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An Aerial View of the Caldera Left by the Late Bronze Age Eruption

gr0004b-1.jpg
http://epicureanzealot.com/2009/05/15/the-santorini-paradox/

Strogili, named for its shape, was once a singular circular island but is now known as the Santorini Archipelago. Approximately 16 km in diameter prior to the eruption it was also known as Kalleste 'the most beautiful island." Renamed Thera in the Middle Bronze age, the island was home to an active trade industry and sophisticated culture (Antonopolus, 1992). Today the island is composed of the mainland and the sparsely inhabited island of Therasia. In addition there are five uninhabited islands, Nea Kameni, Palaia, Kameni, Aspronisi and Christiani, created by the eruption.

As the only active volcano in the Aegean, today's Santorini has long fascinated scientist of almost every discipline, capturing the imagination of people everywhere. The cataclysmic eruption on the southern most island in the Cycladian Archipelago forever changed the landscape and structure of Aegean culture and trade.

On July 9th 1956 Thera experienced an earthquake which brought an ancient building buried under the bottom layer of pumice to light. It was at this junction that the first scientific attempt to evaluate the exact eruption date was made by A.G. Galanopoulos. Additionally in the lowest layer of pumice a small tree, still upright, was found at the Phira quarry. The significance of this small tree lies in the tree rings. After counting two independent samples six times each, the results indicated a first pumice fall between 1603 and 1516 BC.

Further confirmation of the eruption date focuses on archaeological evidence. In the absence of comprehensive written records the analysis of changing pottery styles has provided an excellent chronology of Aegean trade and history. The date provided by pottery samples occurs around 1550 BC, possibly marking the beginning of the eruption and may not represent the wide-spread destruction experienced with the final pyroclastic flows (Antonopolus, 1992).

Radiocarbon dating, dendrology, ice core analysis, and evaluation of the archaeological record place this event in the Late Bronze Age with a window of 50-200 years prior to Mycenaean superiority in the Aegean. Regardless of the specific date of the eruption, the evidence strongly favors a substantial impact on the Cycladian and Minoan civilizations of the time.

How exactly did Thera's volcanic eruption affect the Aegean? Having explored the many possibilities, some facts stand out. This eruption was massive, the second largest in human history. Without a doubt it created tsunamis which raced out from the epicenter and devastated coastal areas on surrounding islands. Most standing navies were destroyed along with the Minoan ports of call themselves, severely impacting their position in the trade routes. Some places such as Knossos exhibited a stoic resilience and rebuilt, only to realize that their wold was inexorably altered. Years of climate changes led to much wetter conditions bringing crop failures that crippled their trade based economy. Feeling that their gods had deserted them, the Minoans turned to human sacrifice hoping to win favor for improved circumstances.

But was the eruption responsible for the final Mycenaean dominance of Crete? While both camps have valid arguments, perhaps they are not mutually exclusive. Mycenaeans surely lived in a warrior's world. A discussion of how warfare affected the region can be found at this wiki site Warfare in the Aegean. War may well have played a part in the ultimate shift from Minoan to Mycenaean culture on the island, but without the preceding years of devastation and hardship, the Minoans may have been better prepared to defend their homeland and way of life. The real question may lie in determining if the Minoans were conquered or simply assimilated, the answer to which requires further exploration and analysis.

Today we face the same dilemmas as our Aegean ancestors. How to harness the earth's riches without putting our culture in danger. Considering the lengthy recovery time for modern natural disasters such as Katrina, Andrew and the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, and our insistence on rebuilding in the same disaster prone areas, it appears we still have much to learn. While we strengthen our buildings and put early warning systems in place, as long as humanity continues to challenge nature we place our social, political, and cultural systems at risk.

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