Thira (Santorini), Greece, 12 October 2018.
(Click on any image to see it in a larger size, if you are on a PC or tablet at least.)
Akrotiri is a town that was buried in ash and mud over 2.500 years ago. It survived though buried because it is on the far south of the main island, on the opposite side to the caldera. No bodies were found here, though there was the impressions of furniture in the volcanic ash, so the population was likely forewarned to evacuate. (Some readers may remember my visit to Plymouth on Montserrat, a town that was buried in volcanic ash in 1997 and later inundated by a lahar.)
Archaeological excavations are still ongoing.
There is an extensive modern roof built to protect the ancient city. It collapsed in 2005, just before completion, killing one visitor. The site was closed and not reopened until 2012.
There is a whole city here, with a central street, houses clustered around small squares and a sewage system.
Some of the stonework is quite precise.
In the fifth millennium BC, Akrotiti was a small fishing village and we visited the current equivalent of that port in the post Red Beach and Akrotiri Lighthouse, except that the modern shore line and water level may be quite different.
In the third millennium BC, Akrotiri greatly expanded and frequent finds of foreign pottery speak of a thriving trade centre with links to Cyprus and Minoan Crete.
This is the West House, adjoining triangle square. It was a large well-constructed private residence with at least three stories.
Hundreds of loom weights found in the ruins of this house, fallen from upper floors, attest to significant weaving activities there.
The ground floor included store rooms, workshops, a kitchen and a mill with machinery for grinding grain into flour. The first floor included a toilet and bathroom. The house also included some remarkable frescos including the Flotilla Fresco, now housed in the Museum of Archaeology in Athens. Unfortunately, when we were at that museum, we missed the mezzanine floor with relics from Minoan Crete and Thira. However, I will have some frescos from Crete to show you in a later post.
Triangle Square with the West House on the left.
Thira is prone to Plinian Eruptions (extremely explosive eruptions, producing ash columns that extend many tens of miles into the stratosphere and that spread out into an umbrella shape). There have been at least twelve in the last 360,000 years.
This is a representation of a view of pre-eruption Thira from the Flotilla Fresco, found in the West House. It shows a maritime festival, with galleys rowing from a town on the left (on the current island of Thirasia) to a town on the right (in the current location of Oia). There are many dolphins in the sea and the landscape on the right does not have the current high cliffs of Oia.
The much smaller inundated caldera of this time was left over from the Cape Riva eruption around 22,000 years ago. the small central island slowly rose in the caldera from 20,000 years ago. The view from the fresco is confirmed by stratographic archaeological evidence.
The red outline shows the pre-eruption island. According to Herodotus, at the time of the eruption, the island was named Strongyli (“the Round One” in ancient Greek). Akrotiri is at bottom centre and Ancient Thera (previous post) at bottom right. The two towns from the fresco are indicated with stars near the mouth of the small caldera. There is no trace of them any more.
There were four phases to the historic eruption, within a fairly short time frame. It was preceded by earthquakes and a light ash flow which may have allowed people to escape. The first phase included deposits of pumice up to six metres thick. In the second and third phases, the vent had migrated to underneath the old caldera so they were phreatomagmatic (ie underwater, like the recent Tongan eruptions; I bet you’ve never heard that word before). The fourth phase included extremely hot pyroclastic flows.
Earlier eruptions built up a cone of tuff and the final eruption blew all that away and produced a huge tsumani that devastated the coast of Crete. It was one of the largest eruptions of human history, four times larger than the Krakatoa eruption of 1883. In 536AD a smaller eruption of unknown source (possibly Krakatoa) caused climate conditions that devastated Justinian’s Eastern Roman Empire for years afterwards. So although the tsunami didn’t wipe out Minoan Crete, its climatic aftermath may have been a major cause of decline.
Akrotiri slowly rises from the ashes.
No cisterns have been found that collected drinking water from rain but the discovery of a different type of pipe to that used for sewage may indicate an aqueduct from Mount Prophitis Elias, near Ancient Thera.
Perhaps this is a basin for washing grain, food or clothing.
An ancient bucket, it would seem.
Mortar and pestle.
Excavations continue and some areas are roped off where archaeologists are working. A house adjoining Triangle Square near West House is yet to be excavated for example. Perhaps there are more frescos to uncover.
Archaeologists at work.
There are many pithoi, or large jars for storage. they are generally in situ, though presumably they have been lifted out, cleaned or repaired, and replaced where they were. The pithoi were used for storing water, wine, olive oil, grain or other vegetable products.
Reference: Constraining the landscape of Late Bronze Age Santorini prior to the Minoan eruption: Insights from volcanological, geomorphological and archaeological findings; Karátson, Telbisz, Gertisser, Strasser, Nomikou, Druitte, Vereb, Quidelleur and Kósikg; Journal of Volcanology abd Geotyhermal Research, 1 September 2020.