Thera/Santorini And the Death Of A Civilization

You’re standing on the deck of a cruise ship near Santorini, Greece that’s anchored in the middle of a ring of islands. The near island’s sheer cliffs rise almost a six hundred feet right out of the water. You are looking at the aftermath of the largest explosive event in all of human history.

Over three thousand five hundred years ago* a volcanic eruption devastated the Aegean island of Thera. Scientists have estimated the volcanic eruption magnitude between 6 and 7, causing an ejection of approximately 14 cubic miles of dense-rock. This eruption was the largest volcanic event on Earth in all of human history.

That fiery eruption killed upwards of 40,000 people in just a few hours, while colossal tsunamis 40 feet tall swept across the Eastern Mediterranean, as it spewed volcanic ash well into Asia, and caused a drop in overall global temperatures with the blast itself being heard 3,000 miles away. Thera’s eruption was four or five times more powerful than Krakatoa and exploded with the energy of a thousand atomic bombs in a fraction of a second.

The event destroyed the Minoan city on the island at Akrotiri, with subsequent earthquakes and tsunamis destroying communities and agricultural areas on nearby islands and devastated the Minoan home island of Crete.

In Egypt 800 miles south of the Mediterranean coast on the Nile River, the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes was hit by a terrible storm and flood that devastated the city and surrounding area. A stele was discovered that records this event during the reign of Pharaoh Ahmose I*;

..the gods expressed their discontent… The gods made the sky come with a tempest of rain; it caused darkness in the Western region; the sky was unleashed, without … ?mercy?… the flooding was powerful even on the mountains more than the turbulence of the cataract which is at Elephantine. Each house, … each shelter or covered place that they reached… were floating in the water like the barks of papyrus even to the royal residence for..???… day(s)…

This eruption led to the rapid decline of the greatest Mediterranean civilization of the time, the Minoan, with their cities throughout the islands. Centered on the nearby island of Crete, the powerful Minoan civilization was swept by tsunamis spawned by the eruption, it swamped its naval fleet and destroyed its coastal villages. Next the drop in temperatures caused by the massive amounts of ash and sulphur dioxide released into the atmosphere led to several years of cold, wet summers in the region, ruining crops. The aftermath of the event overran every part of the Minoan civilization in less than 50 years. In just that short time, this advanced, peaceful, efficient empire gave way to the warring city-states of ancient Greece that began to dominate the Eastern Mediterranean.

A number of researchers believe that Thera and the city of Akrotiri is the origin of the legend about the lost city of Atlantis, written about by Plato. There is a lot that seems to fit the story including a recently excavated fresco in Akrotiri showing the ringed canals surrounding a city that was described by Plato.

If you have an opportunity to visit Santorini be sure and make time to see the remains of the Minoan city buried by the eruption. Akrotiri is a major archeological excavation site open to the public that will probably exceed the size of the famous archeological excavations at Pompeii Italy. It is also a treasure trove of some of the worlds oldest frescos, well preserved after being buried in the eruption while still showing remarkable detail and vibrant colors. Akrotiri is located on the southern end of the island. Considering how long ago this city was built it is amazing to see multiple story buildings, complex plumbing that suggests the homes had hot and cold running water and those amazing frescos covering their walls. It also suggests that the residents knew disaster was coming as it seems they fled the island taking their valuable possessions like jewelry with them.

*The exact date of the eruption is still being debated as there is conflicting data but it probably occurred between 1620 and 1500 BC. The Thera eruption is thought to have occurred no sooner than 1500 BCE from archeological evidence, although, based on Greenland ice-core and from tree-ring and radiocarbon dating, some scientists think it may have that it occurred as early as 1620 BC. Even the reign in Egypt of King Ahmose I has been adjust several times as evidence of age of various rulers have been updated. Ahmose I is considered the founder of the the New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt who is currently believed to have ruled from 1551-1526 BC.

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