Thera Project

The Thera Project is named for the Greek island Thera, commonly known as Santorini now. More than 3,400 years ago, Thera was hit by an enormous volcanic eruption, which destroyed a good portion of the island. It is widely believed that this event and the ensuing tsunamis brought about the end of the Minoan civilization, due to the immediate damage caused by these events to the island of Crete, which was the center of that culture, as well as the lingering effects such a spectacular disaster must have had on the ecosystems of the islands in the Aegean area.

In the latter part of the 20th century, the archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos began a full excavation of the city of Akrotiri, on the portion of the island that was not destroyed by the blast. The city was nearly perfectly preserved, in the same manner as the Roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, which were destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted.

But there was one difference. While grotesque discoveries of human remains… or their imprints… were found in large quantities in Pompeii and Herculaneum, no such remains were found in Akrotiri. The city showed every sign of having been recently lived in when it was buried. But the absence of human remains, and the lack of any significant quantities of the personal items and valuables one would expect in a city of that size, raises an unusual prospect. It appears the inhabitants had some forewarning of the cataclysm that was about to strike, and had enough time to escape.

No definitive record exists of a large exodus of people from any island in the area prior to a catastrophic event, although the history of the island bears striking similarity to the tale of Atlantis. Even if the inhabitants were able to leave the island in time their ships may not have been able to reach safe port before being overwhelmed by the enormous tsunamis that would have followed a volcanic blast of that magnitude.

But it is equally possible that the record of such an escape would have been lost in the ensuing chaos from the wholesale disruption of the Minoan culture. Descendants of the inhabitants of Akrotiri may walk among us, unaware that they might not be here at all were it not for a forewarning their ancestors received more than three thousand years ago.

Only one thing is certain: the people who lived in Akrotiri were not in the city when it was buried under tons of volcanic debris. It is both for the possibilities of the past, and the hopes of future, that the Thera Project is named.