of the morphology of flows. These estimates remained unchanged for nearly a century—for example, the Atlas de L'Etna by Sartorius von Waltershausen [1845] was used unaltered for age attribution of “historical lavas” in much more recent geological maps [e.g., Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), 1979].