Thera is an ancient name for today’s Aegean archipelago of Santorini, which are the remains of a volcanic island.
Only two of the islands are inhabited, the main island, Santorini and Therasia, which had been joined before the 16th century BC eruption. Recent excavations have revealed a pre-eruption settlement on Therasia(x).
Although it exhibited low-level activity in 1939-41 and 1950-51, it was in 1926 when it last erupted violently, destroying many hundreds of buildings in less than a minute. Eruptions of similarity intensity occurred in 1650, 1707 and 1866. It was also the site of probably the most powerful and destructive volcanic explosion in the Mediterranean during the Bronze Age. Although the exact date of this event is still the subject of some controversy, the most recent evidence(a) indicates a date around 1613 BC ±13years, while archaeologists are more supportive of a date circa 1500 BC.
*Professor Floyd McCoy of the University of Hawaii has written and broadcast extensively on the matter of the Late Bonze Age eruption of Thera, including a paper delivered to the 2005 Atlantis Conference. In it, he noted that “New finds of tephra – ash and pumice – both on land and on the seafloor indicate a far larger eruption than previously assumed, suggesting a volume of at least 100 km3 of tephra (bulk volume) ejected, perhaps more. Such a volume ranks the eruption on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) at 7.0, equivalent or larger than the 1815 eruption of Tambora (‘the year without a summer’), ten times larger than the eruption of Krakatau in 1883, and approximately 100 times that of Mt. St. Helens in 1980.”[629.311]*
There was clearly a series of eruptions that ended with a final enormous explosion that has been linked to the ending of Minoan civilisation on Crete, the Plagues of Egypt and agricultural failures throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. For a geologist’s view of the island’s dramatic history, Walter Friedrich’s bookis hard to beat. His book supports a 1640 BC date for the eruption although he has subsequently revised this to 1613 BC. Sturt W. Manning supports a 1628 BC date and Mike Baillie has offered dendrochronological evidence for a 1628 BC eruption date at the 2011 Quantavolution conference in Athens(j). This converges with McCoy’s date above. However, the dating of the eruption continues to be controversial as this December 2012 link(i)demonstrates. At the heart of the problem is that acceptance of an early 17th century BC date for the event conflicts with established Egyptian chronology. While the exact year of the eruption continues to be debated, there is now scientific evidence that it occurred in early summer(s).
A 2014 paper published in Antiquity by Paolo Cherubini would appear to confirm the 16th century BC as the date of the catastrophic eruption ruling out an earlier date as untenable(o). In the same year, the University of Birmingham published a report(u) that supported the 1625 BC date. The earlier Antiquity paper prompted a response by a group, led by Sturt Manning later in 2014(y).
In August 2018, an interdisciplinary group led by dendrochronolist Charlotte L. Pearson published a paper(ab), which concluded that the eruption of Thera took place in the 16th century BC. This conclusion was the result of using a combination of dendrochronology along with high-resolution radiocarbon dating methods.
October 2018 saw further evidence for an early 16th century BC date for the eruption emerge after the radiocarbon dating of some olive wood found on Therasia, one of the Santorini group(z). The same month saw the publication of a paper on the ResearchGate(aa) website date the event to 1727-1600 BC!
The doctoral thesis of Dr. David Sewell explores the cultural effects of the Theran eruption and can be read online(h).
The volcanic ash deposited by the Theran eruption was centuries later to be used in huge quantities to manufacture cement for the construction of the Suez Canal. It was during the mining of this material that workmen encountered large stone blocks under the layers of pumice, indicating buildings of a great age.
It is claimed by many that a garbled Egyptian description of this devastating event was the basis for the story of the destruction of Atlantis. Louis Figuier was the first, in 1872, to publicly link the demise of Atlantis with the explosion on Thera. Opponents of this theory counter it by pointing out that Plato describes the inundation of an island much larger than Santorini or Crete, located in the Atlantic following an earthquake, not a volcanic eruption many thousands of years earlier. Various attempts have been made to reconcile the Minoan Theory with these apparent inconsistencies with Plato’s text. They are discussed separately under
It was announced at the end of February 2010 that the BBC was about to air a dramatisation of the Theran disaster as well as a documentary on the eruption as its influence on the development of Plato’s story of Atlantis. June 2010 saw the historian, Bettany Hughes, front a disappointing BBC Timewatch Special, which also promoted the idea of the eruption on Thera as the inspiration for Plato’s story of Atlantis. The material introduced as evidence was highly selective and, for me, unconvincing. A few parallels between Thera and Plato’s description were trotted out, while the more numerous differences were ignored!
Alain Moreau has written a highly critical review(v) of the idea that the island of Thera/Santorini had been home to Atlantis.
Dr. Dora Constantinidis who studied under Prof. Christos Doumas delivered a lecture in Melbourne on May 29th 2014 with the inviting title of Unravelling the Atlantis Myth at Akrotiri. However, the primary purpose of the talk was not to advance our knowledge of Atlantis but to encourage the sale of Bronze Age inspired merchandise(p).
Another twist on the Thera explosion is offered by Andis Kaulins who suggests that there is a connection between that event and the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah(g), while Riaan Booysen has linked two separate Theran eruptions with two Exodus events in the Bible(k), offering as evidence, the existence of two distinct Theran ash fallout areas, caused by different wind directions at the time of the events.
Initially, it was thought that the collapse of the Theran caldera generated very destructive tsunamis, but new studies have concluded(w) that instead that it was the violent entry of pyroclastic flows into the sea that triggered the tsunamis.
A further possible consequence of the Theran eruption(s) was proposed after the discovery of the Nebra Sky Disk(n), which was buried about 3,600 years ago. This is suggested to have resulted from the volcanic ash generated by the eruption blotting out the sun for up to 25 years. It is thought that the Disk had been used to synchronise the lunar and solar calendars(l) and when this was no longer possible the Disk was buried as some form as offering. A contrary view is offered elsewhere on the Internet(m), as well as further controversy(t) led by Peter Schauer from the University of Regensburg.
Andis Kaulins has also written an extensive paper on the Nebra Sky Disk. A 2014 update(r) on the Disk was posted by Claudia Bracholdt.
An extensive bibliography of books and articles on the subject of Thera can be found on the Internet(b).
(h) http://www.santorini-eruption.org.uk/ (offline June 2016)(see Archive 2199)
(i) http://www.heritagedaily.com/2013/10/debate-still-rages-over-date-of-thera-eruption/66777 (offline June 2015 see Archive 2200)
Dr. Rainer Walter Kühne was born in Braunschweig, Germany in 1970 and has a PhD in Physics (Dortmund 2001). He has proposed a modification of Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), which predicts a second kind of photon (’magnetic photon’) and a second kind of light (’magnetic photon rays’). He has also offered evidence for the existence of a rotating universe. He lectured in the Institute of Physics at Dortmund University.
Kühne had studied Plato’s Atlantis story and concluded that many of its elements are fictional although based on three historical but unconnected sources. For example, on the basis of Plato’s description of the Acropolis at the time of the ‘Atlantean’ war that it can be dated to around 1200 BC, not 9600 BC. He linked the Atlantean war with the invasion of the ‘Sea Peoples’ recorded by the Egyptians and locates Atlantis in Andalusia in Southern Spain and places its capital in the valley of the Guadalquivir, south of Seville. Satellite photos of this same area have recently revealed rectangular structures surrounded by parts of concentric circles with dimensions similar to Plato’s description of Atlantis. Werner Wickboldt, a teacher, who lives in Braunschweig (Kühne’s birthplace) announced the discovery of these features on January 8th 2003. These structures include a rectangle of size 180 meters x 90 meters (Temple of Poseidon?) and a square of length 180 meters (Temple of Poseidon and Cleito?). Concentric circles surround these two rectangular structures, so that the site closely resembles Plato’s description of the Atlantean capital. However, the dimensions of this location are approximately 20% larger than Plato’s figures, so Kühne has suggested that the unit of measurement used by Plato, the stade, may have been greater than usually accepted.
It was a surprise to many when, in their June 2004 edition, the highly respected journal Antiquity published details of this discovery and Kühne’s interpretation(a).
An outline of Kühne’s theories, in English, is also available on the Internet(c).
(a) http://antiquity.ac.uk/ProjGall/kuhne/ (if offline, see Archive 2081)
Dr. Spyridon Marinatos (1901-1974) was born in Lixouri, Cephalonia, Greece. In the early 1930’s he was engaged in excavations on Crete but was soon to turn his attention northward to Santorini. He was an early supporter of a connection between Thera and Plato’s Atlantis story. In 1939 Marinatos first published his views regarding the connection between Thera’s eruption and the destruction of Minoan civilisation in the journal, Antiquity. However, the editors forbade Marinatos to make any reference to Atlantis. This is very different to the attitude of the same publication recently, when it permitted a speculative article by Dr Rainer W. Kuhne that proposed a site in Andalusia as the site of Atlantis based on satellite photos of the lower Guadalquivir River. Perhaps it should be noted here that Dr. Kuhne has pointed out that Marinatos, like himself, identified the Atlanteans with the Sea Peoples.
Marinatos was fascinated by Thera since the early 1930’s but was unable to take up continuous excavation until 1967. This continued until his death in 1974, following a fall on the site. Charles Pellegrino has written a fascinating book about Thera and Marinatos’ work there. Work at the site continued under the direction of Dr. Christos Doumas a confirmed Atlantis sceptic.
In 2003, Mario la Ferla published L’uomo di Atlantide in which he investigated the ‘suspicious’ death of Marinatos and its aftermath. In this book, Atlantis takes a back seat to terrorists, the Greek colonels and Nazis(a).
Werner Wickboldt (1943- ) is a teacher and amateur archaeologist, living in Braunschweig, Germany. On January 8, 2003, he gave a lecture on the results of his examination of satellite photos of a region south of Seville, in Parque National Coto de Doñana, he had detected structures that very closely resemble those, which Plato has described on Atlantis. These structures include a rectangle of size 180 x 90 metres (Temple of Poseidon?) and a square of 180 x 180 meters (Temple of Poseidon and Kleito?). Concentric circles, whose sizes are very close to Plato’s description, surround these two rectangular structures. The largest of these has a radius of 2.5 km. Among the suggested explanations for the structures are; a Roman ‘Castro’, a Viking fort or even a dam for salt production, which is an activity still carried today in the locality.
In his lecture, Wickboldt went further and claimed that the Atlanteans should be identified as the Sea Peoples.
Wickboldt’s discovery inspired Rainer Kühne to develop his theory on Atlantis, which was published in Antiquity. Wickboldt and Kühne hold differing views on various aspects of the Atlantis, which were aired in the comments section of an online forum in 2011(b).
Some debate has developed regarding the actual state of this area in Phoenician times.
It would appear that, during the Roman period, sedimentation brought the mouth of the Guadalquivir about 40 km further south to a position near modern Lebrija. However, in the age of the Tartessians, it was only 13 km south of Seville. If correct this would imply that Wickboldt’s structures were under water at the time of Plato’s Atlantis. The only way to resolve this issue would be to excavate on the site, but unfortunately, the location is in a national park and at that time any digging was forbidden. Nevertheless, non-intrusive investigative methods were employed to produce additional evidence that might justify a formal archaeological dig. 2010 saw this work begin at the site, with preliminary results indicating that the area was probably hit by a tsunami or a storm flood in the 3rd millennium BC.
The sedimentation argument is not clear-cut, so that over a period of millennia, when other factors such as seismic activity are brought into the picture, different scenarios are possible. Even if it is not Atlantis or one of its colonies, it would still appear to be a very interesting site, with a story to tell.