In the book I cover the history of the volcano and that of the island, including the Atlantis connection, based on the latest research. However, having received e-mails regarding the confusing and contradictory information that continues to be presented in the majority of guide books and the numerous poorly researched Atlantis ‘documentaries’, I will confirm the latest scientific findings.
During the Minoan period the island was not the typical conical shaped volcano as many publications assert. In fact the topography was very similar to that of today and had been so for countless millennia (see images in the Santorini photo Gallery). The Minoan fresco above, found in a house at the archaeological site of Akrotiri, clearly confirms this by showing the high stratified cliffs around the caldera as seen today and a central inhabited island, depicting what was most likely the island’s capital and principal port. This city was built on top of this dormant volcanic island which itself was situated inside the caldera (similar to today’s Nea Kameni).
Then in 1627 B.C.*, this island volcano erupted, vaporising the city and destroying itself in the process. On the eastern shore of the main island, the resulting ash and pumice fall buried a ‘Minoan’ town which can now be visited at the archaeological site of Akrotiri.
Some have postulated that the immense Tsunami that was created by this catastrophic eruption was the result of the southern flanks of the volcano sliding into the sea. However, this slippage had again occurred many millennia before. The most likely scenario is that it was generated by the final catastrophic explosions as sea-water entered the lava chamber and by the collapse of the huge airborne ash column (pyroclastic flow).
Returning to the fresco above, if it is an accurate portrayal of pre-eruption Santorini, then the central island almost entirely filled the caldera leaving only a narrow waterway between it and the caldera edge. Evidence has now been found high on the caldera wall to support this. Fossilised algae, deposited there by the eruption, is of a species that only grows in shallow waters, not in the deep caldera waters we see today. It is also interesting to note that the fresco seems to depict two bridges from the island to the mainland, something that would only be possible over a short distance and above shallow waters!
The story of Atlantis was first recorded by Plato in his dialogues ‘Timaeus’ (21E-25D) and ‘Critias’ (108E-121C). According to the account given in the former, an Athenian lawyer called Solon visited Egypt in 590 BC, where he was told the story of Atlantis by a priest at Sais: “Atlantis was a great and wonderful state which ruled over the other islands. The kingdom consisted of two islands, the ‘larger’ and the ‘smaller’ and there were ten cities, two of them named as the Metropolis and the Royal City. Circular waterways surrounded the main island city and port”.
The narrative continues that the people of Atlantis launched an attack on Athens 900 years before Solon had talked to the priest. But the Athenians defeated them and liberated all the lands that Atlantis had conquered. Later Atlantis suffered a terrible earthquake and a flood, sinking in its entirety into the sea.
Is the circumstantial evidence for Santorini being the fabled Atlantis becoming hard to dismiss? Further physical evidence is needed to persuade the sceptics, but with excavations at Akrotiri continuing and research aimed at breaking the code of the Minoan script (Linear A) progressing, we can only hope that in the future, conclusive evidence will be found to finally solve the mystery.
* Initial results from ice-cores and dendrochronology dated the eruption between 1627 – 1600 B.C. The accuracy of this date range has now been improved to 1627, plus or minus a year.