When you first step foot into the excavation of the ancient Minoan town of Akrotiri the world seems to get just a little smaller. To stand in a spot where 4,000 years ago people walked those very streets going about their daily lives is one of the most amazing experiences a person can really have. The town sits now as a ruin covered in pumice and ash left over by the eruption that brought one of the most technologically advanced ancient civilizations to its knees.
I’m standing at the bottom of a 369 meter tall mountain, ready to walk up a 30% gradient trail (That’s approximately 1,210 feet for all you non-metric people). The trailhead (Figure A) looks inviting yet slightly menacing. The sun is beating down on me and its a long walk up. Mesa Vouno rises up like a god amongst kings in this island paradise. How did a (nonvolcanic) mountain end up as a part of this caldera island?
There is a silence as I enter the climate controlled dome to see the ancient city of Akrotiri. This is partially due to being told “Shhhhhh” by our professor Lisa, but it’s also because everyone’s jaw dropped while staring at these ruins. The only thing that could be heard was the pitter patter of feet from children and even they weren’t saying anything. It was like entering a 3600 year old church frozen in time by ash and pumice with even the colors of the frescoes being preserved. Continue reading “Buried Treasure: The City of Akrotiri”
For the third year in a row, I walk into Ancient Akrotiri, a 4,000 year-old Minoan town buried in meters of ash and pumice from the ~1613 BC caldera-forming eruption of Santorini Volcano. The excavation site is a gray labyrinth of 1-3 story houses, shops, narrow alleys and staircases built on gently dipping slopes and reflecting the modern pattern of villages on Santorini.
Walking through the door that led to the excavated remains of the ancient city of Akrotiri, I wondered what I would see. I remembered learning about the people of Akrotiri and how something had caused them to leave before the Santorini eruption. But nobody really knew or had an explanation of where the Minoans could have gone, just that no remains of their bodies have ever been found.
This week, we drew countless outcrops of rocks, ate a concerning amount of gyros, and were lucky enough to tour the ancient city of Akrotiri. Akrotiri is a Minoan metropolis destroyed, yet perfectly preserved, by the most recent caldera eruption. Much like Pompeii, the whole city was engulfed in smoldering ash and pumice, leaving it exactly the way it was over 3600 years ago. But how do we know when these prehistoric events occurred when calendar years were not recorded, let alone conceptualized? The answer is radiocarbon dating.
In most horror films there is a warning scene right before everything goes down hill. You sit on the edge of your seat and shout at the group not to go into the basement for there is disaster lurking below. However, it is the characters’ decision whether to investigate the noise or get out as fast a possible. In the case of the Minoan eruption the earthquakes and phase 0 are the warning scene. In most horror or thriller films the main character walks toward the impending threat. However this is not the fate for the Minoans, or so we believe.
Growing up as the oddball of the family, I found comfort in reading.. reading and learning about history. The things of the past and how they differentiate from how things are today. On the very first day we spent in Athens, we walked up the three thousand year old pathway to the Acropolis, the very same pathway that the Athenians of Classical Greece took. At first glance I saw this piece of history, from the marble columns to the Porch of Maidens and I was amazed that people of the past without the technology that we have today built these things with such precise and critical thinking.
Channeling my inner Spartan, I hiked up the steep slopes of the saddle between Mesa Vouno and Mon Profitas Ilias, leading to Ancient Thera. The 1.39 mile uphill trek took a while, with a copious amount of breaks to drink water and to rest. The sun beat down on me with a pressure only intensified by the humidity of the area. I felt extremely accomplished once I reached the top, I was able to look down on a large expanse of land and ocean. This is what the Spartans did every day for water in 700 BC. I was not only amazed by the view, but by the geologic processes that brought this rock that I stood on, that the Spartans stood on, hundreds of feet above the sea.
Warning signs: we see them every day, from hazard signs on the roads, to symptoms in sickness. Some warning signs are only found in certain areas, for example mass wasting signs are usually only next to steep slopes. When getting sick, most people will experience symptoms before a full blown fever. It just so happened that the day we learned about warning signs, I was beginning to have warning signs of a cold myself (talk about one with the classroom). The warning sign that caught my eye though, was a thin layer of ash in between non-Minoan ash and Minoan pumice when our class visited Caldera Beach. Continue reading “A Little Ash Never Killed Nobody”