|Fisherman fresco from Akrotiri (copy).|
Who knew? I had only the vaguest idea of what the Late Bronze Age was all about -- in my ignorance, I would have thought something fairly primitive, barely beyond stone axes and caves. And I would have been utterly wrong. The excavations at Akrotiri disclose a sophisticated community with technology for drainage and plumbing (inside toilets!), transportation, storage of foodstuffs, a busy shipping culture, town planning, two and three story buildings, and a vibrant taste in exquisite art work. Possibly (judging by doorway heights) the people would have been only three or four feet tall, but obviously smart. Wikipedia says:
Knowledge of navigation was well developed at this time, and reached a peak of skill not exceeded (except perhaps by Polynesian sailors) until 1730 when the invention of the chronometer enabled the precise determination of longitude.I'd heard of Greek shipping magnates - and Santorini itself has large and lovely Captains' Houses from the nineteenth century - but who knew they were at it back in 1600 BC?
|A granary or store house?|
|Satellite image of Santorini (source)|
In fact - and I don't find this too implausible - some reckon that the Minoan Eruption on Thira could have been the cause of most of the plagues of Egypt described in the Old Testament: red ash dyeing waters of the Nile, sulphur dioxide in the ash turning the water into sulphuric acid, frogs leaving the river in plague proportions, the ash cloud blocking the rays of the sun, extreme weather conditions, acid rain causing skin sores on the people and the death of small animals....
Archaeological findings, including some on the island of Thera, suggest that the centre of Minoan Civilization at the time of the eruption was actually on Thera rather than on Crete. According to this theory, the catastrophic loss of the political, administrative and economic centre by the eruption as well as the damage wrought by the tsunami to the coastal towns and villages of Crete precipitated the decline of the Minoans. A weakened political entity with a reduced economic and military capability and fabled riches would have then been more vulnerable to human predators. Indeed, the Santorini Eruption is usually dated to c. 1630 BC...Whatever happened, it wasn't good. However, the eruption did bury the fascinating town of Akrotiri, Pompeii-like - sometimes it's called 'the Greek Pompeii.' Although a walk around the site needs much better signage and explanation, or a very good guide or guidebook, even a little information can bring those Bronze Age merchants and sailors back to life in the imagination.
|Ancient roads and squares.|
|A dog? A griffin? From an Akrotiri fresco.|
|Delicate figures in an Akrotiri fresco - drowning in the sea?|
|Blue monkeys! Akrotiri fresco.|
|Fresco detail from Akrotiri.|
|Bronze-age jewellery. Depicted in a wall painting.|
|A swallow-like bird from a nature fresco.|
A. G. Galanopoulos argued that Plato's dating of 9,000 years before Solon's time was the result of an error in translation, probably from Egyptian into Greek, which produced "thousands" instead of "hundreds". Such an error would also rescale Plato's Atlantis to the size of Crete, while leaving the city the size of the crater on Thera; 900 years before Solon would be the 15th century BC.Although such stories are fascinating, let's remember my Masada Criterion, perhaps better called pseudohistory, pseudoscience, or pseudoarchaeology. We might also remember that Plato, one of my all-time favourite writers, was an exceptional literary talent who could tell a good story with the best.
|A double wall of frescos depicting lush natural scenes.|
|The Akrotiri site - fully roofed.|
The excavation area is about 10,000 m2
Old pic of tourists walking the ancient streets
of Akrotiri - no longer possible.
Evidence of habitation at Akrotiri first came to light in the second half of the 19th century. However, systematic excavations were begun much later, in 1967, by Professor Spyridon Marinatos under the auspices of the Archaeological Society at Athens. He decided to excavate at Akrotiri in the hope of verifying an old theory of his, published in the 1930's, that the eruption of the Thira volcano was responsible for the collapse of the Minoan civilization. Since his death in 1974, the excavations have been continued under the successful direction of Professor Christos Doumas. (source)Practical information for a site visit:
If you go to the site with a guide book, you might find it a little out of date. Descriptions of walking in the streets and squares have to be adjusted a bit to account for your location on an elevated walkway.
And it's not much good your guide book pointing out the buildings where there are murals, because they're not on the site any more. In fact, the site could be improved by a bit of explanation about where the murals are currently located. Apart from a few references to the Archaeological Museum in Athens, I haven't been able to find much information. You can views many of the murals here. The 3D reproductions in the Santozeum are, however, excellent.
Other finds from the site - objects, statuary, utensils, plaster casts of furniture - are on show at the Museum of Prehistoric Thira on Santorini. Oh - and they have some of the wall paintings there, too.
|Plaster casts of ancient beds:|
Timber frames, strung with cords, are among Europe’s oldest beds.
|Wall painting of two young boys boxing.|
|Relaxing on Atlantis.|
|Map of Greece and its Islands (Santorini shown as 'Thera') (source)|