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
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.