Geographical sites:

  • Thera (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #599973)
    Pleiades_icon Thera (island) island Geocontext: Santorini GRE
    Description: An island of the southern Aegean Sea, Thera is the southernmost of the Cyclades. The island's present form is the result of a Middle Bronze Age volcanic eruption that destroyed a Minoan settlement on the island.
  • Egypt (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #766)
    Pleiades_icon Aegyptus province, region Geocontext: Egypt
    Description: The Roman province of Egypt (Aegyptus) was established in 30 BC after the defeat of Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra VII at the Battle of Actium.
  • Greenland (click here to focus in map) (see also GeoNames #3423651)
    Geonames_icon Greenland Icecap icecap Geocontext: America/Godthab
    Description: GL
  • North America (click here to focus in map) (see also GeoNames #6255149)
    Geonames_icon North America continent Geocontext: America/Cambridge_Bay
  • Ireland (click here to focus in map) (see also GeoNames #2646052)
    Geonames_icon Ireland island Geocontext: Europe/London


Text #8905

"Minoan Eruption", in Wikipedia.

The Minoan eruption of Thera, also referred to as the Thera eruption or Santorini eruption, was a major catastrophic volcanic eruption with a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 6 or 7 and a dense-rock equivalent (DRE) of 60 km3 (14 cu mi),1 2 which is estimated to have occurred in the mid-second millennium BCE. The eruption was one of the largest volcanic events on Earth in recorded history. The eruption devastated the island of Thera (also called Santorini), including the Minoan settlement at Akrotiri, as well as devastating communities and agricultural areas on nearby islands and on the coast of Crete due to a related earthquake and/or tsunami.3

There are no clear ancient records of the eruption, which seems to have inspired certain Greek myths,4 may have caused turmoil in Egypt,5 and may be alluded to in a Chinese chronicle.

Research by a team of international scientists in 2006 revealed that Thera’s Volcanic Explosivity Index was 7. The volcano ejected up to four times as much as the well-recorded eruption by Krakatoa in 1883. Only the Mount Tambora volcanic eruption of 1815, Lake Taupo’s Hatepe eruption around 180 CE, and perhaps the Baekdu Mountain eruption around 970 CE released more material into the atmosphere during historic times.6

On Santorini, there is a 60 m (200 ft) thick layer of white tephra that overlies the soil clearly delineating the ground level prior to the eruption. This layer has three distinct bands that indicate the different phases of the eruption. Studies have identified four major eruption phases, and one minor precursory tephra fall.

Intense magmatic activity of the first major phase (B01/Minoan A) of the eruption deposited up to 7 m (23 ft) of pumice and ash, with a minor lithic component, southeast and east. Archaeological evidence indicated burial of man-made structures with limited damage. The second (B02/Minoan B) and third (B03/Minoan C) eruption phases involved pyroclastic flow and lava fountain activity and the possible generation of tsunamis. Man-made structures not buried during Minoan A were completely destroyed. The third phase was also characterized by the initiation of caldera collapse. The fourth, and last, major phase (B04/Minoan D) was marked by varied activity: lithic-rich base surge deposits, lahars, debris flows, and co-ignimbrite ash-fall deposits. This phase was characterized by the completion of caldera collapse, which produced megatsunamis, i.e. a 35 to 150 m (115 to 492 ft) high tsunami that devastated the north coast of Crete, 110 km (68 mi) away. The tsunami affected coastal towns such as Amnisos, where building walls were knocked out of alignment..7

The Minoan eruption is a key marker for the Bronze Age chronology of the Eastern Mediterranean world. It provides a fixed point for aligning the entire chronology of the second millennium BCE in the Aegean, because evidence of the eruption is found throughout the region. Archaeologists, attempting to align all history with the Bible, have traditionally placed it at approximately 1500 BCE. Radiocarbon dates, including analysis of an olive branch buried beneath a lava flow from the volcano which gave a date between 1627 BCE and 1600 BCE (95% confidence interval), suggest a date over a century earlier. Thus, the radiocarbon dates and the archaeological dates are in substantial disagreement.8

Greenland ice cores show evidence of a large volcanic eruption in 1642 ± 5 BCE which was suggested as being associated with Santorini. However, volcanic ash retrieved from an ice core does not match the expected Santorini fingerprint. The late Holocene eruption of the Mount Aniakchak, a volcano in Alaska, is now believed to be the source of the minute shards of volcanic glass in the Greenland ice core.9

Another method used to establish the date of eruption is tree-ring dating. Tree-ring data has shown that a large event interfering with normal tree growth in North America occurred during 1629–1628 BCE. Evidence of a climatic event around 1628 BCE has been found in studies of growth depression of European oaks in Ireland and of Scotch pines in Sweden. Bristlecone pine frost rings also indicate a date of 1627 BCE, supporting the late 1600s BCE dating. Procedural changes in how ice cores are interpreted would bring that data more in line with the dendrochronological numbers.10 In other words, around the time of the radiocarbon-indicated date of the eruption, there is strong evidence for a significant climatic event in the Northern Hemisphere. The tree rings precisely date the event to 1628 BCE.

According to the Bamboo Annals, the collapse of the dynasty and the rise of the Shang dynasty, approximately dated to 1618 BCE, were accompanied by “yellow fog, a dim sun, then three suns, frost in July, famine, and the withering of all five cereals”.11

Heavy rainstorms which devastated much of Egypt, and were described on the Tempest Stele of Ahmose I, have been attributed to short-term climatic changes caused by the Theran eruption.12

  1. “Santorini eruption much larger than originally believed”. University of Rhode Island. 23 August 2006. “An international team of scientists has found that the second largest volcanic eruption in human history, the massive Bronze Age eruption of Thera in Greece, was much larger and more widespread than previously believed.”

  2. “The size of the Minoan eruption”. VolcanoDiscovery. The Minoan eruption (around 1613 BC) was one of the largest plinian eruptions on earth in the past 10,000 years.

  3. McCoy, FW, & Dunn, SE (2002). “Modelling the Climatic Effects of the LBA Eruption of Thera: New Calculations of Tephra Volumes May Suggest a Significantly Larger Eruption than Previously Reported” (PDF). Chapman Conference on Volcanism and the Earth’s Atmosphere. Thera, Greece: American Geographical Union.

  4. Greene, MT (2000). Natural Knowledge in Preclassical Antiquity. Johns Hopkins University Press.

  5. Foster, KP, Ritner, RK, and Foster, BR (1996). “Texts, Storms, and the Thera Eruption”. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 55 (1): 1–1; EN, Davis (1990). “A Storm in Egypt during the Reign of Ahmose”. Thera and the Aegean World III. Thera Foundation.

  6. Oppenheimer, Clive (2003). “Climatic, environmental and human consequences of the largest known historic eruption: Tambora volcano (Indonesia) 1815”. Progress in Physical Geography 27 (2): 230–259.

  7. Sivertsen, Barbara J. (2009). “The Minoan Eruption”. The Parting of the Sea. Princeton University Press. p. 25; McCoy, Floyd W.; Heiken, Grant (2000). “Tsunami Generated by the Late Bronze Age Eruption of Thera (Santorini), Greece”. Pure and Applied Geophysics 157 (157): 1235–1241.

  8. Friedrich, Walter L; Kromer, B, Friedrich, M, Heinemeier, J, Pfeiffer, T, and Talamo, S (2006). “Santorini Eruption Radiocarbon Dated to 1627-1600 B.C”. Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 312 (5773): 548; Manning, Sturt W; Ramsey, CB, Kutschera, W, Higham, T, Kromer, B, Steier, P, and Wild, EM (2006). “Chronology for the Aegean Late Bronze Age 1700-1400 B.C”. Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 312 (5773): 565–569; Manning, SW (2003). “Clarifying the “high” v. “low” Aegean/Cypriot chronology for the mid second millennium BC: assessing the evidence, interpretive frameworks, and current state of the debate” in Bietak, M; Czerny E. The Synchronisation of Civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Second Millennium B.C. III. Proceedings of the SCIEM 2000 - 2nd EuroConference, Vienna 28th of May - 1st of June 2003. Vienna, Austria. pp. 101–137; Balter, M (2006). “New Carbon Dates Support Revised History of Ancient Mediterranean”. Science 312 (5773): 508–509.

  9. Keenan, Douglas J. (2003). “Volcanic ash retrieved from the GRIP ice core is not from Thera” (PDF). Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems 4 (11): 1097

  10. Baillie, MGL (1989). “Irish Tree Rings and an Event in 1628 BC”. The Thera Foundation; Grudd, H, Briffa, KR, Gunnarson, BE, & Linderholm, HW (2000). “Swedish tree rings provide new evidence in support of a major, widespread environmental disruption in 1628 BC”. Geophysical Research Letters 27 (18): 2957–2960; Lamarche VC, Hirschboeck KK (1984). “Frost Rings in Trees as Records of Major Volcanic Eruptions”. Nature 307 (5947): 121–126; Hughes MK (1988). “Ice Layer Dating of the Eruption of Santorini”. Nature 335 (6187): 211–212; Baillie MGL (2010). “Volcanoes, ice-cores and tree-rings: one story or two?”. Antiquity 84 (323): 202–215.

  11. Foster, KP, Ritner, RK, and Foster, BR (1996). “Texts, Storms, and the Thera Eruption”: Journal of Near Eastern Studies 55 (1): 1–14.

  12. Goedicke, Hans (1995). Studies about Kamose and Ahmose. Baltimore: David Brown Book Company. Chapter 3; Foster, KP, Ritner, RK, and Foster, BR (1996). “Texts, Storms, and the Thera Eruption”. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 55 (1): 1–1; EN, Davis (1990). “A Storm in Egypt during the Reign of Ahmose”. Thera and the Aegean World III. Thera Foundation.

Text #8961

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

The dating of the Theran eruption has been corrected to 1650 BC by Manning et al. See E#5160

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