The excavations at Akrotiri began in 1967 by Pro Spyros Marinatos. He
chose to excavate there in the hope of verifying a theory which he had
formulated some thirty years ago when he was still a young man at the beginning
if his career.
This theory was borne in Crete when he was digging a Minoan villa at
Amnissos, the harbor town of Knossos.
While excavating, he was struck by the extent of the violence that must
have been responsible for the destruction of the building. He assumed at
first that an earthquake was responsible, but subsequent digging brought
to light pumice, a volcanic substance. It was then that the idea occurred
to him that what destroyed the villa, and in fact the palaces of Minoan
Crete, was not a mere earthquake but the eruption of the volcano of
The eruption would have created huge waves which would not only have
hit the coastal sites of Crete, but would undoubtedly have destroyed the
fleet as well. In addition, hot ash would have burned the crops. The animals
would not have been able to feed, and the whole economy would have collapsed.
Spyros Marinatos proceeded to publish his theory "The volcanic destruction
of Minoan Crete". At that time, in the 1930's, very few people believed
it was true.
Thus, he made it his goal to go to Santorini someday and try to excavate
there. If he found pottery of the same period as that of the destroyed
palaces and villas in Crete, he would have confirmation of his theory.
The excavation at Akrotiri were very fruitful. What was discovered was
a Minoan Pompey, the only well preserved settlement of the Bronze Age of
about 1500bc. The pottery found in the town is almost contemporary with
that of Crete. So for many people the theory is vindicated, although not
all are convinced. But the importance of the site is far greater than was
expected even by the excavator.
For the first time we have not only virtually intact walls and houses
but whole frescoes, pottery on the places where it was left, furniture,
even remnants of food. We can visualize and reconstruct the life of those
people of the 16th century BC; we can also tell some things about their
relationship with Crete.
We can tell that an earthquake preceded the eruption of the volcano.
Although we cannot know the exact time interval between the earthquake
and the eruption we know that it must have been at least a year. Seeds,
which were left on the ruins of the houses, had begun to germinate when
the first ash fell. This means that the inhabitants had been forced to
abandon their houses well before the volcano erupted. It explains why no
skeletons of humans (with the exception of a pig) have been found.
What is more, people had the time to collect all their valuables, jewelery,
seal stones, most bronzes, even tools. It is clear therefore, that not
only they had got plenty of time at their disposal, but that they had organized
a mass migration. We know that they left Akrotiri, but as of yet, we have
no idea where they went. Perhaps we will one day , find evidence of their
colony somewhere on the mainland Greece or Crete.
The earthquake was very destructive. It is responsible for the ruinous
state of the houses that you see on the site. Once ashes from the volcano
began falling, the houses were packed so well that they escaped any further
damage through the centuries.
The question remains though. Why did the people leave? Usually
they stay to rebuilt the stricken town. We do not know the answer, but
we can speculate that perhaps smoke from the volcano warned them, or the
priests had dreams of warning and forced them to leave much like Moses
led his people through the desert.
It seems however that certain people lingered on in the ruins even
after the majority of the population had left. Marinatos called them troglodytes
(dwellers in the ruins). Ch Doumas who carried later excavations thought
assumed that they were some type of repair team repairing the damaged buildings.
These people managed to escape as well because we have not found their
skeletons. But we can infer their presence because things were moved around
on the ash and the volcanic pumice, a certain testimony that some humans
were present at the time of the eruption.