Determining the ages of past eruptions of active volcanoes whose slopes were historically inhabited is vitally important for investigating the relationships between eruptive phenomena and human settlements. During its almost three-millennia-long history, Catania—the biggest city lying at the toe of Etna volcano—was directly impacted only once by the huge lava flow emplaced during the A.D. 1669 Etna flank eruption. However, other lava flows reached the present-day Catania urban district in prehistoric ages before the founding of the city in Greek times (729/728 B.C., i.e., 2679/2678 yr B.P.). In this work, the Holocene lava flows of Barriera del Bosco, Larmisi, and San Giovanni Galermo, which are exposed in the Catania urban district, were paleomagnetically investigated at 12 sites (120 oriented cores). Paleomagnetic dating was obtained by comparing flow-mean paleomagnetic directions to updated geomagnetic reference models for the Holocene. The Barriera del Bosco flow turns out to represent the oldest eruptive event and is paleomagnetically dated to the 11,234–10,941 yr B.P. and 8395–8236 yr B.P. age intervals. The mean paleomagnetic directions from the San Giovanni Galermo and Larmisi flows overlap when statistical uncertainties are considered. This datum, along with geologic, geochemical, and petrologic evidence, implies that the two lava flows can be considered as parts of a single lava field that erupted in a narrow time window between 5494 yr B.P. and 5387 yr B.P. The emplacement of such a huge lava flow field may have buried several Neolithic settlements, which would thus explain the scarce occurrence of archaeological sites of that age found below the town of Catania.

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