In most horror films there is a warning scene right before everything goes down hill. You sit on the edge of your seat and shout at the group not to go into the basement for there is disaster lurking below. However, it is the characters’ decision whether to investigate the noise or get out as fast a possible. In the case of the Minoan eruption the earthquakes and phase 0 are the warning scene. In most horror or thriller films the main character walks toward the impending threat. However this is not the fate for the Minoans, or so we believe.
Allow me to set up the scene. It was 1613 (+/-13) BC, it’s summer time, perhaps June or July. Their city was plastered with vivid murals. During this time of the year the markets would have been full with fava bean and figs which continue to be traditional dishes to this day. Women carried large carved pots to and from water to bring back to the city. The Minoans were an advanced civilization in both culture and technology, they even figured out how to create a siphoning toilet.
Before any of the phases of the eruption even began there were precursor earthquakes. These earthquakes shook the landscape laterally sheering staircases and toppling roof tops. These types of earthquake waves are referred to as s-waves and that laterally cut through the landscape. Tectonically Santorini is susceptible to earthquakes. So the Minoans may have been used to shakes every now and then. Imagine the earthquake that drove them to abandon their homes that fell apart before them. Streets shaking beneath their feet, hearts racing looking for the next move.
Evidence of the Minoans preparing to leave is shown in the small excavation site of Ancient Akrotiri. Just a mere 10,000 square meters of the possible 100,000 to 300,000 square meter city are uncovered telling us just bits and pieces of their story. In the Pithoi Storeroom, a room of the city, large pithois jars are pushed against the wall. Bed frames were stacked on one another in a style that says “We’ll come back”. These artifacts were preserved through hot ash and pumice fall and were excavated by making casts out of the bed frames with cement.
Phase 0 came after the Minoans supposedly fled. This phase was a phreatomagmatic eruption, this occurs when water enters the vent and causes an eruption. Ash and pumice were cast over the landscape, covering everything in a thin layer of powdered glass. If ash covers the entire city that inhabits 1,500 to 2,000 people one would suspect that the ash would be withered away through every day activity of people. However this fine ash layer is undisturbed, there are no footprints and it blanketed rubble that had began to be cleaned up. This leads us to believe the Minoans had left before the ash fell.
These warning signs tipped off the characters in our movie, the Minoans, that it was time to bail. Earthquakes that tore their landscape was enough for them to not want to stick around for the menacing doom that was to come.
Roaming the ancient streets I couldn’t help but feel sorry for these individuals. One day for all of their city to be completely covered in ash and huge blocks of rock from the vent, nothing to come back to. They had prepared their homes with the idea that they would eventually return. And maybe they did. Maybe they sailed back just to find their home was a barren land of ash and pumice hills. The city buried underneath meters of material not even recognizable anymore. Well, as we all know, not all movies have a happy ending.