Here on Crete, there is no stone, rock, or rivulet of a stream that does not whisper continually the names of long-forgotten Minoan deities and priestesses. The advanced society of highly-cultivated artisans, skilled engineers, mariners, and enigmatic religious figures who once lived here left so indelible a mark, that not even Poseidon’s wrath could utterly destroy it. The rumor that might be the real Atlantis, is as captivating as ever. Here’s some science and new ideas about the legendary land of Keftiu.
The Minoans were, above all else, the ancient world’s greatest shipbuilders and sailors. Their maritime empire must have been something to behold, but all but a few traces of their seafaring greatness have disappeared forever. What remains are stone and ceramic remnants, art depicting snake priestesses, and glorious votive artifacts and priceless ceramics are what we have to show for Europe’s first and mightiest Bronze Age experiment.
Epic Knowledge Quest: Bits & Pieces
The Minoan palaces and buildings on Crete and elsewhere including Akrotiri on the island of Thera (Santorini) show clearly that these Bronze Age people possessed advanced engineering knowledge far exceeding that of their mainland contemporaries. The main island, known to the ancient Egyptians as Keftiu, interchangeably with “Island of the Dead”, still holds untold secrets of humankind’s glorious past.
“For many generations…they obeyed the laws and loved the divine to which they were akin…they reckoned that qualities of character were far more important than their present prosperity. So they bore the burden of their wealth and possessions lightly, and did not let their high standard of living intoxicate them or make them lose their self-control… But when the divine element in them became weakened…and their human traits became predominant, they ceased to be able to carry their prosperity with moderation.” – Plato, Timaeus
So, the Minoan Thalassocracy that lasted over 1,500 years, was a veritable Atlantis, of not the real one. Their hegemony, based on the total dominance of the sea and therefore trade, would have been smashed by the Thera eruption events around 1550-1520 BC (Driessen). The series of Tsunamis that undoubtedly washed ashore on Crete would have laid waste not only to the mighty Minoan fleet, but to the raw materials for shipbuilding at places like Dia Island, at Mochlos, at Itanos, and anyplace on the northern shore from Gramvousa to Kyriamadi in the far east.
Scholars argue and argue about whether or not the Thera volcano explosion caused an immediate power shift in the ancient world or a gradual decline of this rich civilization. I firmly believe that the destruction was total, and that the only reason Minoan life carried on for a few generations, was the resilience and ingenuity of those people. This is a completely new angle, a view that takes into consideration an antediluvian world that was probably a reality.
My report reframes the question, “What if Ignatius L. Donnelly‘s account of Atlantis is at least a part truth, other than total fantasy?” But this track leads to a much deeper inquiry into ancient Egypt, the temple of the warrior goddess Neita (Athena at left) in Sais, the story of the great flood, Deucalion, and the last known proof that Atlantis did exist as Plato described. And within this inquiry, I find further study into the legendary archaeologist J.D.S. Pendlebury key to this deeper discussion. There’s no space here for inquiries into Eden and the original man either.
For the moment, let’s return to the ethereal ideas and visions of what Crete was probably like 5,000 years ago. While there is little historical or archaeological evidence for it, one can easily visualize the effects these giant tsunami waves had on the Minoan homeland. Dia Island offshore of today’s capital of Heraklion, for instance, was not only the of the chief Minoan ports, the once heavily forested landmass also served as a breakwater against the successive tsunamis that struck the home main island. Today, the barren rock is all that’s left after supersonic tsunamis washed forests, crops, topsoil, towns, and all off the barrier island. And Dia is but one such “remnant” of the great “flood” that shaped the future.
At Amnissos outside Heraklion, for instance, huge monoliths weighing many tons were washed a kilter or totally away like toy constructions by these monstrous tsunamis. At the Prince of the Lillies villa, some walls bow outward, in an effect that could only be caused by backwashing tsunami waves. Dr. Spyridon Marinatos, who excavated in this area, found huge quantities of pumice and volcanic material inside buildings. Here I should make a note that Dr. Miranatos firmly believed that the Thera eruption was the basis for Plato’s Atlantis story.
In 1976, the legendary Jacques Cousteau carried out underwater exploration around Dia. His quest took brought him to Crete, to search for the remnants of Plato’s Atlantis. What he found all those years ago was one of the island’s ancient ports in a cove of Dia. The segment here is the full episode from his famous TV show. I insert Cousteau here for two reasons. First, he was an explorer and innovator of uncompromised credibility and character. Second, like some people I know, he was a dreamer and a creative who was not above expressing the dreamlike character of things. He was often criticized for this, in fact.
Back then, the New York Times gave a scathing criticism to the hour-long segment from Dia, but the writer was not a geographer or historian even. Scientists and other critics always fail to envision properly, it seems. Imagine a series of 150-foot waves traveling almost as fast as a jet airliner, washing whatever lay on or before Dia, in washing machine fashion, toward the main island. Yes, precious little would be left for divers to find. And as for other parts of Keftiu (Atlantis) such “flood” damage would not be buried beneath Byzantine and later temples, it would have been carried southward into the hinterlands, then washed back toward the Cretan Sea from whence it came. Alas, I am getting ahead of myself.
The Will of the Gods?
Reading today’s inquiries into the Minoans or Atlantis makes me wonder if researchers never played with the water hose as kids. Most of what is written about the Minoans these days borders on the simplistic. Writers and even archaeologists take a narrow and compartmentalized view of the centuries of Minoan influence, and the generations it took for cataclysm to bring down their Thalassocracy. It seems everyone wants a simple answer to the question; “What brought down the mighty Minoans.” Ironically, I believe, the answer is pretty simple. The gods no longer favored Atlantis or the Sea People who inhabited Crete in the Bronze Age. Okay, perhaps this is too simple an explanation for the fall of the Minoans.
Returning to reality and the search for hard evidence, I was chatting today with Dr. Evi Nomikou, the renowned geologist and oceanographer, who’s an expert in the region, in seafloor and subseafloor tectonics and geomorphic processes, and anything to do with the Geology of the Aegean. I asked her about the magnitude of the probable waves of tsunamis that would have hit Crete and was a bit surprised to discover her resources placing the waves at between 30 and 45 meters in height.
Data she passed to me put these figures at between 19m and 25m, but most of that data is extrapolated from a less powerful Thera event (VEI = 7+). New data indicates the Santorini event was many times more powerful than Krakatao, which would in turn seem to raise the tsunami amplitude. One 2014 paper, however, by Gerassimos A. Papadopoulos and a score of other geologists, tells us the Thera event may have been of a completely different magnitude:
“The eruption of Thera is believed to have triggered a tsunami similar in magnitude or larger than the tsunami which was generated by the AD 1883 Krakatau eruption and rolled against the shores of Java and Sumatra with heights up to 35 m killing more than 36,400 people.”
I was also enthralled to find out that she is looking inland for evidence of the Minoan decline in the form of tephra or volcanic deposits in swamps (David Tappin Paraskevi Nomikou: The tsunami from the 3500BP eruption of Santorini: new perspectives – 2015), lakes, and other low-inland areas. Her logic seems to point to looking for answers to the Thera cataclysm in new places. And the aforementioned research by Papadopoulos brought forward a telling aspect of Aegean geophysics. That paper tracks a history of tsunamis generated by various seismic events and tells of Heraklion and other ports being devastated many times by much less cataclysmic events than the Thera explosion. This research also validates Dr. Nomikou’s studying areas not previously focused on such as marshes and lakes, and even offshore where tsunami backwash would have redeposited most of what was inland, and wiped clean by the waves.
Minoan dominance during the Bronze Age proven fact nowadays. However, even the most revered scientists have had to turn to speculation and logic in order to fill in some of the puzzle pieces. An example was the renowned Dr. Sterling Dow, who made a good case for the Minoans’ total dominance of the seas throughout most of the Bronze Age in his article “The Minoan Thalassocracy,” in 1967. Dow reasoned that elements of the Theseus legend were true, by using simple logic. Dr. Dow put down that the Athenians would not have created a hero story in which they were they had to pay tribute to the Minoan king if this part of the legend were not true. Anyone who has ever woven a story, or who has worked in public relations, can identify with Dr. Dow’s keen assessment.
“The myth admitted that Athens was tributary. Without this fundamental admission, the Minotaur-Theseus story would not exist. “
The distinguished archaeologist went on to suggest that the Minoans were a powerful pirate empire with a free-spirited and free-flowing character, a kind of renegade Utopia if you will. The rest of his clever article dives off, unfortunately, into conjecture over the nature of King Minos, the connections between Knossos and Attika, and which gods were, or were not, the forefathers of the Minoan king.
The Modern Scholars
In Dow’s time, even the Thera archaeological studies were just getting started, so his view was one half-blinded by unknowing. Today, archaeologists like Dr. Jan Driessen, Dr. Athanasia Kanta, Knossos curator Dr. Kostis Christakis and a score of other scientists are piecing together this majestic jigsaw. Dr. Kanta has taken part in over 100 archaeological excavations. Her expertise in the late Minoan period has played a pivotal role, especially where ceramic dating and Theran tephra deposits like those at Mochlos and other coastal sites come into play.
The Minoans ruled the Mediterranean economically and militarily throughout the age. At least this was true until half their fleet and the seafaring class was bashed to kindling by wave after 150-foot wave emanating from Thera. As for the timeline and chronologies archaeologists now wrestle over, it seems obvious some of them already have a handle on what happened to the Minoan Thalassocracy.
Dr. Christakis and some of his colleagues from the Danish Institute at Athens presented part of the case back in 2007. These scholars seemed to attribute the systemwide destructions of the end of LM IB to; “internecine conflicts between Knossos and the other palaces”, preceded and/or followed by natural cataclysms such as widespread and severe earthquakes. At least this theory is preferential to an immediate takeover by the Myceneans. Dr. Kanta makes the best argument in a discussion contained in the paper. She says the “invaders” would not have systematically destroyed everything, and her logic and evidence are sound.
And Kostas Christakis told me recently that there is likely a whole city to be found on the kefala where the lost palace of Galatas was partially excavated.
“Galatas was the main political centre of the Pedida during MM III-MM IIIB, probably under the orbit of Knossos. It might also be a religious centre for the surrounding community.”
Jan Driessen (Archaeological approaches to House Societies in the Bronze Age Aegean), who discovered yet another Minoan palatial site at Sissi, is the author of The Troubled Island. Minoan Crete before and after the Santorini Eruption, and more recently this paper on the impact of the Thera eruption on Crete and the Minoans. Driessen reexamines his earlier thesis that a combination of events, human and natural, caused the eventual decline of the Minoans. The continuation of this archaeologist’s work is essential, just as is the efforts by Dr. Christakis, and Dr. Kanta. In particular, Christakis’ part if the discovery and study of the Palace at Galatas (with George Rethymiotakis), and Dr. Kanta’s Monastiraki dig are worthy of special note here. My central thesis rests more on what has yet to be discovered, more so than what we already know about the Minoans, and Sissi, Galatas, Monastiraki, and as yet undiscovered palatial centers surely hold vital pieces of this amazing puzzle.
And while he and other scholars differ on the exactitudes archaeologists always search for, the general conclusion of most experts points to the Thera catastrophe, and event Driessen terms an “Atlantis-like catastrophe scenario,” as being a major cause for the decline of the Thalassocracy. Driessen actually detests references connecting the Minoans to the Atlantis myth, as do many of his colleagues. Science, for these scientists, is about concrete evidence and exact dates, as it should be. That said, no great archaeological discover I can think of was unearthed without myth, legend, and a touch of dreaming to power the shovels.
Dr. Driessen and the other archaeologists working on Crete are absolutely open-minded about the accurate reconstruction of history, despite their sometimes rather stoic demeanor. I know that the Belgian professor is constantly looking for new tephra evidence that would support giant tsunami inundation, even though his current findings do not support this “Atlantis-like” theory. Driessen’s argument from 1997 still holds sway, since evidence and logic support the idea that the Minoans gradually slid into the pages of history.
Like Driessen proposes, efforts such as an island-wide program of geomorphological coring to discover more volcanic evidence would add greatly to our understanding of the Thera event and the effects on the Minoans. From my point of view, it seems prudent to use modern models of cataclysms to get a better idea of the true impact of the Thera eruption, which is by everyone’s measure one of the two or there greatest cataclysms in human history.
I am thinking we should be comparing the catastrophic 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, for a better idea of what happened around 1620 BC. We can look at Japan and Fukushima today, and extrapolate what a 40-meter high tsunami effect would look like to observers of Japan in 3500 years (for instance). This study, using computer modeling, was conducted in 2011 was again, very conservative, putting maximum tsunami waves at about 24 meters high. And as another comparative, this older study of eastern Mediterranean tsunami history places the Thera event as the most powerful in history. In fact, scientists compared the Santorini/Thera geology to that of Japan in this report from 2006, where they discovered the Minoan eruption was far more devastating than previously thought. URI volcanologist Haraldur Sigurdsson offered this on the subject of the vents at Santorini today:
“Most of the known vents around the world have been found on the mid-ocean ridges in very deep water and in areas where there are geologic plate separations. The Kolumbo and Santorini volcanoes are in shallow water at plate convergences, the only place besides Japan where high-temperature vents have been found in these conditions.”
Atlantis. The enduring legend is captivating as ever. Cousteau was immersed in its appeal, while others shy from even admitting the possibility of such a place. In Malta, the real Pillars of Hercules rise above the Mediterranean as “tablets” (the meaning of pillars in ancient Greek) overlooking the strait between Sicily and Tunisia. Like much else that has to do with the zigsaw of Bronze Age civilizations, the true location of Plato’s Atlantis landmarks is still up in the air too.
“Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia. This vast power, gathered into one, endeavored to subdue at a blow our country and yours and the whole of the region within the straits, and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind.” – Plato
At one end of the spectrum, we have the modern scholars and their systematic conservatism, and at the other, we have past scholars who often ventured into the fantastical. A . G . Galanopotllos, for one, presented a very interesting and detailed case for the Aegean Minoan culture being Atlantis. (Annals of Geophysics, 1960) Interestingly, his oceanography supports my theory that Dia Island served to protect the coast at what is now Heraklion, and suffered the brunt of the massive tsunami. And when I say “massive” I mean of gigantic rather than conservative proportions. I suspect that whole sections of Crete and other islands were wiped clean or ripped asunder by the magnitude of the Thera event.
The ultimate significance of Crete, Malta, Sicily, the near east, Egypt, the Cyclades, and the rest of the region has not yet been fully connected by scientific dots, so most of what we have to go on still falls within the realm of fantasy or epic poetry, as before. We have still only illuminated the edges of a magnificent tapestry of human history, unique in so many ways, not the least of which being, the still existing mysteries.