History Snippets: Santorini

“History Snippets” serializes small bits of research from an unfinished test project. The theme is technology and natural events that shaped our modern world.

Natural Disaster – Santorini

Santorini Island - NASA Satellite

Remains of Santorini Island after supervolcano of 3,500 BC. Scientists believe this would be one of the largest volcanic explosions to ever occur on the planet.

Santorini, a truly epic historical natural disaster, is getting a lot of play in current “catastrophe” speculation about how the world as we know it might end. The Mediterranean world, as Bronze Age Greeks would have known it, nearly did end.

A volcano in the “supervolcano” category is generally defined as one ejecting material in excess of 240 cubic miles (about 6x6x6 miles). In contrast, Mt. St. Helens ejected 0.24 cubic mile of material. The three islands were originally one large island; the enclosed “bay” is the massive collapsed volcanic crater or “caldera”, measuring about 4×8 miles — meaning, you could almost fit the entire Mt. St. Helens, crater and all, inside the Santorini crater.

The central island (blue, in this satellite photo) is actually the projecting central cone of the crater. The oceanic volcanic crater is the 4×8 mile bay itself. The tsunami (tidal wave) from the Santorini explosion is almost certain to have been responsible for the sudden destruction of  the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, and to have decimated the early Greek tribes, on shorelines some 200km away,  to a fraction of their previous size.

The myths of the lost continent of Atlantis, and of Zeus’s mighty battle with the Titans, are conjectured to have originated in pre-history with the Santorini event. The Minoan civilization was destroyed at about that time. Known to ancient Greeks as Kalliste, Strongyle or Thera, this Aegean island group is today a beautiful and popular tourist port.

This is what is left of the island the Romans named “Santorini”. Athenians knew the island as Kalliste (“the most beautiful one”), Strongyle (“the circular one”), or Thera. Three distinct islands now, it was originally one single island.

This aerial (satellite) photo shows the circular volcanic crater or caldera, about 9×12 kilometers in size. Occurring as this event did in about 3,500BC, there is no recorded history of the event. Greek mythology is thought to have connected it with the battles of Zeus for dominance over the Titans.

Santorini is on the short list of sites mentioned in the persistent search for the legendary “lost continent of Atlantis”. Like Chicxulub crater and some of the other truly global scale meteor-strike sites, the actual scale of calderas like Santorini did not necessarily become obvious before the advent of aerial and satellite mapping.

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