Ancient Volcanic Eruption Protected a Treasure Trove of Ritual Relics On Santorini
Recent excavations at the famous prehistoric village of Akrotiri on Santorini Island have unearthed “amazing treasures” including a 3,600-year-old marble figurine of a woman. The finds add to the understanding of a mysterious prehistoric island culture which collapsed under an ancient volcanic eruption.
Archaeologists from the Greek culture ministry, under the aegis of the Archaeological Society of Athens, under the direction of Professor Emeritus Christos Doumas, with a sponsorship by the Kaspesky Lab, first discovered “two small marble jars, a marble vial and an alabaster vase inside rectangular clay chests within an ancient settlement,” according to an article about the discovery in Greek City Times .
The researchers first discovered two small marble jars, a marble vial and an alabaster vase inside rectangular clay chests within an ancient settlement. ( Hellenic Ministry of Culture/ Cyclades Ephorate )
Akrotiri – Site of an Ancient Volcanic Eruption
Akrotiri is regarded as one of the most important prehistoric settlements of the Aegean, and according to Santerini.com, “During the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC), a sizeable settlement was founded and in the Middle and early Late Bronze Age (ca. 20th-17th centuries BC) it was extended and gradually developed into one of the main urban centers and ports of the Aegean.”
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The ancient settlement first came to light in the second half of the 19th century, however, excavations did not begin until 1967, when Professor Spyridon Marinatos of the Archaeological Society at Athens set out to prove that the Thera volcanic eruption in the 6th Century BC was responsible for the collapse of the Minoan civilization.
Archaeologists digging in the interior of what is believed to have been an “important public building called House of the Thrania,” in which the famous golden goat was found in 1999 (now exhibited at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera,) discovered “a clay urn next to a set of horns with several amphorae and small rectangular clay shrines,” according to the culture ministries report.
The excavators found small rectangular clay shrines with relics. ( Hellenic Ministry of Culture/ Cyclades Ephorate )
“Following the gradual revealing and cleaning of the small chest in the northwest corner of the space, a marble protocycladic female figure was found placed diagonally along the bottom of the vessel. From the group of chests in the southeast corner of the space, three were uncovered, of which the two smallest were filled with egg-shaped masses of clay while the largest contained two small marble protocycladic collared jars, placed upside down, a marble vial and an alabaster vase.”
According to the archaeologists , a number of marble artifacts “that were likely used for religious or other symbolic rituals, shed fresh light on the prehistoric Theran society,“ which holds an air of mystery, not having developed a written language. At the end in the last quarter of the 17th century BC, severe earthquakes forced the inhabitants to leave and the following volcanic eruption covered the entire island, and this is why Akrotiri is regarded as “a spectacular find,” because a majority of the settlement was preserved by solidified volcanic ash,” according to the Greek City Times report.
“A 30 to 35 km [19 to 22 mi] high ash plume extended into the stratosphere”
Santerini.com informs that the previous excavations in the 60s revealed the 20 hectare Akrotiri settlement was equipped with “elaborate drainage systems, sophisticated multistoried buildings with the magnificent wall-paintings, furniture and vessels, show its great development and prosperity.”
But these new finds are generating ‘essential’ questions about the ideology and religious beliefs of that prehistoric Aegean society, according to a Greek Reporter article. The discovery of imported objects, discovered inside the buildings, indicate a rich training network with Crete and that the people also communicated with “the Greek Mainland, the Dodecanese, Cyprus, Syria and Egypt.”
Amphoras and small rectangular clay wrinkles were discovered in Akrotiri, Thera. ( Hellenic Ministry of Culture/ Cyclades Ephorate )
These findings add much required detail to archaeologists understanding of the mysterious island culture that Greek and international scientists have been researching so intensely of late.
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Research by a team of international scientists led by the University of Rhode Island was published in 2006 revealing that the volcano “ejected up to four times as much as the well-recorded eruption by Krakatoa in 1883,” and the volume of ejecta on the eruption's Volcanic Explosivity Index was 7. The Thera volcanic events sterilized the island, as occurred on Krakatoa, and the scientists said the eruption, known as a Plinian type explosion, r esulted in an estimated 30 to 35 km (19 to 22 mi) high ash plume which extended into the stratosphere.”
Adding to the carnage, the scientists said the “magma underlying the volcano came into contact with the shallow marine embayment, resulting in a violent steam eruption” which generated a 35 to 150 m (115 to 492 ft) high tsunami that devastated the north coast of Crete located 110 km (68 mi) away.
Top Image: Marble protocycladic female figurine, placed diagonally at the bottom of the shrine covered by an ancient volcanic eruption. Source: Greece’s Ministry of Antiquities
By Ashley Cowie