Assessment of the effect of earthquake activity on regional vegetation - High-resolution pollen study of the Ein Feshka section, Holocene Dead Sea

Frank H. Neumann*, Elisa J. Kagan, Mordechai Stein, Amotz Agnon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Possible effects of seismic activity in the Dead Sea basin on the regional vegetation distribution are presented in this paper. The palynology was investigated in high resolution at the Holocene outcrop near the Ein Feshkha oasis. Pollen samples were collected from three intervals (A, B, D), with thicknesses of 5-15 cm, containing 1-2 seismites each, and from one undisturbed layer (interval C). All four intervals are from the same Ein Feshkha outcrop section, but from different depths. In two of the intervals (B, C) the main pollen indicators (e.g. Olea, Pinus, Asteroideae, Cichorioideae) show no significant aberrations from the typical pollen fluctuations. Interval A, deposited during the late Byzantine period, shows a decline of Olea percentages immediately after the sedimentation of a breccia layer (interpreted as a seismite). While this decrease in olive percentages predominantly reflects an aridification crisis at the end of the Byzantine period, damage to olive orchards due to earthquake (root damages, collapses of the crowns) and/or the abandonment of cultivated land as a consequence of an earthquake cannot be ruled out. Nevertheless, minor anthropogenic indicators like Vitis or Juglans, which show low abundances in the pollen diagram of Ein Feshkha, as well as other trees and herbs, are not affected by the late Byzantine earthquake. Interval D, deposited during the Hellenistic-Roman period, shows a slight decrease of Olea and an increase of Cichorioideae after the deposition of a seismite. Our hypothesis that earthquakes might have affected vegetation dynamics in intervals A and D is supported by cluster analysis. While the data of this study do not support the use of pollen as a reliable paleoseismic tool in the lacustrine environment of the Dead Sea, some small effects of earthquakes on pollen fluctuations cannot be excluded.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)42-51
Number of pages10
JournalReview of Palaeobotany and Palynology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - May 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Thomas Litt and Louis Scott for offering the pollen labs at the Institute for Paleontology/Bonn and the Department of Plant Sciences/Bloemfontein. We appreciate the discussion about issues of vegetation history with both scientists. Tania Gross, Petrus Chakane and Sebastian Weber helped with the preparation of the pollen samples. We would also like to acknowledge Elisabetta Boaretto for the radiocarbon dating. We thank Raoul Mutter, Øyvind Hammer, Fernando Abdala and Bernhard Zipfel for the helpful discussions about statistical problems. Marion Bamford kindly improved the English of this paper. This research was supported by MINERVA, NRF and University of the Witwatersrand fellowships to Frank Neumann and by the German–Israel Foundation for scientific research and development (GIF grant #1-805.221.8/2003 to Stein and Agnon).


  • Dead Sea
  • Holocene
  • earthquakes
  • paleo-seismicity
  • palynology


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