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Mike's Odyssey to Greece - 2005

Part 17: The Museum of Prehistoric Thira

Of all the things I saw in Greece, the Museum of Prehistoric Thira would definitely have to rank somewhere near the top.  It was very, very cool.

So, here's the explanation of Akrotiri and prehistoric Thira.

Some archeologists have theorized that there was an ancient civilization that predated ancient Thira on Santorini.  However, no one could ever find any definitive proof.  Some archeologists throughout the 19th and 20th century began digging on south end of the island, where there were reports from local farmers that their donkeys would suddenly fall through the ground in a sinkhole while plowing the fields.  After excavating there, in 1967 they discovered the ruins of an ancient city called Akrotiri.  And it contained amazing secrets that have redefined history.

Much like Pompeii, the city of Akrotiri was buried under several feet of volcanic rock and large boulders.  However, unlike Pompeii, archeologists have not discovered any bodies or a large amount of treasure.  Both of these facts lead scientists to believe that when the volcano on Santorini began rumbling and erupting, the citizens of Akrotiri abandoned their city and sought safety elsewhere.  Also, since the city was buried under ash which was then covered by large boulders, scientists believe that the city was vacant for many years (perhaps even a couple hundred) before the huge volcano erupted and destroyed most of the island.

The discoveries at Akrotiri point to a thriving civilization in existence around 2,000 BC.  Also, some of the artifacts discovered in Akrotiri show that this civilization was actively trading with the Minoan civilization in Crete as well as the Egyptians and Phoenicians.  Also, there was proof that people from the island had traveled to parts of Africa and returned home to Akrotiri.

Many of the discoveries from Akrotiri as well as some proof of their relative advancement leads some scientists to even conclude that Akrotiri might itself be the lost civilization of Atlantis!

Akrotiri model
Model of Ancient Akrotiri as it appears today (minus all of the scaffolding).  Note the multi-storied buildings and large roads.

A figurine from Akrotiri.

Ancient fertility figurines.

Just as in Pompeii, the wooden artifacts have all rotted and disintegrated over the millennia, but they left cavities in the ash where they used to be.  Archeologists have poured plaster into these cavities to get an idea of what these artifacts looked like.

A plaster cast of a 4,000 year old carved wooden table.

An ancient oven.

Some really ancient writing on clay tablets.  I believe it is related to the "Linear-A" writing found in ancient Crete from the Minoan civilization.

One of the things that scientists have discovered is that many of the ancient pots and jugs discovered in Akrotiri had similar decorations even though they were unearthed in several different places.  This has led them to believe that the art on the jugs was similar to our branding of soft drinks today.

Jugs with labels.  The art identified the seller and also likely the content of the jug.

Does this jug identify ancient Pepsi?

I'm just guessing here, but my guess would be that this jug contained wine...

A bowl with some beautifully painted dolphins on it.

One of the really amazing thing discovered in Akrotiri were some largely in-tact wall paintings.  These help show us who these people were and what their culture was like.

A wall painting of an ancient Thiran woman.  She is dressed in a style similar to the Minoans.

Another wall painting of a woman in Akrotiri.

A wall painting showing papyrus.  This shows that the people of Akrotiri had visited Egypt.

A wall painting showing monkeys in action.  Archeologists have said only someone who had observed monkeys in the wild first-hand could have painted this image, meaning someone on Akrotiri had visited deep into Africa at one time.

Figurines of a lion and a bull.

An unusual jug.  Not quite sure what purpose this jug would serve.  Fermentation, perhaps?

The Greek government has decided to erect a huge roof to cover the excavation site at Akrotiri.  In 1999 as they were digging a hole into which they would place one of the support pillars for the new roof, the workers discovered a solid gold ibex figure.  It remains the only precious metal artifact to have been recovered at Akrotiri.

Gold ibex
The gold ibex figurine discovered hidden away in Akrotiri.

For me, this stuff was amazing.  After all, this stuff pre-dated the Parthenon by 1,500 years!

Following my visit to the museum, I decided to board a bus and go and visit the ancient ruins of Akrotiri itself!

If you would like to learn more about the Museum of Prehistoric Thira, check out their website!

Continue on to Part 18:  Akrotiri (or "Look, more scaffolding!")