Akrotiri’s link to Atlantis

Looking at the remains at Santorini's archaeological site at Akrotiri, Dr Dora Constantinidis found parallels with Plato's story and daily life of the ancient people on the island

Nothing has lasted the test of time quite like the myth of Atlantis. A lost city, once so powerful and rich that it was the envy of the world. But in just one day, it was swallowed up and destroyed, never to be seen again.

<p>The more you look at the remains at Akrotiri, there are so many elements of the story that you can see in the wall paintings
– Dr Dora Constantinidis</p>

It’s been the inspiration for countless movies, TV shows and books while it has baffled the archaeological world for centuries.

Did it ever exist, or was it always a myth designed to be a cautionary tale for emerging empires? If it was real, where was it located and what caused its sudden demise?

We will never have a definitive answer to these questions, but we can get very close to them.

All that we know of the lost city has come from just a couple pages from a book by ancient Greek philosopher, Plato. That’s it.

In Timaeus, written in 360 BC, Plato relays a story he heard from an Ancient Greek lawyer Solon who had travelled to Egypt.

“This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles,” he writes.

“The island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands. Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent.

“She was pre-eminent in courage and military skill, and was the leader of the Hellenes.

“Afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way.”

Although many theories exist of where the fabled Atlantis once existed, none have come as close as the theory that it was situated in Greece.

Plato was Greek himself and knew the land quite well. He used metaphors in his works, and Atlantis could have been a cautionary tale to the Athenians who were becoming more and more egotistical about their empire.

The catastrophe that destroyed the Atlantians has for a long time believed to have come from the Santorini volcano eruption. The mega eruption blew away a land mass that transformed the island into the half moon shape we see today. It also caused widespread tsunamis and global climate change that affected people for at least the next couple of years.

The eruption 3500-years-ago has been categorised as one of the most destructive and powerful eruptions of all time, showing that anything in its wake would have suffered dearly.

Dr Dora Constantinidis has been studying the affects of the eruption, specifically in the ancient town of Akrotiri on the island.

The remains are some of the best preserved examples of Bronze Age Greece, and show what daily life was like for this very rich island state.
That time fits into the chronology of Atlantis if we are to consider there was a bit of exaggeration says Dr Constantinidis.

“The ancient Egyptians apparently told Solon it was 9000 years ago,” she tells Neos Kosmos.

“There has been recent debate as to whether that 9000 is accurate or it was misrepresented. It was more likely to have been 900 years which would have made it about the time of the destruction of Santorini.”

There are points in the story that seem like Plato or Solon might have over-exaggerated, including the size of the island (being the size of a continent would have been a stretch if it was destroyed in a day) and the timeline could not have followed 9000 years accurately through word of mouth.

Whether or not there was truth to the story, Dr Constantinidis can’t help but make parallels with the archaeological site of Akrotiri.

“For it to have made such an impression, and it’s captured our imagination for thousands of years, you’d like to think that [it was real],” she says.

“The more you look at the remains at Akrotiri, there are so many elements of the story that you can see in the wall paintings.”

Dr Constantinidis completed her doctorate at Athens University under the tutelage of Professor Christos Doumas, the head of Bronze Age excavations in Greece.

During that time, Dr Constantinidis studied the remains at Akrotiri up close, and found stark similarities with Plato’s description of Atlantis and the Akrotirians.

Their wealth is shown in beautiful wall paintings that have been left almost intact since the eruption.

“The ‘Saffron Gatherers’ is the most famous one,” she describes.

“Two women picking saffron in the fields, and when you see their dresses, you say “wow, if this is what they wore for working clothes, imagine what their glamour wear must have been like?”.

“Really beautiful flounce skirts, beautiful colours, beautiful well designed clothes and jewellery. Most of the women are really elaborately dressed where as most of the depictions of men on the wall paintings were quite scantily clad, they weren’t really wearing a lot except for shepherd’s cloaks and military gear in some cases.

“For the people living there, they lost everything with the eruption.”

More wall paintings have been discovered in broken pieces, but currently lay dormant in the site at Akrotiri without the funds needed to piece them back together.

As the economic crisis rears its head in all industries, many major archaeological sites have seen funds dry up.

As a way to help the site get continual funds outside of government grants, the archaeological team, led by Professor Doumas, has created souvenir pieces and booklets inspired by the wall paintings to sell at the museum and around the world, to ensure that funds never dry out.

Dr Constantinidis will be giving the lecture, ‘Unravelling the Atlantis Myth at Akrotiri’ on May 29 at 7:00 pm at the Ithacan Philanthropic Society in Melbourne, and will be asking for expressions of interest from Greek Australian businesses wanting to sell the Bronze Age inspired merchandise.