Santorini Eruption

Comparative anthropological and volcanological research of an archaeological case study

The Late Bronze age eruption of Santorini volcano ranks as one of the largest of the last 10,000 years. It has been proposed as a major factor in the collapse of Minoan society due to a combination of tephra fallout, tsunamis and climatic effects, although modern research has failed to explain a causal relation between the two events. Previous studies focused on the material and environmental impacts of the eruption, but neglected to address how the volcanic eruption intersected with the deep cultural roots of Aegean societies. However, a society’s pattern of vulnerability may explain far more profoundly how a disaster unfolds than will the physical force of the hazard. This project posits that this dimension is key to the understanding of the conditions of vulnerability and resilience that led to the collapse of Minoan society following the Santorini eruption. Following Descola’s theory, we take an ontological characterisation of Minoan society as a starting point for deciphering the cultural construction of nature-society relations in societies exposed to volcanic hazards. We propose to study two historical societies in Indonesia (Tambora, Krakatoa) as well as a recent example on Ambrym with comparable ontologies and which have suffered from volcanic eruptions. Through a combination of volcanic and anthropological studies, we aim at remobilising unexploited data that can inform on the materiality of the impact such catastrophes had on communities. This approach will generate the information needed to put the Aegean Bronze Age archaeological and environmental dataset in a new and broader perspective, which will allow us to revisit the production of the conditions of vulnerability and the response of Minoan society to the Santorini eruption. Through its bottom-up approach, the proposed research will also offer new insights into the production of vulnerability and resilience and occurrence of volcanic disaster, hence contributing new knowledge that can shed light on the potential role of disasters in present and future risk reduction strategies. As such, the project clearly inscribes itself in the Environmental Humanities, scholarship that draws humanities disciplines into conversation with each other, as well as with the natural and social sciences.