Assess the role played by the Thera eruption in the downfall of Minoan Crete

The Theran eruption was the sole determinant of Minoan Crete’s downfall; a theory receiving relentless support from scholars such as Pellegrino and Doumas. The sheer destructive force of the volcanic explosion, comparable to well-documented modern day examples such as St Helens, produced a series of pyroclastic flows which obliterated all possibilities of Minoan life during that time. The dating discrepancy between the two events is simply due to miscalculations of Mediterranean history – in particular, erroneous pottery and Egyptian chronology.

The ‘ongoing trade’ of Egypt and Minoa that was recorded after the Theran eruption, can be elucidated by the acceptance of a new concept – that a trading relationship gradually established between Egypt and Mycenae. Hence, accounting for previously contradicting evidence, it is further conclusive that the immensity of the Theran eruption directly caused the downfall of Minoan Crete. The devastating Theran explosion generated deadly pyroclastic flows – dissipating all nearby Minoan civilisation.

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The eruption was scaled a colossal 7 out of the possible 8 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index; a figure which Pellegrino likens to the amount of energy produced by 150megatons of hydrogen bombs. In order to understand the extent of damage Thera induced upon Minoan Crete, McCoy and Doumas compare the event with the more recent Krakatoa and Tambora explosions. Although the Theran phenomena is believed to be 5 times more intense than that of Krakatoa, the Javan explosion was heard 3000miles away, creating a dust cloud which enveloped a 50 mile radius in complete darkness for 57hrs.

Blistering ash rains reportedly massacred people by the thousands. The Tamboran eruption, often described as of Thera-magnitude, saw 1inch of ash fall 250miles away, blighting crops, and choking people and animals alike. These horrifying descriptions provide only a mere glimpse of what the Minoan civilisation underwent in 1628BC, who additionally experienced the havoc wreaked by pyroclastic flows – the most destructive element of volcanic eruptions. Evidence of extensive fire damage in the Minoan ruins indicate the presence of this natural demolishing force.

Sceptics often criticise the inconsistent carbonisation of wood found at the site – with Knossos showing minimal fire damage opposed to the charred remnants of what was once Zakros – however, Pellegrino’s comparison of Minoa to the exquisitely documented St Helens volcanic eruption reveals the capricious nature of pyroclastic flows. Its unpredictable course changes and random pockets of cool air comprise of those characteristics necessary to account for the inconsistent fire damage at the Minoan site.

Thus, due to the corresponding behaviour of pyroclastic flows and patterns of damage found on the island, it is relatively conclusive that this fierce natural element (generated by the Theran volcano) caused extensive irreparable destruction to Crete – eventuating in its downfall. Thera’s volcanic eruption sealed the fate of Minoan Crete civilization, as is revealed by correlative scientific evidence, dating both events to 1628BC. However, Thera’s role in the obliteration of Cretan society is severely undermined by a ‘dating discrepancy’, suggesting a 50year interval between events.

Mediterranean chronology is determined by 2 arbitrary factors – the analysis of changing pottery styles, and trade links with Egypt. Pellegrino and Marinatos challenge the absolution of this dating form with archaeological evidence – or lack thereof. Excavations at Thera reveal a complete absence of bodies or valuables; signifying the former inhabitants had abundant warning of the imminent eruption, and time to gather precious goods. Doumas’ scientific findings are also in support, with the oxidation of the first pumice stratum, indicating this layer was exposed to air up to 24months before the eruption.

Use of this evidence strongly suggests a much shorter interval between the events. Thus, the feasibility of the Theran eruption demolishing Minoan civilisation can be greatly accounted for. A myriad of scientific evidence worldwide is in support of the relative 1628BC date, including Californian Bristlecone pines, Irish bog oaks, Greenland ice sheets and historical Chinese bamboo strips. These individual pieces of evidence collectively create an indisputable proof that some form of climatic disorder occurred during the 1628BC period.

The Theran eruption is the only known event well within the boundaries set by the evidence – lending tremendous weight to the Theran eruption coinciding with the Minoan collapse, and hence, causing its destruction. The Theran eruption was a direct implication to the collapse of Crete, and vast amounts of evidence are able to support this theory. However, the ‘continued trade’ between Egypt and Crete after the devastating eruption presents an unmistakable incongruity. Evidence of this is depicted on Egyptian tombs, correctly dated to the 1628BC year of explosion.

The first tomb, a vizier to Queen Hatshepsut – Semut, features a fresco of men and LM1A pottery – men dressed in kilts similar to those seen on Theran walls. This fresco, therefore, indicates a period of time before the eruption. A later tomb – containing Rehkmire, vizier to Thutmosis III – displays a fresco of men with LM1A and LM1B pottery. Formerly significant in terms of denoting the Minoan pottery style transition; a new theory proposes an immensely different interpretation – the entire Theran population was forced to migrate as a result of the imminent signs of eruption.

Crete accepted their neighbours – however, after a short period of time, the Minoans suffered severe socio-economic instability due to the sudden influx to their population. Their once strong trading relationship with Egypt slowly deteriorated. Now seeking alternative trade routes, the Egyptian ruler was drawn towards the equally brutal Mycenaeans. The gradual shift of Egyptian trading partners is evident in the orders to paint over the Rehkmire fresco.

The original kilt an example of traditional Cretan attire; however a second layer of paint detailed longer and more intricate kilts typical of Mycenaean cultures. Acknowledging Rehkmire’s high-esteemed position in Egyptian society, Thutmosis III, by enforcing this modification upon the tomb, was giving political recognition to the new Mycenaean trading regime. Therefore, this alternative theory accounts for the continuity of trade between Egypt and Aegean sources – allowing the relatively unquestionable 1628BC eruption of Thera and the consequent destruction of Crete to have occurred.

The Theran eruption was the sole determinant of Minoan Crete’s downfall; a theory receiving relentless support from scholars such as Pellegrino and Doumas. The sheer destructive force of the volcanic explosion, comparable to well-documented modern day examples such as St Helens, produced a series of pyroclastic flows which obliterated all possibilities of Minoan life during that time. The dating discrepancy between the two events is simply due to miscalculations of Mediterranean history – in particular, erroneous pottery and Egyptian chronology.

The ‘ongoing trade’ of Egypt and Minoa that was recorded after the Theran eruption, can be elucidated by the acceptance of a new concept – that a trading relationship gradually established between Egypt and Mycenae. Hence, accounting for previously contradicting evidence, it is clearer furthermore that the immensity of the Theran eruption directly caused the downfall of Minoan Crete. The volcanic eruption of Thera in 1628BC undoubtedly caused disparaging widespread damage to Minoan Crete, thereby resulting in the demise of Minoan civilisation.

An accumulation of theories proposed by various scholars, such as Doumas and Marinatos – provide the catastrophic effects of the volcano on Minoa, as well as resolve chronological inconsistencies such as pottery dating. The re-interpretations of previous evidence accounts for a far wider spectrum of relevant information, thus collectively assisting the understanding and appreciation of the colossal role played by the Theran eruption in the downfall of Minoan civilisation.