[Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, full page: (LINK). Abstract, edited.]
Archaeological evidence that a late 14th-century tsunami devastated the coast of northern Sumatra and redirected history
Patrick Daly, Kerry Sieh, Tai Yew Seng, Edmund Edwards McKinnon, Andrew C. Parnell, Ardiansyah, R. Michael Feener, Nazli Ismail, Nizamuddin, and Jedrzej Majewski
PNAS first published May 28, 2019 / DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1902241116
Contributed by Kerry Sieh, April 11, 2019 (sent for review February 8, 2019; reviewed by Roland J. Fletcher, Anthony J. S. Reid, and Ezra B. W. Zubrow)
We demonstrate that a tsunami in the late 14th century CE destroyed coastal sites along a critical part of the maritime Silk Road and set in motion profound changes in the political economy of Southeast Asia. Our results provide a precise chronology of settlement and trade along a historically strategic section of the Sumatran coast and are robust physical evidence for the rise of the Aceh Sultanate. Tragically, coastal areas impacted by the late 14th century tsunami were devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. This makes our findings relevant to debates about hazard mitigation and risk reduction. This example shows that archaeological, historical, and geological data are relevant in discussions about the long-term sustainability of communities exposed to geological hazards.
Archaeological evidence shows that a predecessor of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami devastated nine distinct communities along a 40-km section of the northern coast of Sumatra in about 1394 CE. Our evidence is the spatial and temporal distribution of tens of thousands of medieval ceramic sherds and over 5,000 carved gravestones, collected and recorded during a systematic landscape archaeology survey near the modern city of Banda Aceh. Only the trading settlement of Lamri, perched on a headland above the reach of the tsunami, survived into and through the subsequent 15th century. It is of historical and political interest that by the 16th century, however, Lamri was abandoned, while low-lying coastal sites destroyed by the 1394 tsunami were resettled as the population center of the new economically and politically ascendant Aceh Sultanate. Our evidence implies that the 1394 tsunami was large enough to impact severely many of the areas inundated by the 2004 tsunami and to provoke a significant reconfiguration of the region’s political and economic landscape that shaped the history of the region in subsequent centuries.
tsunami – Sumatra – Aceh – postdisaster recovery – hazards
Keywords: Earthquakes; Tsunami; History; Society; Sumatra.