Dating the eruption
These historically significant effects on the island of Crete, and on Minoan and Eastern Mediterranean civilisation in general, make it vitally important to understand precisely when the eruption of Santorini occurred. It is one of the most valuable fixed points of Eastern Mediterranean chronology. It was also a hypothesis that the cataclysm was directly responsible for the evidence of destruction in Crete in the Late Bronze Age that spurred Spyridon Marinatos to excavate at Akrotiri in the first place, and to make the discoveries he did (see p. 81-2). He surmised, and produced good evidence from pottery styles in support of his theory, that the eruption occurred around 1500 BC, that it profoundly ruptured and hob bled the Palace Culture of Crete and opened a breach into which pushed the ever opportunistic Mycenaeans from mainland Greece. one scholar, Hans Goedicke, sought to bring the date further forward to 1477 BC: his desire was to make it coincide with the date required by a pharaonic inscription of the reign of Thutmose III which appears to describe the events of the crossing of the red Sea by the Israelites (known to us best from Exodus 14, vv. 15- 31) from the Egyptian point of view. In this way, he suggested, we can explain the extraordinary phenomenon of the sea withdrawing and then returning to crush the Egyptian forces as a consequence of tidal displacements and tsumani caused by the eruption of Santorini.
New physical research at the end of the last century called for a radical adjustment to these estimates, how ever. The dust propelled into the stratosphere in an eruption of such magnitude causes a period of global cooling, with a parallel reduction in the growth of trees. Den drochronologists have noted both narrow growth rings among oaks preserved in the bogs of Ireland and in fossilised bristle-cone pines in California for the period corresponding to the decade following 1628 BC. This date initially appeared to be corroborated by examination of signs of increased acidity and the presence of minute shards of volcanic glass in the Greenland ice-sheet, which Danish geologists dated to c. 1645 bc, Β± 20 years: it now seems, however, that this anomaly may in fact be the effect of another volcanic explosion in Alaska. Most recently, radio-carbon dating of seeds and wood found in the ash on Santorini itself, would seem to allow for a date of no later than 1600 BC. The fact that the storage jars for grain at Akrotiri are usually found almost empty when excavated, suggests that the eruption may have taken place shortly before the time of the island’s early harvest in June. Physical analysis therefore argued that the eruption occurred somewhere around 1625 BC, and that, although its effect on Crete and the other neighbouring islands must have been momentarily devastating, it could not sensibly be considered more than the first event in a domino chain of consequences over the next two centuries which may have led to the ultimate demise of Minoan civilisation.
These results are in direct contradistinction to the no less scientific or coherent findings of archaeology. Egyptian artefacts found in the Aegean and Aegean artefacts found in Egypt occur in the same sequence, permitting a clear correlation between stylistic phases and Egyptian historical chronology. Such meticulous stratifigraphic evidence of ceramic deposits from across the Eastern Mediterranean, and cross reference of the dating of the artefacts traded between Crete and Egypt, combined with inscriptions and depictions from the early years of the regency of Queen Hatshepsut in the reign of her nephew Thutmose III, point to a date around 1500 BC or even later: but they cannot be interpreted to align with the date in the 17th century BC provided by the physicists.
The debate is far from resolved: no acceptable resolution is even in sight. Doubts have been expressed regard anomalies in the calibration of radiocarbon dating for this particular period: while, on the other hand, an absolute chronology for Egypt in this period is also not fully agreed upon. The biggest problem remains that, even allowing for recalibration on the physics side, as well as for the closest (‘high’) chronology for Egyptian history, the gap is still not closed. Those who wish to dig more deeply into this complex debate should turn to the Acts of the Minoan Eruption Chronology Workshop in Sandjberg, Denmark, in november 2007, published by the Danish Institute in Athens in 2009 as Time’s Up! Dating the Minoan Eruption of Santorini. on balance – because the archaeological evidence appears so compelling in this case, whilst the source of the anomalies observed by physicists are less clear – this book will follow, not without reservation, the later, ‘archaeological’ date, i.e. c. 1500 BC for the eruption of Thera.
Santorini Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.