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Atlantis (also titled Atlantis: End of a World, Birth of a Legend) is a 2011 BBC docudrama which depicts a re-enactment of the events surrounding the volcanic eruption which destroyed the island of Thera, an incident believed to have inspired the legend of Atlantis. The hour-long programme is based on the work of leading scientists, archaeologists and historians, and featured Stephanie Leonidas and Reece Ritchie as members of the Bronze Age civilization. The film was narrated by Tom Conti, and made its debut on BBC One on Sunday 8 May 2011.
With voiceover from Tom Conti, the film tells the story of Yishharu, an apprentice bull-leaper who has recently returned to Thera from Crete with his new wife, Pinaruti. They discover that Thera is beset by earthquakes and volcanic activity. Over the course of the story, the volcano erupts, throwing out ash and molten lava, and destroying the island. Although the couple survive the first stages of the disaster they are separated after Yishharu is left behind when Pinaruti and other islanders escape by boat. The nearby island of Crete is then engulfed by a giant tsunami which was triggered by the eruption, and Pinaruti is washed up on the shore of a nearby island.
Reception from critics was generally negative.
Zoe Williams, writing for The Guardian said: “The heavy-handed doomsday lighting made it look like the build-up to a joke on a Pot Noodle ad. The dialogue sounded like Holby City…The more dramatic the narration tried to be, the more mundane it sounded…The truth, I think, is that someone somewhere was looking for the new Pompeii, because we’ve all heard that one, and decided this was it: the second-best ancient disaster status clung doggedly to the project.[An equally unfavourable review in The Independent suggested: “The final explosion has been calculated to have been 40,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, and it would have been a great mercy if it had occurred 50 minutes earlier in Atlantis. That would have given us the bull-jumping – which was rather excitingly filmed – and spared us the catastrophe that followed.”
Atlantis – end of a world, birth of a legend
New drama and documentary coming soon to the BBC
BBC One is to tell the dramatic story of the greatest natural disaster to shake the ancient world, a disaster that triggered the downfall of a civilisation and spawned a legend.
Around 1620 BC a gigantic volcano in the Aegean Sea stirred from its 19,000-year slumber.
The eruption tore the island of Thera apart, producing massive tsunamis that flooded the nearby island of Crete, the centre of Europe’s first great civilisation – the Minoans.
This apocalyptic event, many experts now believe, provided the inspiration for the legend of Atlantis.
Based on the work of leading scientists, archaeologists and historians, this drama immerses viewers in the exotic world of the Minoans.
Starring Reece Ritchie (The Lovely Bones; Prince Of Persia ) andStephanie Leonida (Yes; MirrorMask), Atlantis is the first British TV drama to use the virtual backlot production technique of the movie 300.
Incorporating the latest CGI technology, the film brings viewers face to face with one of history’s greatest disasters – from the precursory earthquakes through the eruption sequence to the pyroclastic flows and tsunamis.
The programme is a co-production with Discovery, BBC Worldwide,Pro Sieben (Germany) and France Deux (France).
In a companion documentary on BBC Two, historian Bettany Hughestraces the origins of the Atlantis myth and presents compelling evidence that the Thera eruption inspired Plato’s account of Atlantis.
Executive producer Ailsa Orr said: “Atlantis will immerse the viewer in a world they’ve never seen before, in a brand new, exciting way.
“The world of the Minoans and the disaster that wiped them out has been created using visual effects that have, to date, only ever been used in Hollywood movies.
“It offers our audiences a unique viewing experience – the closest they’ll ever get to one of the greatest natural disasters of all time.”
Notes to Editors
Atlantis is a BBC Northern Ireland Production.
Virtual backlot production technique of 300 means that the entire production is shot in a studio against green screen, mixing physical with virtual (CG) set builds. The technique provides unique creative control over the visual style of the film.
Michael Mosley (executive producer) executive produced many of the BBC’s high-end factual dramas, such as Pompeii – The Last Day, Supervolcano, Superstorm and Krakatoa: The Last Days.
Ailsa Orr (executive producer) is BBC Northern Ireland’s Head of Programmes and was the Producer behind Pompeii – The Last Day, Supervolcano, Hannibal and Superstorm.
Detlef Siebert (series producer) has a long track record in historical programmes. Most recently, he was the drama director on Auschwitz – The Nazis And the Final Solution, wrote and directed the drama-documentary The Somme – From Defeat To Victory, and series produced Nuremberg – Nazis On Trial.
Tony Mitchell (director) pioneered historical documentary dramas with Neanderthal and Ancient Egyptians and is one of the world’s top directors of CG-heavy drama, including Supervolcano, Primeval and Flood.
‘Lost’ City of Atlantis: Fact & Fable
By Benjamin Radford, Live Science Contributor | October 31, 2014 10:49pm ET
A 1669 map by Athanasius Kircher put Atlantis in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The map is oriented with south at the top.
Atlantis is a legendary “lost” island subcontinent often idealized as an advanced, utopian society holding wisdom that could bring world peace. The idea of Atlantis has captivated dreamers, occultists and New Agers for generations.
Unlike many legends whose origins have been lost in the mists of time, we know exactly when and where the story of Atlantis first appeared. The story was first told in two of Plato’s dialogues, the “Timaeus” and the “Critias,” written about 330 B.C.
Though today Atlantis is often thought of as a peaceful utopia, the Atlantis that Plato described in his fable was very different. In his book “Frauds, Myths and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology” (McGraw-Hill, 2013) professor of archaeology Ken Feder summarizes the story: “A technologically sophisticated but morally bankrupt evil empire — Atlantis — attempts world domination by force. The only thing standing in its way is a relatively small group of spiritually pure, morally principled and incorruptible people — the ancient Athenians. Overcoming overwhelming odds … the Athenians are able to defeat their far more powerful adversary simply through the force of their spirit. Sound familiar? Plato’s Atlantean dialogues are essentially an ancient Greek version of ‘Star Wars.'”
As propaganda, the Atlantis legend is more about the heroic Athens than a sunken civilization; if Atlantis really existed today and was found, its residents would probably try to kill and enslave us all. It’s clear that Plato made up Atlantis as a plot device for his stories because there are no other records of it anywhere else in the world. There are many extant Greek texts; surely someone else would have also mentioned, at least in passing, such a remarkable place. There is simply no evidence from any source that the legends about Atlantis existed before Plato wrote about it.
For most of the past two millennia, no one thought much about Atlantis; it was just what it appeared to be: a fictional place mentioned in a fable by the ancient Greek philosopher. The idea that Atlantis was an actual lost historical location is a very recent idea, first proposed by a writer named Ignatius Donnelly in 1881. He believed that most of the important accomplishments of the ancient world — such as metallurgy, agriculture, religion and language — must have come from Atlantis. In essence, he argued that ancient cultures weren’t sophisticated enough to develop these things on their own, so they must have spread from some unknown advanced civilization. (It is similar to the widely discredited “ancient astronauts” idea, that Egyptians were not smart enough to build pyramids, and thus extraterrestrials must have helped them.)
Later writers elaborated on Donnelly’s theories, adding their own opinions and speculations. These included mystic Madame Blavatsky (in her 1888 book, “The Secret Doctrine”) and famous psychic Edgar Cayce in the 1920s and 1930s. Cayce, who put a fundamentalist Christian spin on the Atlantis story, gave psychic readings for thousands of people — many of whom, he claimed, had past lives in Atlantis. Unfortunately, none of the information was verifiable, and Cayce wrongly predicted that the continent would be discovered in 1969.
Charles Berlitz, author of many popular books on the paranormal and unexplained phenomena, researched Atlantis and wrote a 1969 book titled “The Mystery of Atlantis.” Berlitz, whose family created the famous language-learning courses, not only became convinced that Atlantis was real but also that it was the source of the Bermuda Triangle mystery, a subject he explored in his 1974 best-seller “The Bermuda Triangle.” Berlitz’s wild ideas about the Bermuda Triangle — and, by extension, Atlantis — were definitively debunked the following year by researcher Larry Kusche, author of “The Bermuda Triangle Mystery — Solved.” Thousands of books, magazines and websites are devoted to Atlantis, and it remains a popular topic in New Age circles.
The ‘lost’ continent
Despite Atlantis’ clear origin in fiction, many people over the centuries have claimed that there must be some truth behind the myths, and have speculated about where Atlantis would be found. Countless Atlantis “experts” have located the lost continent all around the world, based on the same set of facts. Candidate locations — each accompanied by their own peculiar sets of evidence and arguments — include the Atlantic Ocean, Antarctica, Bolivia, Turkey, Germany, Malta and the Caribbean.
Plato, however, is crystal clear about where his Atlantis is: “For the ocean there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, ‘the pillars of Heracles,’ (i.e., Hercules) there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together.” In other words, it lies in the Atlantic Ocean beyond “the pillars of Hercules” (i.e., the Strait of Gibraltar, at the mouth of the Mediterranean). Yet it has never been found in the Atlantic, or anywhere else.
No trace of Atlantis has ever been found, despite advances in oceanography and ocean floor mapping in past decades. For nearly two millennia, readers could be forgiven for suspecting that the vast depths might somehow hide a sunken city or continent. Though there remains much mystery at the bottom of the world’s oceans, it is inconceivable that the world’s oceanographers, submariners and deep-sea probes have somehow missed a landmass “larger than Libya and Asia together.”
Furthermore, plate tectonics demonstrate that it’s impossible for Atlantis to exist, as the continents have drifted and the seafloor has spread, not contracted, over time. There would simply be no place for Atlantis to sink into. As Ken Feder noted, “The geology is clear; there could have been no large land surface that then sank in the area where Plato places Atlantis. Together, modern archaeology and geology provide an unambiguous verdict: There was no Atlantic continent; there was no great civilization called Atlantis.”
Myth from misinterpretation
The only way to make a mystery out of Atlantis (and to assume that it was once a real place) is to ignore its obvious origins as a moral fable and to change the details of Plato’s story, claiming that he took license with the truth, either out of error or intent to deceive. With the addition, omission or misinterpretation of various details in Plato’s work, nearly any proposed location can be made to “fit” his description.
Science and science-fiction writer L. Sprague de Camp thoroughly discredited the Atlantis story in his 1970 book, “Lost Continents: The Atlantis Theme in History, Science, and Literature,” noting that “you cannot change all the details of Plato’s story and still claim to have Plato’s story. That is like saying the legendary King Arthur is ‘really’ Cleopatra; all you have to do is to change Cleopatra’s sex, nationality, period, temperament, moral character, and other details, and the resemblance becomes obvious.”
The Atlantis legend has been kept alive, fueled by the public’s imagination and fascination with the idea of a hidden, long-lost utopia. Yet the “lost city of Atlantis” was never lost; it is where it always was: in Plato’s books.
The Story of Atlantis
Over 11,000 years ago there existed an island nation located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean populated by a noble and powerful race. The people of this land possessed great wealth thanks to the natural resources found throughout their island. The island was a center for trade and commerce. The rulers of this land held sway over the people and land of their own island and well into Europe and Africa.
This was the island of Atlantis.
Atlantis was the domain of Poseidon, god of the sea. When Poseidon fell in love with a mortal woman, Cleito, he created a dwelling at the top of a hill near the middle of the island and surrounded the dwelling with rings of water and land to protect her.
Cleito gave birth to five sets of twin boys who became the first rulers of Atlantis. The island was divided among the brothers with the eldest, Atlas, first King of Atlantis, being given control over the central hill and surrounding areas.
At the top of the central hill, a temple was built to honor Poseidon which housed a giant gold statue of Poseidon riding a chariot pulled by winged horses. It was here that the rulers of Atlantis would come to discuss laws, pass judgments, and pay tribute to Poseidon..
To facilitate travel and trade, a water canal was cut through of the rings of land and water running south for 5.5 miles (~9 km) to the sea.
The city of Atlantis sat just outside the outer ring of water and spread across the plain covering a circle of 11 miles (1.7 km). This was a densely populated area where the majority of the population lived.
Beyond the city lay a fertile plain 330 miles (530 km) long and 110 miles (190 km) wide surrounded by another canal used to collect water from the rivers and streams of the mountains. The climate was such that two harvests were possible each year. One in the winter fed by the rains and one in the summer fed by irrigation from the canal.
Surrounding the plain to the north were mountains which soared to the skies. Villages, lakes, rivers, and meadows dotted the mountains.
Besides the harvests, the island provided all kinds of herbs, fruits, and nuts. An abundance of animals, including elephants, roamed the island.
For generations the Atlanteans lived simple, virtuous lives. But slowly they began to change. Greed and power began to corrupt them. When Zeus saw the immorality of the Atlanteans he gathered the other gods to determine a suitable punishment.
Soon, in one violent surge, it was gone. The island of Atlantis, its people, and its memory were swallowed by the sea.
This is a summary of the story told by Plato around 360 BC in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias. These writings of Plato are the only specific known references to Atlantis. They have prompted controversy and debate for over two thousand years.
Atlantis, a likely mythical island nation mentioned in Plato’s dialogues “Timaeus” and “Critias,” has been an object of fascination among western philosophers and historians for nearly 2,400 years. Plato (c.424–328 B.C.) describes it as a powerful and advanced kingdom that sank, in a night and a day, into the ocean around 9,600 B.C. The ancient Greeks were divided as to whether Plato’s story was to be taken as history or mere metaphor. Since the 19th century there has been renewed interest in linking Plato’s Atlantis to historical locations, most commonly the Greek island of Santorini, which was destroyed by a volcanic eruption around 1,600 B.C.
Plato (through the character Critias in his dialogues) describes Atlantis as an island larger than Libya and Asia Minor put together, located in the Atlantic just beyond the Pillars of Hercules—generally assumed to mean the Strait of Gibraltar. Its culture was advanced and it had a constitution suspiciously similar to the one outlined in Plato’s “Republic.” It was protected by the god Poseidon, who made his son Atlas king and namesake of the island and the ocean that surrounded it. As the Atlanteans grew powerful, their ethics declined. Their armies eventually conquered Africa as far as Egypt and Europe as far as Tyrrhenia (Etruscan Italy) before being driven back by an Athenian-led alliance. Later, by way of divine punishment, the island was beset by earthquakes and floods, and sank into a muddy sea.
Did You Know?
In 1679 the Swedish scientist Olaus Rudbeck published “Atland,” a four-volume work in which he attempted to prove that Sweden was the original site of Atlantis and that all human languages were descended from Swedish. Though considered authoritative in his homeland, few outside of Sweden found Rudbeck’s arguments convincing.
ORIGINS OF THE ATLANTIS STORY
Plato’s Critias says he heard the story of Atlantis from his grandfather, who had heard it from the Athenian statesman Solon (300 years before Plato’s time), who had learned it from an Egyptian priest, who said it had happened 9,000 years before that. Whether or not Plato believed his own story, his intent in telling it seems to have been to boost his ideas of an ideal society, using stories of ancient victory and calamity to call to mind more recent events such as theTrojan War or Athens’ disastrous invasion of Sicily in 413 B.C. The historicity of Plato’s tale was controversial in ancient times—his follower Crantor is said to have believed it, while Strabo (writing a few centuries later) records Aristotle’s joke about Plato’s ability to conjure nations out of thin air and then destroy them.
In the first centuries of the Christian era, Aristotle was taken at his word and Atlantis was little discussed. In 1627, the English philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon published a utopian novel titled “The New Atlantis,” depicting, like Plato before him, a politically and scientifically advanced society on a previously unknown oceanic island. In 1882, former U.S. Congressman Ignatious L. Donnelly published “Atlantis: The Antediluvian World,” which touched off a frenzy of works attempting to locate and learn from a historical Atlantis. Donnelly hypothesized an advanced civilization whose immigrants had populated much of ancient Europe, Africa and the Americas, and whose heroes had inspired Greek, Hindu and Scandinavian mythology. Donnelley’s theories were popularized and elaborated by turn-of-the-20th-century theosophists and are often incorporated into contemporary New Age beliefs.
From time to time, archaeologists and historians locate evidence—a swampy, prehistoric city in coastal Spain; a suspicious undersea rock formation in the Bahamas—that might be a source of the Atlantis story. Of these, the site with the widest acceptance is the Greek island of Santorini (ancient Thera), a half-submerged caldera created by the massive second-millennium-B.C. volcanic eruption whose tsunami may have hastened the collapse of the Minoan civilization on Crete.
By Mark Cartwright
Published on 07 July 2012
Thera is the ancient name for both the island of Santorini in the Greek Cyclades and the name of the volcano which famously erupted on the island in the middle Bronze Age and covered Akrotiri, the most important settlement, in pumice and volcanic ash, thereby perfectly preserving the Bronze Age town.
The earliest evidence of settlement on the island at Akrotiri (named after the nearby modern village) dates back to the mid-fifth millennium BCE when a small fishing and farming community established itself on a coastal promontory. By the third millennium BCE the presence of rock-cut burial chambers, pottery and stone vases and figurines suggest a period of significant growth. The marble used for these vessels probably came from the nearby islands of Paros andNaxos and together with finds of Theran pumice stone (used as a polish abrasive) suggest the presence of inter-island trade. Wood and food goods were also probably exchanged at this time, not only throughout the Cyclades but also with the Greek mainland and Crete.
Around 2000 BCE the settlement expanded further, and a disused cemetery was filled and constructed upon – both the fill containing pottery shards from large amphorae and black/brown burnished pottery (Kastri style) finds suggest healthy Aegean trade relations were in existence. Being strategically well-placed on the copper trade route between Cyprus and Minoan Crete, Akrotiri also became an important centre for metal work, as is evidenced by finds of moulds and crucibles.
AKROTIRI’S PROSPERITY CAME TO A SUDDEN END WITH THE MASSIVE AND CATACLYSMIC ERUPTION OF THE ISLAND’S VOLCANO.
URBANISATION & DISASTER
From 2000 to 1650 BCE Akrotiri became more urbanised with paved streets and extensive drainage systems. Quality pottery was mass produced and decorated with lines, plants and animals. Metallurgy and other crafts (particularly those related to the maritime industries) became more specialised. In this period there is also evidence of repair and rebuilding projects following earthquake destruction.
Akrotiri’s prosperity came to a sudden end with the massive and cataclysmic eruption of the island’s volcano. Preceded by earthquakes of a magnitude of 7 on the Richter scale which destroyed the town and created 9m high tidal waves, the eruption itself probably occurred a few days later and released an estimated 15 billion tons of magma into the atmosphere, making it the largest volcanic eruption of the last 10,000 years. The entire island was buried in a thick layer of ash, Trianda on Rhodes was destroyed, 7cm of ash covered sites in northern Crete, Anatolia suffered from the ash fall-out and even ice-cores in Greenland demonstrate the far-reaching effects of the eruption. The precise date of the event is much debated amongst scholars with wildly different estimates vigorously defended in order to support various hypotheses for other events such as the destruction of Minoan palaces or Mycenaean imperialistic ambitions in the Aegean. The most agreed upon date ranges somewhere between 1650 and 1550 BCE (with ice-core and carbon-dating studies suggesting the earlier date).
Following the eruption of Thera, the town of Akrotiri was completely covered in volcanic ash and thereby remained extremely well preserved; for example, through negative casting it has been possible to identify usually perishable items such as wooden furniture, most commonly stools and beds. However, unlike at Pompeii where life seems frozen by the disastrous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, at Akrotiri there were no casualties found at the site and there is evidence of some attempt to clear rubble which suggests that there was a short gap between the earthquakes and the eruption and many residents had already abandoned the town before the final cataclysm. The site remained hidden from sight until its systematic excavation from 1967 CE.
The well-planned town has squares and wide streets. Buildings were of two or three stories with flat roofs supported by a central wooden column. Architectural features in common with those in the Minoan civilization include a large hall, lustral basins, ashlar masonry, horns of consecration and the occasional lightwell.
ARCHITECTURE & ART
Interestingly, almost all of the buildings excavated at Akrotiri have scenes painted on the interior walls in one or more of their rooms, illustrating that it was not only the elite who had such artwork in their homes. Fresco subjects and style were much influenced by the Minoan civilization – religious processions, goddesses, lilies, crocuses etc. and by the later Mycenaean civilization on the Greek mainland – griffins and boars’ tusks helmets. More local themes such as girls gathering saffron, seascapes and fishing activities were also popular as were exotic animals such as antelopes and monkeys. Many rooms were completely covered in painted depictions of landscape scenes attesting to a love of nature and creating a powerful visual impact which transports the viewer beyond the confines of the room.
In addition to Fresco subject matter, other finds such as Cretan and Mycenaean pottery, seal impressions using Minoan iconography, Minoan clay loom weights, Canaanite jars, the use of the Minoan Linear A script and items of Egyptian origin (e.g.: ivory and ostrich eggshells) attest to Akrotiri’s continued importance as an important trading centre with contacts throughout the Aegean.
Although the date of the event is difficult to fix, the effect of the disaster is clearly evident in physical archaeological remains but also in more intangible terms. It has been suggested that the eruption of Thera may be the origin of the Atlantis myth – the destruction of an island and with it the loss of an advanced civilization. From the point of view of Greeks in the so-called Dark Ages (from c. 1100 BCE) the Minoan/Mycenaean-influenced community on Thera may well have appeared as a golden age, a time when cultural and artistic achievements were greater than in the present time but in just a few days consigned to history by Nature’s whim.
Written by Mark Cartwright, published on 07 July 2012 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.
- Burn, A.R.The Penguin History of Greece. Penguin Books, 1966.
- Cline, E.H.The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean. Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.
- Doumas, C.C.Santorini the Prehistoric City of Akroteri. Athens Editions Hannibal, 2014.
- Higgins, R.Minoan and Mycenaean Art. Thames & Hudson, 1997.
- Hutchinson, R.W.Prehistoric Crete. Penguin Books, 1962.
“Atlantis” Eruption Twice as Big as Previously Believed, Study Suggests
Richard A. Lovett
for National Geographic News
August 23, 2006
A volcanic eruption that may have inspired the myth of Atlantis was up to twice as large as previously believed, according to an international team of scientists.
The eruption occurred 3,600 years ago on the Santorini archipelago, whose largest island is Thera. Santorini is located in the Aegean Sea about 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of modern-day Greece.
The massive explosion may have destroyed the Minoan civilization based on nearby Crete.
Writing in this week’s issue of the journal Eos,a team of Greek and U.S. researchers estimate that the volcano released 14 cubic miles (60 cubic kilometers) of magma—six times more than the infamous 1883 eruption of Krakatau (Krakatoa).
Only one eruption in human history is believed to have been larger: an 1815 explosion of Tambora, in Indonesia, which released 24 cubic miles (100 cubic kilometers) of magma.
(Related story: “‘Lost Kingdom’ Discovered on Volcanic Island in Indonesia [February 27, 2006].)
The researchers, partially funded by the National Geographic Society, obtained the new data by conducting the first seismic survey of the seabed near Santorini. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)
Previously, scientists had been forced to guess the size of the eruption based on ash deposits found in Turkey, Crete, Egypt, and the Black Sea.
A Hundred Feet Thick
Using techniques similar to those employed by oil companies to search for offshore deposits, the research team found a ring of volcanic deposits extending all the way around the Santorini archipelago.
The deposits averaged 100 feet (30 meters) thick and extended about 19 miles (30 kilometers) in all directions, says Haraldur Sigurdsson, a volcanologist at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, who led the research.
During the eruption, the material that formed the deposits would have plunged into the sea as pyroclastic flows—hot, fast-moving mixtures of gas, ash, and molten rock. As these hit the water, they would have kicked up massive tsunamis.
“In a very similar setting, [the milder] Krakatau produced 100-foot [30-meter] tsunami waves,” Sigurdsson said.
Other pyroclastic flows would have been comprised of pumice—a frothy rock so light it floats.
These flows, known as overwater flows, would have zoomed across the sea in scalding waves of debris, eventually hitting land many miles away.
An overwater flow from Krakatau killed more than a thousand people on the coast of Sumatra, 25 miles away from the site of the eruption.
The devastation caused by Santorini—once a single island—would have been far worse.
“We have to scale the effects of both the tsunami and overwater pyroclastic flows to the Santorini eruption,” Sigurdsson said.
His team, he adds, will soon begin studies in Crete and western Turkey looking for the remnants from such flows.
Jelle Zeilinga de Boer, an emeritus professor of geology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, notes that the strength of the eruption also depends on its duration.
“We don’t know whether this came out in one flow or a number,” he said.
There is some archaeological evidence, he adds, that people returned to the devastated area and started rebuilding, only to be blasted anew by the next round of activity.
Whether it occurred in one large blast or in a series of smaller events, the eruption produced massive devastation.
In his book Volcanoes in Human History, de Boer links the eruption to the demise of the Minoan civilization.
The seafaring Minoan culture was based on Crete, which is only a few dozen miles from Thera. At the time of the eruption, they dominated that part of the ancient Mediterranean.
When Thera erupted, the Minoans would have been clobbered by tsunamis, overwater pyroclastic flows, and fires from oil lamps knocked over by the eruption’s shockwave.
Famine, plague, and a destruction of the Minoans’ shipping economy would also have followed, de Boer says.
The eruption may also have had an enormous impact on Mediterranean mythology.
“I have no doubt that every myth is based on some event, and so is the myth of Atlantis,” the University of Rhode Island’s Sigurdsson said. “An event of this magnitude must have left its imprint.”
Sigurdsson also sees traces of Santorini in a Greek poem called the Theogony,composed by Hesiod about 800 years after the eruption.
The poem describes an epic battle between giants and the Greek gods and includes imagery of a great battle far out at sea.
Hesiod must have picked up the story as folklore handed down from survivors close enough to see the event but not close enough to know what happened, Siggurdsson says.
“He uses all the terminology one would use in describing an eruption,” he said. “The people who lived close enough to see that it was a volcano were all killed. [The rest] could only describe it in supernatural terms.”
How the Eruption of Thera Changed the World
Heather Whipps | February 24, 2008 07:00pm ET
Each Monday, this column turns a page in history to explore the discoveries, events and people that continue to affect the history being made today.
The world map might look differently had the Greek volcano Thera not erupted 3,500 years ago in what geologists believe was the single-most powerful explosive event ever witnessed.
Thera didn’t just blow a massive hole into the island of Santorini – it set the entire ancient Mediterranean onto a different course, like a train that switched tracks to head off in a brand new direction.
Minoan culture, the dominant civilization in the Mediterranean at the time, crumbled as a result of the eruption, historians believe, changing the political landscape of the ancient world indefinitely. Environmental effects were felt across the globe, as far away as China and perhaps even North America and Antarctica.
The legend of Atlantis and the story of the Biblical plagues and subsequent exodus from Egypt have also been connected to the epic catastrophe.
Dwarfed the atomic bomb
Historians and archaeologists have had trouble deciding on the year Thera erupted, with dates ranging anywhere from 1645 BC to 1500 BC. Studies of ash deposits on the ocean floor have revealed, however, that when the volcano did blow, it did so with a force dwarfing anything humans had ever seen or have seen since.
There are no first-person accounts of what happened that day, but scientists can compare it to the detailed records available from the famous eruption of Krakatoa, Indonesia, in 1883.
That fiery explosion killed upwards of 40,000 people in just a few hours, produced colossal tsunamis 40 feet tall, spewed volcanic ash across Asia, and caused a drop in global temperatures and created strangely colored sunsets for three years. The blast was heard 3,000 miles away.
Thera’s eruption was four or five times more powerful than Krakatoa, geologists believe, exploding with the energy of several hundred atomic bombs in a fraction of a second.
An absence of human remains and valuables like metal suggest that the Minoan residents of Santorini predicted the eruption and the island was evacuated, but the culture as a whole did not fare as well.
Based on the nearby island of Crete, the powerful Minoan civilization declined suddenly soon after Thera blew its top. Tsunamis spawned by the eruption would have swamped its naval fleet and coastal villages first off, historians think. A drop in temperatures caused by the massive amounts of sulphur dioxide spouted into the atmosphere then led to several years of cold, wet summers in the region, ruining harvests. The lethal combination overran every mighty Minoan stronghold in less than 50 years.
In just a short time, their peaceful, efficient bureaucracy made way for the warring city-state system of ancient Greece to dominate the Mediterranean. The Aegean would turn out to be a fundamental building block for the history of Europe, and the Minoan decline changed its early foundation completely.
Thera didn’t just alter the cultural make up of Europe, it has kept adventurers and treasure hunters busy too.
When the Greek philosopher Plato described the lost city of Atlantisover a thousand years after the volcanic eruption, he may have been referring to Thera folklore passed down in Greece over many generations and exaggerated like a game of broken telephone.
The eruption has also been loosely linked with the Biblical story of Moses and the exodus from Egypt. The effects of Thera’s eruption could have explained many of the plagues described in the Old Testament, including the days of darkness and polluting of the rivers, according to some theories.