Egypt says has evidence volcano destroyed cities

QANTARA EAST, Egypt, April 2 (Reuters) - Egypt's chief archaeologist said on Monday scientists had found traces of volcanic lava in Sinai dating from about 1500 BC, the time of a massive eruption on the Greek island of Santorini.

Zahi Hawass of the Supreme Antiquities Council said the lava must have come from Santorini and that the discovery indicated that the volcano was responsible for the destruction of several cities on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt and the Levant.

He did not name the cities but said that ancient texts and inscriptions referred to their destruction.

An Egyptian archaeological mission found the lava at the ancient fortress of Tharo near what is now the east bank of the Suez Canal. Tharo was part of a system to defend Egypt from attacks by its enemies to the east.

Tharo is about 900 km (550 miles) from Santorini and Hawass did not say how lava could reach so far. The main damage far from volcanoes is through volcanic ash, which blocks out the sun and can disrupt weather patterns for years.

Hawass linked the destruction to a period of Egyptian history known as the Hyksos era, which ended in about 1570 BC.

Although the effects of the Santorini eruption are visible throughout the region, scientists have never been able to fix the exact date. Estimates vary from 1650 to 1500 BC.

Hawass told reporters that the eruption had caused destruction as far away as Saudi Arabia but gave no details. Archaeologists showed reporters some samples of the lava, which was white and aerated, and Hawass said they had 20 pieces.