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Thera (Santorini)

Stage 6 Anicient History - Preliminary Course

ellen beaton

on 8 July 2013

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Transcript of Thera (Santorini)

Thera, or the modern island of Santorini, located sixty-nine (69) miles off the island of Crete in the Aegean Sea, was devastated by a volcanic eruption sometime in the 15th century BC. The eruption was one of the most powerful in the past 10,000 years and contributed to the fall of the Minoan Civilisation. The other event to contribute to the fall of the Minoan Civilisation was the rise of the Mycenaean Civilisation on the island of Crete.
Thera (Santorini)
Stage 6 Ancient History
Preliminary Course

About seven cubic miles of rhyodacite magma was erupted. The Plinian Column during the initial phase of the eruption was about twenty-three miles (36 km) high. The removal of such a large volume of magma caused the volcano to collapse, producing a caldera. The eruption probably caused the end of the Minoan civilisation on the island of Crete.
What was discovered on the island was simply amazing. An entire city was unearthed. Because of the delicate nature of the building materials, a roof was built over the site to protect it from rain. The slightest sprinkle would have caused every building to collapse. The buildings had wooden beams which had decomposed over the centuries. In excavation the beams were replaced with cement because it could conform to the shape of the wood.
No bodies, or small possessions, have been found at the site. This may point to a period of volcanic and seismic activity before the eruption. If the eruption had been unexpected, archaeologists should have found the remains of people caught in the ash or magma from the eruption.

The absence of any bodies and the dearth (i.e. scarce supply) of metal artefacts or other portable objects of obvious material value in the ruins of Akrotiri [on Santorini] clearly indicate that the inhabitants had ample warning of the imminence of the volcanic eruption, which buried the island so deeply in ash and other volcanic debris that it became uninhabitable for as much as a century or two.
The destruction of Thera reminds some of the legend of Atlantis. Plato described an advanced society, perhaps the Minoans, living on the island of Atlantis. According to his story, this island sunk beneath the sea after a great catastrophe. This may or may not make sense given that Plato claimed that Atlantis existed 9000 years before him, and not 900 years that separated the eruption on Thera and his time.
The Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos was the first to believe that there was something buried under the farmlands of the island of Thera, specifically near the modern village of Akrotiri. Marinatos published his ideas about Thera in the 1939 edition of the archaeological journal Antiquity. He had wanted to start exploring the island at that time however, due to the outbreak of World War Two and the Greek Civil War, Marinatos was unable to explore the island until the 1960s. The research Marinatos tried to do on previous archaeological explorations of the island was difficult because there were no written records and all evidence of exploration had been destroyed by plowing.

Marinatos was finally able to begin excavation at Akrotiri in 1967. Unfortunately, Marinatos died in 1974. This caused a brief pause in the excavation and actual digging resumed in 1976 when Christos Doumas took over the site. It is said that it will take several decades of archaeologists to complete the site.
The island of Thera is part of the Cylcades, a group of Aegean islands located between Greece and Turkey. It was strategically place for making trading contacts with Crete to the south and mainland Greece to the west. This is borne out in the archaeological record of Akrotiri. It is apparent that Thera also maintained close links with other Aegean islands, demonstrated by the discovery at Akrotiri of natural resources from these places. Other finds suggest that Thera also had contact with Syria, Palestine and Egypt
Akrotiri was one of the first towns hit by the effects of the eruption. It was completely buried by volcanic deposits.
A layer of pumice 10 metres deep covered the town.
Greek archaeologists began to dig around Akrotiri during the 1960s (e.g. Spyridon Marinatos who excavated from 1967 until his death in 1974).
Below is a translation of Plato’s description of the lost city of Atlantis, taken from his works Timaeus and Critias.
The first extract from his work below details the layout of the land in and around this huge city, and gives an impression of the vast wealth and heritage amongst the people themselves.

“At the centre of the island, near the sea, was a plain, said to be the most beautiful and fertile of all plains and near the middle of this plain about fifty stades inland a hill of no great size… There were two rings of land and three of sea, like cartwheels, with the island at their centre and equidistant from each other… in the centre was a shrine sacred to Poseidon and Cleito, surrounded by a golden wall through which entry was forbidden…

There was a temple to Poseidon himself, a stade in length, three hundred feet wide, and proportionate in height, though somewhat outlandish in appearance. The outside of it was covered all in silver, except for the figures on the pediment which were covered with gold… Round the temple, were statues of all the original ten kings and their wives, and many others dedicated by kings and private persons belonging to the city and its dominions.”
[Note: Stadia = c. 150 – 200 metres, depending on the country of origin’s measurement]
As well as the huge architectural knowledge the Atlanteans seemed to possess, they also seem to be incredibly advanced in terms of social structure and order, as well as having access to some superb natural resources.

“Two springs, hot and cold, provided an unlimited supply of water for appropriate purposes, remarkable for its agreeable quality and excellence; and this they made available by surrounding it with suitable buildings and plantations, leading some of it into basins in the open air and some of it into covered hot baths for winter use.

Here separate accommodation was provided for royalty and commoners, and, again for women, for horses, and for other beasts of burden… The outflow they led into the grove of Poseidon which - because of the goodness of the soil – was full of trees of marvellous beauty and height, and also channelled it to the outer ring-islands by aqueducts at the bridges.
On each of these ring islands they had built many temples for different gods, and many gardens and areas for exercise, some for men and some for horses… Finally there were dockyards full of triremes and their equipment, all in good shape.

Beyond the three outer harbours there was a wall, beginning at the sea and running right round in a circle, at a uniform distance of fifty stades from the largest ring and harbour and returning in on itself at the mouth of the canal to the sea. This wall was densely built up all around with houses, and the canal and the large harbour were crowded with vast numbers of merchant ships from all quarters, from which rose a constant din of shouting and noise day and night.”
Evidence of early excavation at Thera is difficult to identify because few records were kept at the time. Modern ploughing has also removed all traces of digging
German excavations in 1835
German excavations in 1894-1903

The excavations of Baron Hiller von Gaertingen revealed the ruins of Ancient Thera on Mesa Vouno. A small team of Hiller von Gaertringen's collaborators investigated the Akrotiri region yet again. Under the supervision of R. Zahn trial trenches were made in the locality of Potamos, slightly to the east of the area being dug today. Once again significant traces of prehistoric installations were located.
In the 1930's, the Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos (1901-74) developed a theory that the sudden destruction of the Minoan civilisation on Crete was linked to the eruption of the Theran volcano. He first published his theory in 1939. Marinatos began excavating the site of Akrotiri on the southern tip of Thera in 1967, following information from locals who remembered or were associated with the 19th century excavations and the discovery of surface finds, such at potsherds.

Almost immediately, impressive remains came to light vindicating Marinatos' choice of site.

In 1968, Christos Dumas joined the small excavation team and became the director of the project after Marinatos' death in 1974 as the result of a fall while excavatin. Marinatos is buried at the site.
All the buildings excavated at Akrotiri have produced items of pottery, some miraculously intact, others in pieces. Pottery was used for a huge variety of purposes and, as one would expect, the shapes, sizes and decoration of pots reflect their purpose.

Some uses include:
storage for food, clothing and liquids, food preparation, cooking and display, ritual activity, lighting, bee keeping, bathing and washing and transportation of goods.

The vast majority of pots were made locally by potters catering to the needs of the population. Local pots were made from coarse, buff-coloured clay and painted black, brown and red. Potters seem to have been primarily influenced by Cycladic tradition, painting the entire surface of their vases with floral and faunal motifs arranged at will. They were also influence by the tradition of Minoan potters, dividing the surface into zones separated by horizontal bands, in which they painted geometric motifs.
Stone and Metal Artefacts
There are 3 different types of buildings that can be identified at Akrotiri:
Mansions eg. Xeste 2,3 & 4
Large Freestanding buildings eg. the West House & House of Ladies
Building blocks or joined housing eg. sectors Alpha, Beta, Gamma & Delta
The buildings named Xeste 2,3 & 4 have specific features that Nanno Marinatos, daughter of Spyridon Marinatos, thinks makes them similar to the palace sites in Crete. These include:
facades of ashar masonry
lustral basins or adyta
polythyra, ie. large spaces divided into two or more room by pier and door partitions.
Xeste 3 had all of the above. The polythyron in the eastern part of the building, which could be used by large numbers of people, suggests that the house had a public purpose. Its lustral basin or adyton points to a religious function, as do the frescoes that appear to depict a religious ceremony. The rooms containing storage jars and plain pottery could have been service areas for the preparation and storage of food. Whether people lived in the building is uncertain.
The freestanding buildings have service areas on the ground floor and ceremonial and residential rooms on the upper floors. Nanno Marinatos considers these types of houses to rank lower than the mansions as their special rooms are not open to the public, except maybe through the large windows on the first floors.
Building blocks are little like modern terrace houses except that individual houses are impossible to identify. Because each block appears to only have one kitchen, it could be that cooking was done on a communal basis. Sector Gamma appears to have been industrial in nature as stone mortars, grinders and hammers were found there.
Modern research into vulcanology, geology and oceanography has established that in ancient times the island of Thera was rocked by a mighty volcanic eruption and part of it collapsed into the sea.
The date of the Theran eruption is a very controversial issue among Aegean scholars. It was originally though to have been about 1500 BC based largely on the archaeological evidence such as pottery. However, scientific investigation has suggested other dates more than 100 years earlier. This evidence includes radiocarbon dating of organic matter form Akrotiri excavations, data derived from Greenland ice cores and frost rings in trees in California and Ireland.
But evidence of volcanic activity in places so far from Thera is difficult to link to the Theran eruption and the dates suggested by these theories have also been strongly criticised.
In 2006 new researchers argued for dates between 1360 and 1300 BC based on radiocarbon dating.
As would be expected, archaeologists have expressed a strong reluctance to accept this new evidence. They prefer the traditional Aegean chronology. As had happened in the past, the debate is likely to continue with no firm prospect for agreement at any time in the near future
Spyridon Marinatos' theory

In the 1930's, when he began his investigations, Marinatos proposed a theory that the volcanic eruption that destroyed Thera was directly linked to the destruction of the Minoan Civilisation, usually dated at around 1450BC. He dated the eruption at 1500BC on the basis of pottery sequences. Marinatos' two central arguments were:
The volcanic eruption on Thera cause huge tsunamis that hit the northern and eastern coasts of Crete 110 kilometres to the south, destroying the palaces, harbours and most importantly the Minoan fleet, the basis of Minoan power. This catastrophe subsequently affected Minoan trade, an important part of the Minoan economy
The volcanic ash (tephra) from the eruption settled over a wide area of Crete, destroying crops and contaminating the soil for periods long enough to seriously affect Minoan agriculture
In Indonesia (1883), Krakatoa caused a tsunami less than ½ the intensity of Thera killing 36000 people.

In 1997, geologists drilled a core of mud at a saltwater marsh in Crete. Months later, Dr Dale Dominey-Howes found forams (i.e. tiny fossilised shells) in the mud sample taken.
The enormous waves were quite destructive on the northern coast of Crete (e.g. the harbour town of Palaikastro, east of Knossos).

Palaikastro lay in an enclosed bay and the waves would have been trapped there.

The waves were estimated to be c.10 feet (or 3 metres high). Boats would have been destroyed and the town flooded.

Salination (i.e. salt in the soil) caused by flooding would have hindered the crops / food supply for the town.
As well as being valued for ther artisitc merit, the wall paintings at Akrotiri are regarded as an outtanding source of information about the Bronze Age Aegean world. Unlike the frescoes of Minoan Crete, many of the Theran frescoes survived intact, largely due to their burial beneath layers of volcanic ash. The frescoes diversity of subject matter provides evidence for a range of aspects of daily life, from dress and personal adornment ot architecture, ship building, flora and fauna.
The painting known as the 'Spring Fresco' was found in Room 2 of the Delta sector of Akrotiri. This
The 'Young Boxers Fresco' from Room 1 of the Beta sector is part of an iconographic program that includes the Antelope fresco.
The 'Fisherman Fresco' was found in Room 5 of the West House
The 'Naval Fresco' also know as The 'Miniature Frieze' was found in Room 5 of the West House
Using the source booklets, write a brief description of each fresco. pp. 185-188.

Using the 'Blue Monkeys Fresco' as an example, explain some of the problems that can arise when it comes to reconstructing frescoes from fragments of their originals
Lack of Written Evidence
Few Skeletal Remains (human/animal)
Few Objects of Value
Updating Current Evidence
Dorian domination of the Mediterranean world c. 1000BC
Cycladic and Geometric Influences
Later history of Thera
founding of Cyrene
Athenian domination
Hellenistic influences
Significance of the site
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