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Impression of Santorini eruption.

Ashes from Santorini’s Cataclysmic Volcanic Eruption Found in Smyrna Excavation


Archaeologists in Turkey excavating the Ancient Greek City of Smyrna have made an important discovery according to Euronews. They have found volcanic ash from perhaps one of the greatest volcanic eruptions in history, which led to cataclysmic changes in the Late Bronze Age in the Mediterranean.  Archaeologists are excited by the find of the ashes that are being linked to the famous eruption of the volcano at Santorini. The discovery of the volcanic debris is expected to increase our knowledge of one of the greatest eruptions in recorded history and its impact on local societies and cultures.

Bronze age 'Flotilla' fresco from room 5, in the west house at the Minoan town of Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece. Shows a town under the pyroclastic cloud of an eruption. (Public Domain)

Bronze age 'Flotilla' fresco from room 5, in the west house at the Minoan town of Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece. Shows a town under the pyroclastic cloud of an eruption. (Public Domain)

Santorini Eruption

In the late Bronze Age, approximately 3,600 years ago, a volcano on the island of Santorini, (then known as Thera) located in the Greek Cyclades erupted.  It destroyed the urban settlement at Akrotiri, then a major Minoan trade center and important in the processing of copper. The volcano led to an earthquake and a tsunami that devastated the island of Crete. This is believed to have played an important role in the collapse of the great Minoan civilization, although this is disputed. The eruption on Santorini is believed to have caused a great deal of dislocation in the Mediterranean area and beyond and some believe that it even led to temporary catastrophic climate change.

Ancient Smyrna

The ruins of Old Smyrna are now located near the modern city of Izmir on the Aegean Coast of Turkey. It was founded by the Aeolian Greeks and was later occupied by Ionian Greeks in the 11 th century BC. It was invaded and partially destroyed by the Lydian Kingdom in the 6 th BC.  New Smyrna was founded by Alexander the Great and became an important city in the Hellenistic period and continued to be, right down to the Byzantine period. The city was occupied by the Seljuk Turks and was also a major Ottoman naval port, becoming known as Izmir in the twentieth century.

Smyrna among the cities of Ionia and Lydia (ca. 50 AD). (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Smyrna among the cities of Ionia and Lydia (ca. 50 AD). ( CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Excavation

Old Smyrna has been excavated since the 19 th century and a new ambitious Turkish excavation was launched in 2007. Some 100 Turkish and International experts are taking part in the excavation. The project is the most comprehensive ever undertaken at the site and it has revealed many important findings.  Professor Cumhur Tanriver, the head of the Smyrna excavation team, has stated that early Ancient Greek houses have been uncovered. This is allowing the experts to understand how the people constructed houses and early city-planning in the late Bronze Age.

Ashes from Santorini have been found in excavations at Smyrna. (Image: Daily Sabah/AA)

Ashes from Santorini have been found in excavations at Smyrna. (Image: Daily Sabah/AA)

Drilling work was carried out at the excavation by the project team, which is routine investigation work. However, the results of the drilling came as a surprise to all involved in the dig and beyond. According to the Daily Sabah, ‘ashes from the Santorini Volcano have been found’,  indicating that Old Smyrna was impacted by one of the greatest eruptions in millennia. Experts collected specimens of the volcanic ash and they have been conveyed to the Geography Department of Ege University, for testing.

According to Tanriver, the ashes will allow experts to estimate the impact of the cataclysmic volcanic explosions on Old Smyrna. The continuing excavations will allow archaeologists to determine how the volcano impacted on the culture and society of Smyrna in the late Bronze Age and the ashes will also help experts to date developments in the Greek settlement.

The find is not only important because it enables the archaeological community to better understand the Santorini eruptions and its impact on Smyrna. According to Euronews, the find can show how the volcano, ‘affected the fate of the whole Mediterranean’. The discovery can help the experts to estimate the probable impact of the volcano on societies in the wider region in the mid- 2 nd century BC.

Ash Questions and Answers

The discovery of the ashes at the site of Smyrna may not sound exciting, however, they are very important. They show the extent of the impact of the Santorini volcanic eruption on the Aegean Sea and the wider Mediterranean. The find enables archaeologists to reconstruct, based on the continuing work at Smyrna, the nature of the cataclysm and how local societies adapted to the changed conditions after the massive eruption.

Top image: Impression of Santorini eruption.   Source:

By Ed Whelan



Opps, Carian Hoplite on the RIGHT of the seal.

Carian lived on Delos (they get there name later) from where they ended up living, they were orginally from Delos and provided soldiers and crew for MInos ('they paid no tribute, they were paid for the services they provided). IN huge head of herd by all the trading islands, which the floatilla and shipwreck fresco (One and the same) show at a celebration to Apollo the master of animals at Delos! They were later driven out by Minos, it is likely that this is recorded on the so-called GRiffin warrior seal stone. The Carian is on the left with figure of eight shield, hunkering down with hotlite that has dispatched two Cretan foot soldiers shown on the ground. IT takes a Cretan bull leaping athELITE to jump over the shield wall and bring the Carian down. THis same scene is recorded over and over in Minoan iconography, there was a civil and may explain the Minoan demise. The Carians were a professional army (More marines), they introduced lots of military innovations: horse hair helmet plumes, shield innovations, battle dances (Formations), they worked later as mercenaries for the Greeks who considered them the most disciplined fighters, they taught the SPatans everything! If they were displaced, they may have gone to work for Myceania, who saw their chance to finally be rid of the Minoans that once held sway over them. INteresting the Carians do not seem to appear in the catalogue of ships at Troy so seem to stay neutral (very unusual as by then they were mercenaries). But with the collapse of the MInoan trading empire, the bronze (and more importantly) tin was not coming in, all the states still needed it and seem to then raid cities and ports to acquire it, in come the seas peoples and a dark age...

There where two eruptions, a small one when the population areas to have vacated the island an a huge one, 5 times that of Krakatoa. This brought in global crop failure, it was recorded in Chinese records! THere have also been studies of tree rings in peat bogs as far a field as Ireland that support there was widespread crop failure. This is the biblical plagues, famine, etc. The London medical papyrus report, that the Cretan became quite adept at treating burns following this, the majority of the population survived, the coastal villages, town and ports would have been wiped out, they needed trade to make up the shortage of crops but had no fleet to do so, they were eating each other it was that desperate, this is what led to their domination of the fleet and trade in the region and ultimately their demise. In come the seas peoples and a dark age...

There are quite a lot of ambiguities or misconceptions in this article (particularly the video). This may help, I've read a lot of the papers that have studied the pre-eruption. Generally they consider there was a single channel to the open sea at the West (possibility that there may have been another to the North - as today). The map at the top of the page (eye witness account) would suggest the former. Generally it is accepted that there was an inner island within the caldera (there are two today) that may have been connected to the main island. The map suggests the later (not that there was a seperate island where the modern day airport is). On the basis of the map, you therefore need to turn this 90 deg anticlockwise, when you do this suggest the fleet were heading North to Delos (to celebrate Apollo and to pay the Carians in head of herd). The map has confused people because the Minoans had an unusual drawing convention that we don't use today (a little like the Egyptians that drew/painted in first projection - strictly plan or side view, not perspective), the unusual thing about the Minoans is that they would suddenly change perspective to show a particular feature. This can be seen on many frescos, a portrait of someone is shown in side view profile and the eye in front view, all on the same drawing. The map can, therefore, be interpreted the same way, it is not a side view of the island with two river flowing down), it is more likely a plan view of the main landmass and the building are then positioned in the right general location but are in front view. Importantly, this would suggest Akrotiri is less significant (possibly a small town on the left of the fresco), and the main critical is around the modern day airport - which potentially much more significant archeology!
I've been looking at the Lion shown straddling the opening to the inner island. It is highly unlikely that the Therans would allow such a dangerous animal to roam free, no could a Lion straddle 0.5km. This may mean something quite different, possible:
1. The fleet sailed in the month of Leo.
2. The inner island (port) was the point of demarcation for the ruling house.
3. Less likely, but the society was from the age of Leo (by precession of the equinox) - very old indeed.

Cultures all around the Aegean and Mediterranean were changed by this volcanic eruption.


Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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