Santorini: Volcano, Natural History, Mythology

By Walter L. Friedrich; Alexander R. McBirney | Go to book overview

Excavations at Balos in 1870 by
Gorceix and Mamet

Fouqué, F. Santorin et ses eruptions 1879, Paris: pages 118-119.

The most interesting and fruitful excavations carried out by Messrs. Gorceix and Mamet are at the edge of the cliff northwest of the village of Akrotiri. For a period of about fifteen years, pumice was mined in the area above the small harbor of Balos. At this place the cliff is quite steep and one must descend along a crude trail to the place where several workmen mining the pumice uncovered a small platform. The workers pointed out to Messrs. Gorceix and Mamet an area in the pumice where they found a mortar made of lava, together with its pestle. Diggings were undertaken immediately. Thanks to the conditions that made it possible to throw almost all the excavated material over the cliff, the thickness of the pumice posed little problem, and from the first day they began to uncover the tops of walls belonging to buildings constructed on the lava bed. The pumice cover was 22 meters thick, and in its upper part was made up almost entirely of angular blocks. At lower levels it was a pure, very compact pozzolana. This thick layer of pumice was responsible for the perfect preservation of the houses which, in some cases, lacked only their roof. The geologic section of the cliff in these two places was very similar; the bed of pumice makes up the uppermost part; below that come the lava flows of various thicknesses up to 16 meters, then various beds of ash, pumice, lapilli, and other volcanic products extending almost to sea level for a total thickness of 62 meters.

The walls, 45 to 50 centimeters thick, were built with rough stone and small amounts of mortar; the interior was covered with rough plaster that still has traces of a yellowish finish. Each of the two main rooms, A and B, is almost a square, 4 meters on a side. The ground is covered with a layer several tens of centimeters thick and consisting of black, decomposed organic material in which bits of straw and large numbers of pieces of wood are still recognizable. Much pottery, almost all of it in good condition, and many pieces of obsidian were found in the detritus. In the two corners opposite the door of room A, two enormous jars, each with a capacity of more than 100 liters, had been set into the wall. One was filled with chopped straw, the other with barley; everything else was completely carbonized.

In room B, the number of these jars was even greater. Three, which were smaller but fixed to the wall like those just mentioned, were filled with barley, lentils, and a kind of pea called arakas that is still cultivated on the island. These three jars had covers of clay, hollowed out, and pierced at the bottom. In one, the excavators thought they recognized a piece of rope passing through the hole in the bottom where it was held in the middle with a knot. The cord was used to lift the covered with a green in layer of copper carbonate, but despite this oxidation and the poor condition.of of the teeth, one can still make deep cuts into pine or poplar.

According to those who excavated the ruins, it is impossible to believe as that this saw was not contemporaneous with the houses. The thick layer of nd pumice that covered the ground had not been disturbed by the quarrying of re pozzolana. The soil layer, like that of other parts of the cliff, was composed of of successive beds of pumice or pozzolana in regular, horizontal layers and no ny mixture of foreign material. The possibility that it was carried to its position by slumping can safely be ruled out. in The farther one penetrates into the cliff the thicker the pumice layer becomes, but behind the wall marked X, the lava drops away sharply, so that this wall serves both to enclose the courtyard and to separate it from the precipice. Small galleries dug under the tuff led to no discoveries, and it was necessary to give up fur

-288-

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