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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Up Close & Personal: Rock Edition

For the last week, I’ve been outside under the Santorini sun drawing and describing the post Minoan eruption stratigraphy of the island from different localities. I’ve been attempting to find answers to the history of the island’s geography through the rocks. And these rocks are so easily taken for granted, sitting while hundreds of tourists walk by unfazed by the stories they could tell. But that’s why I’m here. My purpose in coming to Santorini was to study the geology and write about what I learn. It’s my goal to share my knowledge and translate the more advanced topics of geology to layman’s terms so those reading can understand the work I’ve completed.

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Minoans Know Best

In the late Bronze Age the Minoans did not have the technology to monitor the caldera but evidence shows they left before the Minoan eruption of 1613 BC. As a class we visited the ancient Minoan city Akrotiri which is sometimes called the Greek Pompeii. The city has been preserved by the ash fall from the Minoan eruption there is clear evidence the Minoans left before the eruption. I want to know what caused them to leave and did they know that a major eruption was going to occur? Today scientists can monitor the volcanic activity of Nea Kameni but they can’t predict when a volcano will erupt or know if they should call for an evacuation.

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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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Evolution of the Santorini Volcano

Imagine being on the island of Santorini around the time of 1613 BC. Before the power of the Minoan eruption altered the landscape forever, you would be able to see this unstable volcanic vent surrounded by a landscape that had been reworked many times before by the forces of volcanism. As you look across the island you would be surrounded by the destructive beauty of hundreds of thousands of years of volcanic activity. You might feel safe and comforted because the last eruption was over 17,000 years ago. Although this time it is different, and there is a feeling that something may change, something may occur that will truly shape the island for the future. It is only a matter of time before this volcano begins to roar again, and present Santorini with an eruption that has never been seen within the Aegean Sea or the Mediterranean for that matter.

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Countdown to Disaster, but When?

The 1613 +/-13 BC Minoan eruption is known worldwide for its colossal eruption that was nearly equal to the eruptions of Tambora and Krakatau in Indonesia. We are studying this specific eruption because while it greatly effected the morphology of Santorini, the population of the island was effected as well (1). This eruption is crucial in our understanding of future caldera eruptions and expands our knowledge of the likelihood of another eruption.

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