10,000 Years of explosive eruptions of Merapi Volcano, Central Java: archaeological and modern implications
Stratigraphy and radiocarbon dating of pyroclastic deposits at Merapi Volcano, Central Java, reveals ∼10,000 years of explosive eruptions. Highlights include: (1) Construction of an Old Merapi stratovolcano to the height of the present cone or slightly higher. Our oldest age for an explosive eruption is 9630±60 14C y B.P.; construction of Old Merapi certainly began earlier. (2) Collapse(s) of Old Merapi that left a somma rim high on its eastern slope and sent one or more debris avalanche(s) down its southern and western flanks. Impoundment of Kali Progo to form an early Lake Borobudur at ∼3400 14C y B.P. hints at a possible early collapse of Merapi. The latest somma-forming collapse occurred ∼1900 14C y B.P. The current cone, New Merapi, began to grow soon thereafter. (3) Several large and many small Buddhist and Hindu temples were constructed in Central Java between 732 and ∼900 A.D. (roughly, 1400-1000 14C y B.P.). Explosive Merapi eruptions occurred before, during and after temple construction. Some temples were destroyed and (or) buried soon after their construction, and we suspect that this destruction contributed to an abrupt shift of power and organized society to East Java in 928 A.D. Other temples sites, though, were occupied by "caretakers" for several centuries longer. (4) A partial collapse of New Merapi occurred <1130±50 14C y B.P. Eruptions ∼700-800 14C y B.P. (12-14th century A.D.) deposited ash on the floors of (still-occupied?) Candi Sambisari and Candi Kedulan. We speculate but cannot prove that these eruptions were triggered by (the same?) partial collapse of New Merapi, and that the eruptions, in turn, ended "caretaker" occupation at Candi Sambisari and Candi Kedulan. A new or raised Lake Borobudur also existed during part or all of the 12-14th centuries, probably impounded by deposits from Merapi. (5) Relatively benign lava-dome extrusion and dome-collapse pyroclastic flows have dominated activity of the 20th century, but explosive eruptions much larger than any of this century have occurred many times during Merapi's history, most recently during the 19th century. Are the relatively small eruptions of the 20th century a new style of open-vent, less hazardous activity that will persist for the foreseeable future? Or, alternatively, are they merely low-level "background" activity that could be interrupted upon relatively short notice by much larger explosive eruptions? The geologic record suggests the latter, which would place several hundred thousand people at risk. We know of no reliable method to forecast when an explosive eruption will interrupt the present interval of low-level activity. This conclusion has important implications for hazard evaluation.