The ancient Egyptians left one of their coastal cities more than 2000 years ago when the supply of fresh water dried up. The cause could have been a major volcanic eruption, possibly on the other side of the world, which triggered a severe drought.
Archaeologists have been excavating and digging the city of Berenike on Egypt’s Red Sea coast since 1994. Berenike was born between 275 and 260 BC. Founded, but between 220 and 200 BC. Temporarily abandoned before being repopulated for many centuries. After Egypt 30 BC After being annexed by the Roman Empire, Berenike became the southernmost port of the empire.
Berenike was “a kind of combination of city and military base,” says Marek Woźniak from the Institute for Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures in Warsaw, Poland.
Woźniak has been excavating the remains of a gate and a tower in the fortress wall since 2014. With James Harrell at the University of Toledo in Ohio, he has now described a well sunk in the floor of the building. The well still collects water today. “It tastes pretty good, although it’s actually a little salty,” says Woźniak.
However, the well dried up between 220 and 200 BC. Off and the wind blew sand into it. This sand is preserved in the well and contains two bronze coins from the decades before 199 BC. Elsewhere in the fortress there are few artifacts from this period, suggesting that Berenike was abandoned.
There must have been a drought of several years for the well to dry out, says Woźniak. He says the most likely cause is a volcanic eruption. In line with this, a 2017 study by Jennifer Marlon at Yale University found that 209 B.C. By a volcanic eruption many sulfate aerosols were released into the earth’s atmosphere. As a result, the summer rains failed over the headwaters of the Nile. The lack of rain could explain the drying up of the well, which possibly helped encourage residents to leave the city.
It is unclear which volcano would have been responsible. Woźniak and Harrell suggest four options: Popocatéptl in Mexico, Pelée on the island of Martinique in the Lesser Antilles, Tsurumi or Hakusan, both in Japan.