Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Demise of the Minoan Civilization

By Matthew Zuk

Volcanoes, tsunami’s, earthquakes, the cataclysmic events that led to the downfall of the Minoan civilization sound similar to something out of an ancient legend. However, in the past ten to fifteen years an abundance of evidence has been discovered that has solved some of the mystery surrounding this amazing civilization, and its fascinating downfall.

As stated in our previous article on the Minoan Civilization, the Minoans are among the most advanced ancient civilizations ever uncovered, and were established around 200 years after the dispersion from Babel. The Minoan civilization dominated the Mediterranean area (based primarily on Crete) for its entire existence. From its origin around 2200 BC,[1] until the start of its fall around 1600 BC,[2] the Minoans were the powerhouse of the sea.

Catastrophic Explosion

The Minoans began a rapid demise around 1600 BC[3] when the island of Thera (70 miles north of Crete) experienced one of the greatest volcanic calamities in history.[4] The center of the island of Thera is a volcano, which catastrophically erupted and destroyed the entire island. Geological records show that the volcano may have been four to ten times as powerful as the Krakatoa explosion in AD 1883, which is the largest in recorded history. The Krakatoa volcano extruded six cubic miles of material, and killed 36,000 people, and yet that would have been dwarfed by the massive eruption of Thera. It was this cataclysmic explosion that led to the ruin of the Minoan civilization.[5]

The island of Thera (Santorini)

Disastrous Effects

The eruption not only buried the city Akrotiri, on the island of Thera, in pumice (a volcanic rock that served to preserve the site), but also triggered huge tsunamis, which destroyed most of the coastal residences built on Crete.[6] According to Dr. Sinolakis, (a tsunami expert) several tsunami’s (up to twelve), each around 50 feet in height, hit the shores of Crete every thirty minutes.[7] The ash from the explosion has been found in various locations such as the Nile delta and the Black Sea; the sound and ash cloud would have been heard and seen as far as Egypt and Mesopotamia.[8]

Artist's depiction of the tsunami at Crete

Capital of the Empire?

Though Crete is assumed to be the center of the Minoan civilization, it is possible that Thera was the capital of their empire. Evidence backing this theory comes from a fresco found in Akrotiri. This fresco shows Thera, with an island in its center, similar to what is found today. In the fresco a city is located on the inner island, much larger than Akrotiri. This central island was actually the volcano itself, thus any structures built there would have been completely obliterated leaving us no further evidence to confirm if this large city existed.[9]

The fresco found in Akrotiri depicting a city on the inner island of Thera

Evidence of Destruction

On the northeast tip of Crete, around 70 miles away from Thera, recent discoveries at Palakaistro exhibit evidence that the volcano had great effect on the island. At this site (and many other sites on Crete), volcanic ash from the eruption at Thera has been found, leading to the belief that the ash may have covered the entire island. More significantly a gravel deposit was found at the site. This deposit could only be laid down by a catastrophic water event, such as one of the largest tsunamis in the Mediterranean’s history. Archeologists also discovered a building, found a quarter of a mile away from the sea, with its sea-facing wall torn off. The greatest evidence of destruction was found on a cliff overlooking the sea. There is a layer of ash, broken pottery, cattle bones, seashells, animal teeth, and rocks that appear to have been blasted apart, then cemented back together in a massive water event. There is also another layer, which appears to be debris from a tsunami, found ninety feet above sea level.[10] This type of destruction would have wiped out the Minoan ports, as well as their fleet.[11]

Thera (Santorini) in relation to the island of Crete

Result of the Eruption

Despite the massive amounts of destruction, there is evidence that the Minoans remained in Crete for another 150-200 years after the eruption. The Palace of Knossos (and many Minoan holdings) was too far inland to have been affected by the tsunamis,[12] but there is evidence that massive earthquakes resulting from the volcano would have shaken the entire island of Crete causing many of the inland dwellings to be damaged. The remnants of the devastated civilization were severely weakened, which led to their eventual downfall.[13]

Final Downfall

Unfortunately, the great power of the Mediterranean had lost their fleet, as well their ports, leaving the island nation in dire straits and incredibly vulnerable to invasion. Around 1450 BC it is believed that the Mycenaeans, a rising Greek power, invaded the island of Crete. The recovering Minoans would have been weak but it appears they did not simply lay down their weapons and surrender. Many of the temples and buildings found on Crete show evidence of being ravaged by some enemy and there are burials from that period with bodies and weapons of the Mycenaean people. While this is speculation, it is likely that the Mycenaeans had some difficulty destroying the Minoans, crippled though they were. The former powerhouse of the area over the last 400-500 years would not be easily overcome. Yet the evidence suggests that the Minoans were eventually overpowered as most of the palaces were destroyed around 1450 BC.[14] This marked the end of the Minoan civilization.

Mycenaean sword found on the island of Crete

Mystery and Significance

There is yet mystery surrounding Europe’s greatest civilization, such as: were there any survivors? Was all of their technology lost? How widespread was their empire? What lead to their rise? Until more information is found many of these questions will remain unanswered. Due to the unique and somewhat mysterious nature of their fall, theories surrounding the great Minoan civilization abound.

Despite the mystery, it is still possible for us to see that these people built one of the worlds most powerful and advanced civilizations, and that they display one of the greatest proofs for the genius of ancient man.

For more informations on the Minoans be sure to read “The Minoan Civilization: Proof of Advanced Nature” and "The Minoans: Rejection of the Creator".

[1] Powell, Judy. “Layers of mystery – Archaeologists look to the earth for Minoan fate.” (accessed April 30, 2013).
[2] "How did the Minoan civilization disappear? - Curiosity." (accessed April 30, 2013).
[3] Ibid.
[4] (Powell).
[5] History Channel, TV documentary. “Lost Worlds, Season 1, Episode 2: Atlantis.” July 17, 2006.
[6] Ibid.
[7] “Destruction of the Minoan Civilization.” (accessed April 30, 2013).
[8] (History Channel).
[9] Ibid.
[10] (Powell).
[11] ("Destruction of the Minoan Civilization").
[12] (Powell).
[13] (History Channel).
[14] ("Destruction of the Minoan Civilization").

No comments:

Post a Comment