Notebook, 1993-


[From: Doumas, Christos, Prof. of Archaeology at the Univ. of Athens, Director of Excavations at Akrotiri. Santorini, A Guide to the Island and Its Archaeological Treasures. Athens: Ekdotike Athenon S.A. 1995.]

Introduction - Geography and Geology - Historical Outline - Archaeological Research - Archaeological Sites - Pottery - Wall Paintings

Santorini [Archaeological Research]

The first archaeological excavation on Thera dates from the last century. In 1856 an investigation at present-day Kamari brought to light inscriptions of the Roman period. With the help of these inscriptions, Kamari has been identified as the ancient town of Oia.

The cutting of the Suez Canal by the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps created a great demand for pozzuolana which is a wonderful material for underwater construction and consequently ideal for the insulation of the sides of the canal. Therefore, within the quarries which were set up on Therasia to cover the needs of the Suez Canal, remains of the old civilization which had once flourished on the island and which, at some time, had been buried beneath the very thick layers of volcanic ash began to [end of p. 14] appear. The first traces of prehistoric installations started to appear in the Alaphouzos' quarry on Therasia in the early years of the decade 1860. In 1866 the Theran doctor D. Nomikos, in collaboration with the quarry owner Alaphouzos, conducted the first prehistoric excavations on Therasia. The following year [1867] this excavation was continued by the French geologist F. Fouqué who was already on Thera studying the eruptions of the volcano. The French scholar wrote about these investigations in his fundamental work Santorin et ses éruptions, Paris 1870.

Three years after Fouqué [1870], two members of the French Archaeological School, H. Mamet and H. Gorceix, re-dug in the Alaphouzos quarry on a small scale. These same two people, in the same year, investigated prehistoric ruins in the wider region of Akrotiri [Balos, Archangelos and on the site, more or less, where the large excavations are taking place today]. The final five years of the last century were taken up by the great excavations of Baron Hiller von Gaertingen which revealed the ruins of Ancient Thera on Mesa Vouno. A small team of Hiller von Gaertringen's collaborators investigated the Akrotiri region yet again. Under the supervision of R. Zahn trial trenches were made in the locality of Potamos, slightly to the east of the area being dug today. Once again significant traces of prehistoric installations were located.

The first fifty years of this century passed by without any meaningful activity on the island. Perhaps the most important archaeological discovery before World War II was the finding of the Early Cycladic graves underneath the thick layer of pumice in the quarries outside Phira.

From 1960 a major period of excavation began on the island. The works to open a new motor road towards Ancient Thera brought to light ancient tombs. The extensive cemetery of Sellada has been dug since then on behalf of the Greek Archaeological Society by the honorary Ephor of Antiquities, N. Zapheiropoulos. The Greek Archaeological Society also carries out the excavations at Akrotiri. These were begun in 1967 by Professor Sp. Marinatos who continued intensively and without interruption until October 1st 1974, that is the day of his fateful death in the great prehistoric city he revealed.

What attracted Marinatos' attention to Thera was the attempt to validate an old theory of his, that the Santorini volcano was responsible for the decline of the Minoan civilization. Of the known localities where remains of the Minoan civilization had been found [Akrotiri, Balos, Archangelos, Therasia] he chose Akrotiri because, apart from the fact that it was more accessible than the other sites, it still had visible traces on the surface, such as pot sherds etc. Moreover, there were still people in the neighboring villages who actually remembered Zahn's investigations or had heard about them. The fact that the soil hereabouts often collapsed, even under the weight of a passing donkey, led Marinatos to make the final decision to excavate at this point. Finally, the geographical position was favorable to the development of a large prehistoric settlement: it is the flattest of all the known localities and is near the sea directly opposite Crete. [end of p. 15]

[Doumas, Christos, Prof. of Archaeology at the Univ. of Athens, Director of Excavations at Akrotiri. Santorini, A Guide to the Island and Its Archaeological Treasures. Athens: Ekdotike Athenon S.A. 1995.]

Note: The image featured on this page is of the South Propylaeum Frescoes, Palace of Minos. This image is borrowed from The Apollo Project, which is sponsored by an Instructional Technology Grant from the Office of the Chancellor, UNC-CH --The property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of Classics.]



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