The discovery sheds light on one of humanity's greatest disasters that is thought to have contributed to the collapse of the Minoan civilisation in the Bronze age.

Around 3,600 years ago, a volcanic eruption on the Island of Thera, present-day Santorini, triggered a massive earthquake and several Tsunamis, shaking the Mediterranean at the time for weeks.

Tens of thousands from the Minoan civilisation were thought to have perished in this Bronze Age catastrophe, which was later accounted as one of history's worst natural disasters.

For the first time, archaeologists unearthed the remains of two of its many victims in 2017 – a young man and a dog – in Turkiye's Cesme around 200 km away from Thera, according to a paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 28 December 2021.

Three Minoan Women, Palace of Knossos outside Heraklion on Crete island, Greece
Three Minoan Women, Palace of Knossos outside Heraklion on Crete island, Greece (Getty Images)

Turkish Archaeology Professor Vasif Sahoglu of Ankara University has been leading the excavations at a site in Cesme-Baglarbasi with the support of scientists from Israel and Austria as well as Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Sahoglu told TRT World that the discovery proved that the impact of the Thera explosion “was much bigger than it was thought.”

“No one would have thought that such a potent amount of tsunami remnants could be found in an area that is this far from Santorini,” Sahoglu said.

The archaeologists' quest on whether the tsunami swept through the popular resort town, Cesme, first began in 2012 when he discovered ashes there while carrying out excavations in the Aegean coastal town. 

Bird’s-eye view of the excavation site in the foreground in the coastal Turkish town, Cesme.
Bird’s-eye view of the excavation site in the foreground in the coastal Turkish town, Cesme. (Vasıf Sahoglu)

He then reached out to several archeologists worldwide, including Beverly Goodman-Tchernov, a professor of marine geosciences at Israel’s University of Haifa University who confirmed that the ashes did indeed originate from the Santorini Volcano. 

The layers of ash meanwhile revealed collapsed houses, holes, potteries and shells, suggesting that a tsunami may have taken place following the volcano. 

It was previously thought the tsunami that was triggered by the eruption of Thera was a single event. Recent findings, however, suggested that the people who survived that disaster had dug holes to save their belongings. The first tsunami had buried them all and the following one covered up the holes, preserving them for thousands of years, including the remains of the young man and the dog. 

Restored dolphin fresco (circa 1800-1400 BC) in the Queen's Megaron in Knossos Palace, near the city of Heraklion, in Crete, Greece. Highly revered by the ancient Greeks, dolphins were given prominence in works of art.
Restored dolphin fresco (circa 1800-1400 BC) in the Queen's Megaron in Knossos Palace, near the city of Heraklion, in Crete, Greece. Highly revered by the ancient Greeks, dolphins were given prominence in works of art. (Getty Images)

The scientists had an explanation for why no remains of thousands of people who had perished were found. The people of Santorini had begun to migrate in light of smaller volcano eruptions and earthquakes and many are believed to have died in the sea when tsunamis hit them.

The study suggests that the tsunami caught the young man whose skeleton was unearthed in 2017.

Sahoglu said the discovery also changes historiography regarding the timing of the eruption.

In light of the radiocarbon dating of the samples recovered among the volcanic ash and tsunami remnants unearthed during the excavations, experts now suggest that the eruption of Thera Volcano should not be dated before 1612 BC, according to a press statement by the archeologists.

Archaeologists explored a layer of ash at the Bronze Age site of Cesme–Baglararasi.
Archaeologists explored a layer of ash at the Bronze Age site of Cesme–Baglararasi. ()

For Sahoglu, the discovery is also important for the archaeology of Anatolia and the region.

“It proved that Cesme was one of the few settlements that connected the Minoan civilisation with Anatolia,” he said, adding that the port city was inhabited for thousands of years. 

“When the volcano erupted, its ashes have fallen to different locations. Whether you find the ash of the volcano today in Egypt, or in Turkiye, it gives us the chance to understand that we are talking about the event that took place on the same day over thousands of years." 

“It’s very important to compare the chronologies of the regions,” Sahoglu said. 

“Finding the volcanic ash is a major line for archaeologists.”

Source: TRT World