Santorini’s Secret Past

“And in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea” (1).

The myth of Atlantis is one of the oldest tales of mankind; the story of a great utopia swallowed by the sea. Over time, many connections have been made that suggest the Greek island of Santorini was once the flourishing city of Atlantis and that it was the island’s most recent volcanic eruption that led to the rapid disappearance of this fabled civilization.

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Akrotiri; Doomed for Destruction, but When?

The ancient Minoan city of Akrotiri was an outpost of Crete, and existed on an active caldera. Inevitably the massive volcano erupted causing worldwide effects. China experienced extreme climate change, and pumice was found in places as far away as the Nile and Israel. The effects on the volcanic island were incredibly powerful, and completely buried Akrotiri in copious amounts of ash. Today the ash and pumice on Santorini is measured to be 60 meters at its thickest, and led to the island being uninhabited for approximately 200 years following the eruption (1).

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The Minerals That Paint Santorini, and Their Vitality

Have you ever made your own paint before? What about having to mine it in order to make it? Santorinians created their fresco paints out of the minerals that their island withheld, and the results of those frescoes are quite a sight to be seen. Because of these minerals, past Akroteri artists of Santorini have had the opportunity to make some of the finest, most beautiful, and appreciated frescoes and pottery on the island that are still preserved to this day.
In 1989, an archaeologist reported at the Thera Congress that white clay and other colored pigments that were used on excavated jars that were created by the Ancient Minoans in Akroteri used the mineral, talc, which archaeologists thought were imported. (1) But talc was not the only mineral that was used to make pigments. As stated in Walter L. Friedrich’s Santorini, “White, red, blue, and green minerals are found in the phyllites of a metamorphic series close to the warm springs in the caldera…” (1) The minerals, magnetite and hematite, that created red and black colors can currently be found in the sand on beaches in Santorini, and malachite and chrysocolla minerals, which made blue and green colors, could be found near Profitis Elias, a mountain on Thira, Santorini’s main island. (1) It was concluded that all of these colors could have been used as painting pigments by the Ancient Minoans in Akroteri, Santorini frescoes. (1)
Along with the discovery of these minerals that could have been used for painting frescoes, many important realizations about the island itself were made. The discovery of the minerals is one of the important pieces of evidence that contributed to geologists understanding the volcanic history if the island, and it aided in making it clear to geologists and archaeologists that Santorini was not just a high mountain, but that it was a massive caldera filled with ocean water. (1) Due to talc, malachite, and chrysocolla being metamorphic, and magnetite and hematite being volcanic, the presence of these minerals determined that this island was indeed a volcano because of their geologic composition. These unveiled minerals also allowed geologists and archaeologists to conclude that most of the material on Akroteri was collected from the immediate island, which gave way to assume what building materials were used, as well as potential trade routes that could have been utilized. (1)
The minerals that the Ancient Minoans used for their paints composed beautiful colors, and it is all a result of Santorini’s abundant geological resource of minerals. Without the discovery of these minerals, such incredible art would not have been created, and many vital characteristics about the island would not have been disclosed.

(1) Friedrich, W.L., 2009. Santorini: Volcano, Natural History, and Mythology, Denmark Aarhus University Press

Why go to Santorini?

There are thousands of volcanoes we could have gone to, each with its own unique lure.  Hot springs in Iceland, jungles in Central America, romance in Italy.  The “chosen” one had to have historical significance in the western world.  It had to be relatively easy to get to – I am not willing to take 9 students to remote locations in Indonesia or Africa.  What location combines tectonics, volcanism, archaeology, good food, leisure, and cultural enrichment all at once?  My vision narrows to the Mediterranean.  Santorini:  the most beautiful island in Europe.

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