The Island of Santorini (Thera)
The Eruption of Thera
Devastation in the Mediterranean
(1) Greater Than Krakatoa
"When Krakatoa exploded on August 26, 1883, it caused widespread destruction and loss of life on the coasts of Java and Sumatra. Blast waves cracked walls and broke windows up to 160 km. away. Tidal waves, reportedly up to 36 metres high, inundated the shores of the Sunda Strait, destroying nearly 300 towns and villages, and overnight more than 35,000 people lost their lives."
"Krakatoa erupted noisily. It could be heard as much as 3,000 miles away on Rodrigues Island in the Indian Ocean. Vibrations shattered shop windows 80 miles off. The energy; released in the main explosion has been estimated to be equivalent to an explosion of 150 megatons of TNT."
"Ships navigating the seas in the vicinity of Krakatoa reported that floating pumice in some places had formed a layer about 3 m thick. Other shops, 160 miles off, reported that they were covered with dust three days after the end of the eruption. In fact the dust cloud completely shrouded the area, so that it was dark even 257 miles away from the epicenter. The period of darkness lasted twenty-four hours in places 130 miles distant and fifty-seven hours 50 miles away. The black-out in the immediate vicinity continued for three days and was so total that not even lamp-light could penetrate it. Stunningly beautiful sunsets were observed during the winter months in both American and Europe, thanks to the suspension of fine particles of dust in the atmosphere."
"Two titanic volcanic explosions occurred in the Mediterranean in the fifteenth century BC, one on Mount Vesuvius and the other on the island of Thera near Crete. Each dwarfed the great explosion of the Krakatoa volcano in 1883."
According to current data, the last two great eruptions of Vesuvius occured in 3580 B.C.E and 79 C.E. (the latter being the eruption which buried Pompei and Herculaneum). Both Krakatoa and Thera have a Volcanic Explosivity Index or VEI of 6 which rates them as "colossal" with a plume height over 25 km and a displacement volume of between 10 and 100 ks km 3. Eruptions of this size occur only once every few hundred years on earth. Although the dating of pottery supports the fifteenth century time frame for the Thera eruption, dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating supported by historical records place it at 1628/7 B.C.E. .
"Descriptions of the Krakatoa explosion convey a sense of the horror that must have gripped the people who witnessed the earlier and more violent eruptions in the Mediterranean:
"Estimates of the volume of material displaced by the Thera eruption indicated an intensity five or six times as great as that of Krakatoa..."
(2) A Great Flood Tide
"About 7 cubic miles (30 cubic km) of rhyodacite magma was erupted. The plinian column during the initial phase of the eruption was about >23 miles (36 km) high."
"The ejection of huge masses of material created an enormous chamber under the earth's crust, and eventually the roof of this magma chamber must have fractured and collapsed."
"The caldera (or crater) created by this eruption of the the Stroggilí volcano on Thera (now known as Santorini) is said to have measured as much as 83 square kilometers in area. It presently extends down as much as 480 meters below sea level inside of the wall of cliffs which ring it and which themselves rise up as much as 300 meters above sea level.
"The sea poured into this enormous void through fractures in the ring of land, in the northwest and southwest of the island. If the chamber collapse was sudden, the flow of water must have generated tidal waves to the north and southwest."
"Knossos [the Minoan capital] was shattered by a succession of earthquakes that preceded or accompanied the eruption, while great waves resulting from it appear to have damaged settlements along the northern coast of Crete."
"On the west cost of Turkey, just north of the island of Rhodes*, is a small body of water whose shoreline is like an ever-narrowing funnel. Its open mouth faces west, toward Thera, and anyone living behind that mouth might just as well have been a flea located in the throat of a cannon. As the shock wave surged east between increasingly confined shorelines, the waters piles higher and higher until at last they became a foaming white mountain eight hundred feet tall. The wave penetrated thirty miles inland, in the general direction of Mount Ararat; and when it receded, it dislodged house-sized boulders, scoured the soil and carved out channeled scablands. Elsewhere, on a strip of Turkish coast only ninety miles north of the funnel, the wave seems to have risen barely twenty feet high. Tsunamis are like that - capricious."
"According to the oral tradition handed to Euripides [who lived on the west Aegean between 480 and 405 B.C.], a wall of water heaved up from the deep, into a sky as clear as glass. This is precisely what one would expect if the poet had recorded the memory of Bronze Age Tsunamis in the western Aegean, which was spared the added calamity of Thera's death cloud."
"Later Greek traditions, such as the story of Deucalion's flood, may enshrine a memory of similar waves that swept the coasts of the mainland at this time."
(3) Hell on Earth
After the eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902, "St. Pierre was a cityscape that made Dante's hell look shamefully mild. All the horrors hatching out - the blackened things, the charcoal people, the dead and the still-moving dead - all of these had required just ten thousand cubic yards of vaporized rock dusted less than half an inch deep over eight square miles of the city. Survivors' accounts of the Pelée death cloud provide only the slightest glimpse of how the eastern half of Crete must have suffered in the aftermath of Thera.
Stones from the Thera explosion have been found as far as the Black Sea.
"On easternmost Crete, more than seventy miles away from ground zero, the great palace of Zakros fell amid flames and ashy deposits. Stone slabs were slammed horizontally across the ground in a manner originally attributed to an earthquake, but all the stones seem to have toppled in the same direction as if pushed over by a great wind. Like Herculaneum, Zakros perished so quickly that people did not have time to flee with household objects. All the implements of Minoan life were left behind: gold rings, razors, tweezers and rare perfumes. At the same time, Phaistos, second in size only to Knossos, was utterly carbonized on the southeast coast."
(4) Global Climatic and Economic Disruption
A huge cloud of dust and gas enveloped the earth, and there are accounts of unnusual darkness in Egyptian and Chinese literature.
"The death cloud deposited a dense ash layer hundreds of miles east of Thera, but penetrated west only sixty miles, stopping at the island of Melos. To halt the cloud at Melos, the headwinds from the west must have been very strong, and from the meteorologists came word that Westerly squalls were almost exclusively a September through November phenomenon on the Aegean, suggesting that the volcano exploded in autumn."
"One could also envisage the destruction of the ships on which Minoan power depended, and the longer term disruption of agriculture by a heavy overlay of ash."
As the dust cloud "circled the globe, the next spring must have been much like the spring of 1816, 'the year without a summer,' that followed the explosive reawakening of Tambora in Indonesia. There were no harvests in New England that year. Megatons of utrafine dust had been hoisted fifty miles high into the stratosphere, where it shaded out some of the sun's radiation, absorbing its heat long before it reached the ground. As June and August snowstorms swept across New York, few people could draw consolation from the strange beauty of a blood read moon, or from the most splendid sunsets the world had seen in more than thirty-four hundred years."
"The cataclysmic eruption brought about the abrupt transition from the Minoan to the Mycenean culture-documented in various legends from the area-and perhaps even accounts for the stories of Atlantis and Exodus."
Hebrew and Egyptian Accounts?(1) The Earth Melts
The eruption of Thera occured around 1450-1500 B.C.E. according to archaeological dating which is during the same time frame as the scriptural dating for the Exodus of Moses (1447 B.C.E.)
(2) "Fine Dust" and "Fire Mingled with Hail"
"Ash identified as coming from the [Thera] eruption has been found in coastal sites as far away as Israel and Sardis in Anatolia. The wind may have been blowing from the south or west."
The eruption of Thera was almost a thousand kilometers from the Nile delta - the land of Goshen - too distant to have suffered much damage from the accompanying earth tremors although, coincidentally, a severe earthquake and hail (falling volcanic stones?) did devastate the delta at the end of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom.
"Such things were witnessed as the Mount St. Helens cloud (in its Plinian phase) passed over Yakima, lancing down lightning and warm ash instead of rain..."
(For details on the Egyptian ash fall, click here.)
(3) Three Days of Darkness
"And then straightaway, as they moved swiftly over the great Cretian deep, night terrified them, the night which they call 'the pall of darkness'. No stars nor moonbeams pierced the deadly darkness. It was black chaos coming down from the sky, or some other darkness rising from the inmost recesses of the Earth. They did not in the least know whether they were voyaging on the water or in Hades."
The inscription dates from the Ptolemaic period but refers to a much earlier event (during the reign of a King Thom?). A papyrus from the Middle Kingdom also tells of a period of great destruction and darkness.
An alternative explanation is that the darkness was caused by a a hot southerly wind from the Sahara called a khamsin. Such winds can kick up fierce sand storms lasing to or three days - blowing massive drifts over small buildings, and obscuring the sun in a dark, yellow haze.
(4) The Tsunami
"The low tidal wave across the sand would certainly make life difficult for charioteers or mounted soldiers, but wouldn't touch the 500-1000 people who had taken refuge on one of the low hills in the middle...Of course the volcanic ash in the sky would be very impressive in the morning and evening (red sky) and probably had some effect during the day (and night during moonlight) -- the great cloud going before them."
"The problem with this argument is that the tsunami would have arrived only minutes after the Theran ash cloud (if not before), and if the cloud is what darkened the skies, brought about famine and disease, and frightened the pharaoh into letting Moses and his people go, there was simply not enough time for pharaoh's intimidation, and them for the Hebrews to pack their belongings and travel tens of miles to the 'Reed Sea' to meet the tsunami. The Thera explosion either humbled the pharaoh with its ash or destroyed his chariots with its tsunami. One cannot have it both ways, unless the Exodus account is considered, like the Atlantis legend, a composite of more than one event whose original sequence was forgotten or misunderstood by the time it was committed to writing."
The Israelites, however, may have experienced effects of flooding from the tsunami similar to those described in the following passage:
According to David Rohl, a catastrophe in the Nile Delta was the prelude to the invasion of the Hyksos and fall of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom. He also writes that this event initiated the flight of the Israelites led by Moses.
(5) A "Pillar; of Cloud" and a "Pillar of Fire"
"The pillar of fire, said to have led the Israelites during their nocturnal peregrinations in the desert, has long troubled all but the most pious of scholars: 'Of all the mysterious phenomena which accompanied the Exodus, this mysterious Pillar seems the first to demand explanation' [W. Pythian-Adams]. The account in Exodus 13, so difficult to reconcile with what we know about the facts of 'history', is in perfect accord with the facts of comparative mythology, where the World Pillar forms a universal motive. Indeed, in many traditions the World Pillar is expressly described as a pillar of fire."
The Egyptian word Keftiu, likely derived from a root meaning 'pillar', is generally accepted as referring to Crete. Was the pillar described in Exodus merely a myth? Compare the following lines describing the eruption of Etna:
The eruption of Thera so distant from the Nile delta, however, that the Israelites would not have seen anything so striking as a pillar of fire, especially after the ash cloud darkened the sky. If the pillar of smoke and fire refers to a volcanic event it must have been much closer at hand.
Conventional dating places the eruption of Thera during the early 18th Dynasty (1539-1425 BC) and the Exodus during the reign of Ramesses II (or, less probably, that of his successor Merneptah). Placing the Exodus during this period, however, is not supported by archaeological findings in Egypt and Israel.
"After the Exodus, there arose among the Hebrews a historic tradition of associating God with a fiery cloud. It is possible that the tradition survives as a distorted and poorly understood memory of Theran ash storms. In the Book of Numbers, the Lost Ark of the
Covenant...was often overshadowed by God's cloud, which struck out and consumed enemies, and on occasion even set part of the Hebrew camp afire: "