Island Notebook

On this page we will be posting from time to time new information or news about the Islands – the sort of information with which we would ideally like to update the books when they are being prepared for a subsequent edition.

Lesbos - openings, closures and improvements.

The Tériade Collection in Vareiá has closed for renovation and extension work for what will probably be two years. For information about re-opening, telephone 22510 23372. At Eresos a small, new archaeological museum is opening beside the remains of the Early Christian basilica of St Andrew of Crete, close to the shore below the remains of Ancient Eresos. Finds from the area will be displayed in the small school-building just to the south of the basilica remains.

The most interesting developments on Lesbos are at the Excavations of Bronze Age Thermi. This important site, which is comparable in age to Poliochni on Lemnos and Troy on the Turkish mainland, has been re-explored in recent years following its finding by Winifred Lamb in 1929. Even to the non-specialist eye, it is clear that the foundations exposed by the excavations delineate dwellings that were spacious for their time, and reveal a remarkable degree of organisation in the evolution of the inhabited area. The site is clearly introduced both in a pamphlet produced by the Ephoreia, and in the explanatory material on site. A very attractive and innovative aspect of the site has been the careful planting of indigenous plants and trees (many of which - such as pomegranate, juniper and olive - were present at Thermi in the Bronze Age). The area has been admirably conceived by the archaeologists as an ecological whole: non-chemical and non-invasive methods of weed-control and earth-consolidation have been used, and the result will be an ever increasing aesthetic pleasure for the visitor.

While visiting Thermi, the Hotel Votsala, right on the shore at Pigi Thermis, is a delightful, unpretentious and welcoming place to stay.


Corrections to the dating of the Bronze Age eruption of Thera:

I am grateful to both Drs. Michael Metcalfe and Malcolm Wiener for drawing my attention to the shortcomings of my account of the dating of the Minoan-period eruption of Thera. I had simply failed to bring myself up to date on the complex and heated debate of recent years on this subject in the academic world. Malcolm Wiener, a widely published, world-authority on this subject, kindly but firmly pointed out the errors of my reading of the situation after a lecture given by me at the Getty Villa in Malibu in January this year.

Since the Santorini volume has now almost completely sold out, we are currently preparing a new printing of it which includes some major corrections. The summary of these issues regarding the dating of the 17th or 16th century bc eruption of Thera now reads as follows:

Dating the eruption. The historically significant effects of the eruption of Thera on the island of Crete, and on Minoan and Eastern Mediterranean civilisation in general, make it vitally important to understand precisely when the eruption of Santorini occurred. It is one of the most valuable fixed points of Eastern Mediterranean chronology. It was, after all, a hypothesis that the cataclysm was directly responsible for the evidence of destruction in Crete in the Late Bronze Age that spurred Spyridon Marinatos to excavate at Akrotiri in the first place, and to make the discoveries he did. He surmised, and produced good evidence from pottery-styles in support of his theory, that the eruption occurred around 1500 BC, that it profoundly ruptured and hobbled the Palace Culture of Crete and opened a breach into which pushed the ever opportunistic Mycenaeans from mainland Greece. One scholar, Hans Goedicke, sought to bring the date further forward to 1477 BC: his desire was to make it coincide with the date required by a pharaonic inscription of the reign of Thutmose III which appears to describe the events of the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites (known to us best from Exodus 14, vv. 15-31) from the Egyptian point of view. In this way, he suggested, we can explain the extraordinary phenomenon of the sea withdrawing and then returning to crush the Egyptian forces as a consequence of tidal displacements and tsumani caused by the eruption of Santorini.

New physical research at the end of the last century called for a radical adjustment to these estimates, however. The dust propelled into the stratosphere in an eruption of such magnitude causes a period of global cooling, with a parallel reduction in the growth of trees. Dendrochronologists have noted both narrow growth rings among oaks preserved in the bogs of Ireland and in fossilised bristle-cone pines in California for the period corresponding to the decade following 1628 BC. This date initially appeared to be corroborated by examination of signs of increased acidity and the presence of minute shards of volcanic glass in the Greenland ice-sheet, which Danish geologists dated to c. 1645 bc, ± 20 years: it now seems, however, that this anomaly may in fact be the effect of another volcanic explosion in Alaska. Most recently, radio-carbon dating of seeds and wood found in the ash on Santorini itself, would seem to allow for a date of no later than 1600 BC. The fact that the storage jars for grain at Akrotiri are usually found almost empty when excavated, suggests that the eruption may have taken place shortly before the time of the island’s early harvest in June. Physical analysis therefore argued that the eruption occurred somewhere around 1625 BC, and that, although its effect on Crete and the other neighbouring islands must have been momentarily devastating, it could not sensibly be considered more than the first event in a domino chain of consequences over the next two centuries which may have led to the ultimate demise of Minoan civilisation.

These results are in direct contradistinction to the no less scientific or coherent findings of archaeology. Egyptian artefacts found in the Aegean and Aegean artefacts found in Egypt occur in the same sequence, permitting a clear correlation between stylistic phases and Egyptian historical chronology. Such meticulous stratifigraphic evidence of ceramic deposits from across the Eastern Mediterranean, and cross reference of the dating of the artefacts traded between Crete and Egypt, combined with inscriptions and depictions from the early years of the regency of Queen Hatshepsut in the reign of her nephew Thutmose III, point to a date around 1500 BC or even later: but they cannot be interpreted to align with the date in the 17th century BC provided by the physicists.

The debate is far from resolved: no acceptable resolution is even in sight. Doubts have been expressed regarding anomalies in the calibration of radiocarbon dating for this particular period: while, on the other hand, an absolute chronology for Egypt in this period is also not fully agreed upon. The biggest problem remains that, even allowing for recalibration on the physics side, as well as for the closest (‘high’) chronology for Egyptian history on the other side, the gap still cannot be closed.

Those who wish to dig more deeply into this complex debate should turn to the Acts of the Minoan Eruption Chronology Workshop in Sandjberg, Denmark, in November 2007, published by the Danish Institute in Athens in 2009 as Time’s Up! Dating the Minoan Eruption of Santorini. For the moment, at least – because the archaeological evidence appears so compelling in this case, whilst the source of the anomalies observed by physicists is less clear – this book will follow, not without reservation, the later, ‘archaeological’ date, i.e. c. 1500 BC for the eruption of Thera.


Nea Moni and Churches on Chios:

Visitors to Chios will be glad to know that the cleaning and restoration work which has necessitated the closure and the shrouding in scaffolding of what is perhaps the Aegean's greatest Byzantine monument, Nea Moni, has now finished. This luminous and highly idiosyncratic church is now visitable once again. It certainly makes a very different impression as a building, for better or for worse, from its former time-worn, time-darkened appearance: but undoubtedly the paintings, marbles and mosaics are now dramatically more readable. Excavations of the foundations of the pre-existing monastic building continue to the east of the catholicon, and a walkway permits the visitor to view these (see MGI vol. 14, pp 54-67).

The beautiful 12th century church of the Panaghia Krina, near Vavili, is also now emerging from a chrysalis of scaffolding at the end of a successful campaign of conservation (see MGI vol. 14, pp 51-52).


Two wonderful tavernas, RIP:

The speed with which eating places come and go, especially in the new straitened economic circumstances in Greece, has meant the disappearance of some old favourites. At Embros Thermi on the southeast coast of Kos, 'Thermá', the only taverna on the small beach beside the hot springs, has closed. Giannis, the proprietor spoke darkly of 'problems with the municipality'. He has moved to Kalymnos and opened a taverna there. For lovers of rembetiko music, the closure of the Eikosipenderaki just off the main square in Syros is a sadness. If you know of places that are particularly good for music - or, of course, for food - please let us know. It would be a pleasure to learn of them, and to pass the recommendation on.


Archaeological Collections in the Aegean:

2010 has seen, in spite of the economic turmoil of Greece, a number of long-awaited projects by the Greek Ministry for Antiquities finally come to fruition. Several impressive and beautifully displayed museums have opened in the Islands recently. Those that were already open in time for the writing of these guides were:

- Archaeological Museum of Thasos (see MGI vol 11, pp. 34-40).

- Archaeological Museum of Karpathos (see MGI vol 16, pp. 93-95).

- Archaeological Museum of Kasos (see MGI vol 16, pp. 150-1).

- Museum of Marble Crafts, at Pyrgos on Tinos (see MGI vol 18, pp. 94-95).

Although a couple of the above are small collections, the standard of didactic material and the presentation of the artefacts is thoroughly admirable in them all.

Still waiting to open are the Archaeological Museums of Kalymnos and Nisyros. The former should eventually display the strikingly beautiful Hellenistic bronze head of a ‘king’ wearing a hat or crown which was found complete with original glass-paste eyes in the waters off the island in 2003 by a fisherman. The Nisyros Museum should eventually house the 3rd century ad, grave stelai carved with figures in a ‘naïf’ style peculiar to Nisyros, and which are currently displayed in the Museum in Rhodes (see MGI vol 6, p 74). As soon as we have information about the opening of these collections we will post it here.

However, on Nisyros, shortly before we went to press, the Nisyros Volcanological [sic] Museum opened its doors in the plateia at the entrance to the village of Nikia. This is principally a didactic museum with a wide variety of geological specimens and a lot of explanatory material. Information and some idea of the museum can be obtained here.




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Conservation & hiking

- Sporades National Marine (Conservation) Park

- Tilos (Nature Conservation) Park

- Walking in the Cyclades


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