Santorini Eruption: New Theory Says ‘Pyroclastic Flows’ Caused Devastating Bronze Age Tsunamis

All one volcano. Steve Jurvetson, CC BY

Danielle Andrew 12 Nov 2016, 12:46

As the ash continued to be thrown into the air, the island would have been eerily dark with fragments falling from the sky – imagine a severe rainstorm, but of ash and dust. As the ash column grew to its full height it entered the stratosphere and began to spread out and drift east. Ash from this eruption has been found in Turkey, the Aegean islands and Crete.

In the next stage of the eruption pyroclastic flows, hot landslides of volcanic material that travel faster than F1 cars, charged out of the volcanic cone building up large fans that blocked the northwest straits and isolated the caldera from the Mediterranean Sea.

The eruption continued to increase in violence with multiple cones sending out considerable amounts of pyroclastic flows. Deposits of these flows reach 60 metres thick (the height of around 14 double decker buses) and engulfed the Minoan settlement at Akrotiri, creating a Bronze Age Pompeii and a spectacular window into an ancient civilisation in the 1600s BC.

Akrotiri has been excavated over the past five decades. Klearchos Kapoutsis, CC BY

It is during this stage that Nomikou and colleagues propose that tsunamis would have been generated. In Crete, 120km away, a nine metre-high wave tore up the northern side of the island leaving devastation and debris in its wake. The waves may have reached western Turkey and even Israel.

The seas eventually settled, the eruption ended, and the modern caldera began to form. Erosion by the sea and a catastrophic landslide opened the north-west strait, filling the caldera from the surrounding Mediterranean in a couple of days; further landslides into this full caldera formed the southwestern straits. Completing the modern geography would take several thousand years more as the island of Nea Kameni, an active volcano, gradually erupted above sea-level.

While catastrophic, terrifying and probably life-changing for large numbers of people, the Minoans themselves didn’t die out. Though Santorini was not recolonised, evidence from pottery shows civilisation on Crete continued for several generations. However, as a society built on maritime trade the loss of the port of Santorini, which had direct links to the important bronze-producing island of Cyprus, might have diminished their position among the trading powers of the eastern Mediterranean.


Matthew Pound, Lecturer in Physical Geography, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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