The Minoan Eruption of Santorini in the Late Bronze Age was one of the strongest experienced by humankind. Before the eruption, the shape of Santorini was similar to the one it has today: There was a ring-island: a water-filled caldera with an island in the centre. The caldera had an opening to the southwest. The eruption not only changed the shape of that ringisland but also buried flourishing settlements under a thick layer of pumice and ashes. All life on Santorini was destroyed.[…] Besides the destruction on Santorini itself the entire region was hit by earthquakes, tsunamis, floating pumice, and ash fall. Tsunamis must have devastated the coastal areas of adjacent islands, as recently evidenced on the north coast of Crete. Meanwhile, the eruption cloud might have triggered global climatic changes that resulted in the destruction of harvests in the Eastern Mediterranean. These, together with the destruction of the Minoan fleet by tsunamis, must have had severe effects on the trade network in the area – for a few generations at least. […]
Clear indications of premonitory activity have been found in the excavations at Akrotiri: Broken steps, collapsed walls, houses reduced to ruins, and heaps of debris gathered by the inhabitants have been found beneath the earliest deposits of the Minoan Eruption (Fig. 5). The inhabitants were certainly aware of the impending eruption, for they had time to remove food and valuables from the ruins.[…]
These eruptions must have had a profound effect on the vegetation of the older island. Minoan ash deposits destroyed almost everything. The only places where plants were able to survive were at high elevations, such as Profitis Elias and the ridge Platinamos, and on steep slopes in the wind shadow of the eruption. The same was true for animal life, which had retreated to the upper elevations of the Elias massif. A few small creatures, such as snails, lizards, snakes and insects, survived the catastrophe in such places, while all other land animals perished. Up to now, there are no signs of human losses in the Akrotiri excavation.
Pumice and ash must certainly have covered the nearby islands as well. The strong eruption with its ash fall and noxious gases probably had a catastrophic effect on the entire surroundings of Santorini. The islands of Anaphi and Rhodes to the east of Santorini must have been subjected to a rain of ash, which was carried mainly in that direction (Fig. 9). The Minoan ash layer can be recognized in manyplaces on Rhodes (Keller 1980; Doumas/Papazoglou 1980). Ultimately, it reaches as far as Anatolia and the Black Sea. The huge mass of pumice undoubtedly covered the surface of the sea over a wide region and was washed up at higher levels on the shores by the tsunamis, which were triggered by earthquakes and the collapse of the caldera. The causal relation of tsunamis was demonstrated by the earthquake of 9 July 1956, when the tides on the island of Ios reached a height of 25 m. On most of the shores of the surrounding part of the Aegean Sea, lumps of pumice have been found that clearly had drifted there on the surface of the water. Pumice was also found on the northern coast of Crete and on the shores of Anaphe, Limnos, Paros, Samothrace, Cyprus, and even Israel (Francaviglia 1990). It was also observed in the Nile Delta (Stanley/Sheng 1986), and lumps of some centimetres in diameter were found in Bronze Age contexts e.g. at Avaris (Bietak 2005) and Tell al Ajul in the Gaza Strip in Palestine (Fischer 2009).
During the transition from the first to the second phase, the eruption column that was directed to the east suddenly collapsed and generated strong tsunamis when the enormous mass of material suddenly entered the sea east of Santorini. Similar tsunamis were generated by the 1883 eruption of Krakatau. The deep basin in the northern part of the caldera indicates that tsunamis could also have been produced by the collapse of the roof of the magma chamber during the third phase of the eruption. Floating pumice must certainly have hindered shipping and fishing for a long time throughout much of the Aegean.
In addition, fine ash particles were carried into the stratosphere where they intercepted part of the sun’s radiation and altered the climate on a global scale. This too would have contributed to widespread crop failures and famine (Stommel/ Stommel 1985).
For decades, this question has been the concern of scientists, especially in the light of the earlier discovery of the Minoan Culture at Knossos on Crete by Sir A. Evans at the beginning of the twentieth century. Recognizing that a destruction of Knossos occurred at about the same time, i.e. in the Late Minoan IA (LM IA) period, as indicated by the style of ceramics found on Santorini in the 1860s; A. Evans began to speculate about a possible connection between the eruption of Santorini and the destruction of Knossos. S. Marinatos (1939), who also worked on Crete, generated much discussion by proposing the hypothesis that the demise of the Minoan Culture on Crete was a consequence of the eruption of Santorini. According to his explanation, the eruption was associated with strong earthquakes, which could have caused great damage to the Minoan settlements on Crete. Moreover, the settlements on the northern coast of Crete would have been very devastated by tsunamis triggered by the eruption. He cited as a documented analogy the eruption of Krakatau in 1883, which had many similarities to that of Santorini. […]
At Mochlos, Pseira and Palaikastro, up to 15 cm of pumice were observed in context with LM IA pottery, thus marking the end of that period. However, recent investigations show that Crete was severely damaged by tsunamis triggered by the eruption of Santorini. … Since the Minoans were traders, the majority of the population lived in towns close to the coast. This population must have suffered a severe loss. A comparison with the tsunami catastrophe in Sumatra on 26 December 2004 shows us that 80 % of the population died.