At a young age, many of us learned of Italy’s Mt. Vesuvius and the tragedy that engulfed the city of Pompeii in 79 CE. Although an extraordinary number of people are intrigued by natural disasters, few have heard of the Minoan eruption that blanketed a quickly abandoned ancient Greek civilization in approximately 1613 BCE . In an effort to reveal a small fraction of the culture, construction, and catastrophe of what was Ancient Akrotiri, I will walk you through almost 40 thousand years of time.
Today, the smell of earth and dirt is strong inside Ancient Akrotiri’s bioclimatic shelter. Spending so much time outdoors, I was comforted by the musty smell. But with this familiar scent comes a distinct feeling of discomfort, evoked by the sight of a beautiful city, preserved in time by ash and pumice.
It is theorized that Akrotiri first sustained life as early as the mid-fifth millennium BC. Located on the southern outermost part of Santorini’s crescent, it has been thought that Akrotiri served as a cosmopolitan trading harbor during the Early Bronze Age (Figure 1) .
Bays protected either side of Akrotiri before Minoan ash transformed the geography of the land in ~1613 BCE. These bays allowed trading vessels and ships to anchor safely in the harbor and, in addition, protected the town from military attacks. (The reasons for the topographical change will be explored below). At this location, Minoans also had direct visual contact with Crete, some 60 miles south of Santorini .
Houses ranging from 140-190 square meters, dotted the rocky terrain of southern Thera. Almost all of the houses were more than one story and many homes shared walls with their neighbors . In the mid 17th century BC, an earthquake destroyed the town, forcing the Minoans to rebuild. In response, the city was rebuilt even more lavishly and was decorated with wall paintings . In the late 17th century BC (Late Bronze Age) another earthquake struck Akrotiri. The Minoans had just begun to clean up their town when they left their home for good.
Due to the man-made piles of garbage found preserved in the ash, it is suggested that only a short amount of time separated the 2nd earthquake from the Minoan eruption’s first ash fall. This initial eruption only produced an eruption column of approximately 1km high. The ash cloud was blown south by prevailing winds where it was deposited. This thin layer of ash is known as Phase 0, by volcanologists, and is believed to have been one of the primary “warning signs” for the Minoan people.
Through field research, here on Santorini, we have observed and documented the data explained below personally. On the southern part of the island, Phase 0, 1, 2 and 4 can be seen in rock layers above the Cape Riva foundation (ancient Minoan surface). Phase 0, as mentioned above, is a very thin layer of ash dispersed from the volcano at an extremely high efficiency. Phase 1 and 2 are the first sub-plinian eruptions in the Minoan eruption sequence. With a column that is approximately 9 km high, the Phase 1 and 2 ash-cloud remained within the troposphere. Phase 1 primarily resulted in pumice fall while Phase 2 was composed of pyroclastic surges caused by the infiltration of water into the caldera vent. Due to easterly winds, Phase 3 is not seen on the southern part of the island and cannot be found in the tephra layering atop Ancient Akrotiri. Phase 4 of the Minoan eruption was super-plinian with an eruption column of approximately 36 km high . Hot pyroclastic flows deposited meters more of debris on top of pre existing, aforementioned layers.
The extension of the shoreline, as seen in Figure 2, is a result of phase 0, light layer of 1-2, and phase 4b.
Beneath all of the aforementioned layers, lies the story of an ancient civilization. Excavation started in 1967 by the archeological society of Athens. In recent years, little effort has been made to continue the excavation process, therefore resulting in the loss of history and culture .
Sickened by the countless buried stories lost beneath my feet, I still feel grateful to have walked where an ancient Minoan civilization once thrived. Fortunately, the Minoan eruption, although cataclysmic, managed to record the history of its own eruption and in addition, preserved an ancient archeological site that will serve as a valuable resource for future generations. In all of this, it is my goal to help others to see what may lie beneath all of our feet, both literally and figuratively. I feel it is our duty to learn the history of the land we walk on both cultural and geological; I believe I have a higher appreciation for my own purpose and place, simply from learning another’s.
 Freidrich, W., Kromer, B., Freidrich, M., Heinemeier J., Pfeiffer, T., Talamo, S., 2006, Santorini Eruption Radiocarbon Dated to 1627-1600 B.C., Science, 312:548
 Ancient Akrotiri Archeological Site. Akrotiri 84700, Greece. GPS N36.35 E25.40
 Palyvou, Clairy. A Synopsis of the Theran House Model. Prehistory Monographs, Volume 15 : Akrotiri, Thera : An Architecture of Affluence 3,500 Years Old. Philadelphia, PA, USA: INSTAP Academic Press, 2005. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 18 Feb
 Druitt T. H., 2014, New insights into the initiation and venting of the Bronze-Age eruption of Santorini (Greece), from component analysis, v. 794, p. 1-21, doi: 10.1007/s00445-014-0794-x