Explosive eruption of El Chichón volcano (Mexico) disrupted 6th century Maya civilization and contributed to global cooling

Kees Nooren, Wim Z. Hoek, Hans van der Plicht, Michael Sigl, Manfred J. van Bergen, Didier Galop, Nuria Torrescano-Valle, Gerald Islebe, Annika Huizinga, Tim Winkels, Hans Middelkoop

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Abstract

A remarkably long period of Northern Hemispheric cooling in the 6th century CE, which disrupted human societies across large parts of the globe, has been attributed to volcanic forcing of climate. A major tropical eruption in 540 CE is thought to have played a key role, but there is no consensus about the source volcano to date. Here, we present evidence for El Chichón in southern Mexico as the most likely candidate, based on a refined reconstruction of the volcano’s eruption history. A new chronological framework, derived from distal tephra deposits and the world’s largest Holocene beach ridge plain along the Gulf of Mexico, enabled us to positively link a major explosive event to a prominent volcanic sulfur spike in bipolar ice core records, dated at 540 CE. We speculate that voluminous tephra fall from the eruption had a severe environmental impact on Maya societies, leading to temporary cultural decline, site abandonment, and migration within the core area of Maya civilization.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-178
Number of pages4
JournalGeology
Volume45
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb-2017

Keywords

  • SNOW
  • ASH
  • CHIAPAS
  • HOLOCENE
  • AGE
  • AD
  • GUATEMALA
  • DEPOSITS
  • HISTORY

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