I recently visited the Greek island of Santorini. The island is best known as a sunny destination for jet-setting holiday makers who lounge in idyllic hotel rooms perched on the sides of steep and majestic cliffs. But historians, geologists and archaeologists know Santorini as the site of one of the most horrible disasters in human history.
In 1967, archaeologists began excavating a site on the island, a small town called Akrotiri which had been buried in volcanic ash long ago. The site revealed an advanced Minoan civilization that had flourished on the island between 3,000 BC and around 1600 BC.
Scientists found frescoes showing life on Santorini - happy people lounging in the bay on shaded pleasure boats, fisherman, boxers and, most famously, barefoot maidens gathering saffron in the fields. Homes in the town uncovered had, incredibly, hot and cold running water, indoor bathrooms and frescoes showing a magnificent city on the island, now lost.
Santorini, it appears, was a kind of paradise, until something utterly catastrophic happened. The island was shaped at that time like the letter "C," with a little island in the middle. That little island was formed by a "hole" in the Earth's crust, which served as something of a relief valve for the tectonic pressures that build up between the African and Eurasian plates.
Sometime around 1600 BC, a very strong earthquake rocked the island, wrecking homes. Then the volcano blew rocks the size of cars into the air, some of which came crashing down on the island's towns and villages. Most or all of the survivors, at least in Akrotiri, fled in boats.
After they left, the volcano erupted in one of the most catastrophic events of the past 5,000 years. The eruptions, and the toxic layers of ash that fell, dozens of meters deep, killed all life on the island. Silt and ash unloaded into the atmosphere, creating a global "nuclear winter," which caused massive crop failure and famine as far away as China. Scientists can still see the effects of the eruptions in polar ice cores and 4,000 year-old bristle cone pine trees in California.
The residents probably headed for either Crete, the other major Minoan island, or Egypt, with which the Santorinians had extensive ties. Regardless, they probably didn't make it. Tidal waves and earthquakes wiped out most of the buildings on nearby Crete, and destroyed most or all of the boats there, ushering in the beginning of the end of the Minoan civilization. Any boats in the water would have been washed away by tidal waves. Santorini was destroyed and forgotten for 3,600 years. Crete quickly slipped into a permanent dark age. The great Minoan civilization was gone forever.
Which reminds me of mobile phone advertising.
Coming to a phone near you
Life is good in the mobile phone universe, with plentiful choice, data access getting faster and cheaper, and great new technologies like GPS and better cameras being built in all the time.
Unfortunately, the "paradise" of using a mobile phone may soon be destroyed by a tidal wave of advertising. You may be shocked by what the advertising, handset, search, software and other industries are planning for your phone.