Early in the Late Bronze Age, the volcano at the center of the island of Santorini (or Thera) erupted on a scale which may have had no parallel among eruptions over the past four or five millennia by volcanoes located in or near densely populated areas of the globe. The caldera (or crater) created by this eruption of the Theran volcano is said to have measured as much as 83 square kilometers in area. It presently extends down as much as 480 meters below sea level inside of the wall of cliffs which ring it and which themselves rise up as much as 300 meters above sea level.
There has been an impressive amount of debate during the last twenty-five years in particular over the nature and sequence of the cataclysmic phenomena which led up to and resulted from this enormously impressive volcanic eruption, debate in which both vulcanologists and archaeologists have played leading roles. The impact of the eruption on the cultural history both of the smaller Aegean and of the larger eastern Mediterranean worlds has also been extensively discussed, principally by scholars from the same two disciplines. The reconstruction which follows is that most widely shared as of 1986, a little less than fifty years since Spyridon Marinatos published his landmark article postulating a connection between the Theran eruption and the collapse of Minoan palatial civilization. This theory ultimately led Marinatos in the late 1960's and early 1970's to begin excavation at the site of Akrotiri on the southern tip of Thera, a site which has turned out to be a prehistoric Aegean version of the better known sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum buried in 79 A.D. by the eruption of Vesuvius in the Bay of Naples. Since Marinatos' death in the mid-1970's, the director of the program of excavation, restoration, and publication at Akrotiri has been Christos Doumas.