Greece’s Pompei

Ancient civilization among the world's oldest
Bedposts that are from 5000 years before Christ

Photographs of Santorini, Greece, always focus on stunning whitewashed houses surrounding blue domed buildings. But there is more to Santorini than beauty.

In 1967, a significant archaeological site was discovered in the city of Akrotiri on the southern end of the island of Santorini. Scientists have uncovered evidence that man lived there 5,000 years ago. They’re not sure who those people were or where they came from or went, but they have established that a society of Minoan people lived there until 1646 B.C. Today the remnants of their society have started to be uncovered in a vast archaeological dig that is covered in a world-class building.

Volcanic ash preserved this ancient city from 5000 B.C.
Huge underground archaeological site was buried under volcanic ash

Archaeologists believe the uncovered city is only a small part of what exists to be discovered. But what has already been unearthed is amazing. It shows a very sophisticated society with plumbing, indoor toilets on the second floor of a three-story house, beds on legs about 1.5 feet off the ground and other things we have longed believed did not exist until much later. The site is literally transforming the way we look at human history.

The site is pre-historic, meaning these people did not have a written language, at least not one we can decode. Some evidence of writings does exist, but they have not been determined to be a language. What is known about the society is pieced together by the remnants of their existence and from drawings they left that have been preserved. From these drawings you can see these people traded with places that had lions (most likely Egypt, none are native there) and women wore makeup, for example. Some of the drawings are on display in a local museum, but mostly they are found in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Archaeologists have been piecing together the site for several decades, but a lack of funding has made it off again-on again activity. A recent grant from Kapersky of Russia funded further research and excavation. Santorini is formed from volcanic activity. There are still four active volcanoes around the island accounting for its black volcanic rock beaches. The last time a volcano erupted in this area, it is said to have been as powerful as 100 atomic bombs, darkening the skies over Santorini for three days. Leaving the area covered in a thick layer of ash, it changed the shape of the island and, also, preserved the Minoan site. Moving the ash hastily or improperly eliminates remnants of wooden structures, which have disintegrated with time. The hardened volcanic ash, however, can be treated as a mold for where the wood once was. Archaeologists pour a special liquid into crevices as part of their work, but if a crevice is overlooked and the ash is disturbed, the remnant is lost.

Once excavated, scientists are able to tell that the area had been rebuilt on top of prior areas that had previously been destroyed by volcanic eruptions further deepening the mystery as to why the 1646 B.C. eruption ended the civilization.

No evidence of bodies has been found meaning they had warning of the impending eruption and left. Also no cemetery has been discovered. Much work needs to be done to solve the mystery.

Meanwhile, Akrotiri, Greece, on Santorini Island is a fascinating place to visit, equaling the better-known sites in Egypt, Turkey, Rome, Athens and Mexico, and it’s a lot older than any of them. I compare it to the Terra Cotta Warriors in China because the excavation there is also being done indoors under a well-constructed cover. Akrotiri is a snapshot of how life was, whereas the Terra Cotta Warriors were a sculpture project of a ruling emperor. To that extent, Akrotiri affords a more genuine glimpse of ancient life.

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