Ignorance is Not Bliss: What Doomed Pompeii and Saved Akrotiri

Throughout our study here on Santorini, our geologic knowledge was built up to one main event: the Minoan eruption. As an anthropology major, all I was concerned about was the settlement of Akrotiri, which was preserved beneath the ash. As I wandered through the excavation site of Akrotiri, I began to draw comparisons between this city and the city of Pompeii.
The main point of difference between these two very similar cases is the death toll. Akrotiri excavations have turned up no human remains, or any sign of human activity during the eruption at all. This indicates that the Minoans evacuated before the eruption even began, most likely during the preliminary earthquakes. Conversely, Pompeii is closely linked in memory to the bodies found preserved in casts of ash. While all of Pompeii has not be excavated, the number of bodies found represents a tenth of the overall population, putting the death toll in the thousands.
I began to wonder: why did Akrotiri evacuate and not Pompeii? There are several possible factors that could have led to the Minoans abandoning their city before the real danger even began.

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A Brief History of Bad Decisions

The island of Santorini has an extensive history of volatile seismic and volcanic activity. Aside from the four caldera eruptions that have decimated the entire island over the past 200 thousand years, Santorini seems to be a hot spot for smaller eruptions and large earthquakes. Despite this reputation, civilizations have been settling the land since the third millennium BCE (before common era), ignoring the obvious hazards that would later plague each of them. What do these messy histories entail and what did these peoples of the past see in this dangerous land to warrant them staying for generations?

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Earthquakes and Buildings: A Rocky Relationship

I never traveled outside of the United States before. Therefore, I was never thrown into another culture. When we arrived in Santorini, I remember asking myself why the buildings looked so different. I found out that those buildings were just in the process of being built! It intrigued me to find out more about the buildings here. Where I am from, you often see complex structures made of wood, then insulation and dry wall. Before you know it, the homes are built! Continue reading “Earthquakes and Buildings: A Rocky Relationship”

Prepare for the Unknown

I went around Santorini asking locals and tourists how much they really know about the geologic dangers on the island. A young local boy told me “The old people tell us [stories of the island] and we forget, so we make up our own stories.”┬áHe had a decent idea about the island but didn’t know a lot about the active volcano nor the active fault line on Santorini. His friend confessed to me that he knew nothing about the island and felt as if he didn’t need to know. He explained “I work and sleep here, nothing else.”

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Ancient Akrotiri’s Warning

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.

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