Thera Revisited

In the twenty-five years since Professor Spyridon Marinatos discovered the great Bronze Age city of Akroteri beneath a deep shroud of pumice and tephra on the Greek island of Santorini (Thera), scholars have disagreed about how to interpret the find. One intriguing theory links Akroteri with the lost city of Atlantis described by Plato.

So far only one hectare of the twenty hectare site has been uncovered in a ravine where a river has eroded the ash layer. The rest still lies below a layer of volcanic tephra which is sixty metres deep in places. Professor Christos Doumas of Athens University who is director of the excavations at Santorini says only six houses have been excavated, but a wealth of material has been unearthed. The city had been partly destroyed by an earthquake about 3,500 years ago, before the 1,000 metre high volcano at the centre of the island erupted and then collapsed. Archaeologists have yet to agree with scientific test results which date the eruption as 1628 BC.

Splendid frescoes on the smooth plaster walls of the houses were preserved by ash ejected from the volcano in the final stages of its eruption. 'They constitute a unique source of information about the society which created them', says Professor Doumas. 'The art is very difficult to interpret but it promotes the importance of the individual and not a central authority. Frescoes are found in private homes as well as public buildings and indicate that the ideology behind the art is totally different from that of the contemporary palace-centred society of Minoan Crete'.

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