Tourists who walk over the black lava fields of the Georgios volcano on Nea Kameni in the scorching summer heat have only the weak emissions of hot steam in the crater to remind them that the volcano is still alive, but it could return to life at any time. Earth scientists have already observed changes in the underground of Nea Kameni that might lead to a forthcoming eruption, but an eruption as violent as the Minoan will certainly not occur in the near future.
Jules Verne, in his famous science fiction book, 20 000 Leagues under the Sea, described how the submarine vessel Nautilus surfaced in the hot water around Santorini volcano. Captain Nemo, and his crew were astonished to see the spectacular 1866 eruption of Georgios volcano on Nea Kameni. Even today one can explore the inner part of the main volcano of Santorini very much in the same way as Captain Nemo did by sailing into the bay and admiring the multi-colored inner walls of the gigantic volcanic caldron where an extraordinary part of the earth’s history is revealed. It is not just earth scientists who are irresistibly drawn to this volcanic island; it holds an equal fascination for archeologists as well. Beneath the thick shroud of white pumice that mantles the rim and most of the outer slopes of the volcano lie the remains of an advanced culture– a bronze age Pompeii that, after more than 3600 years, is still being uncovered in the excavations at Akrotiri. This ‘Fantastic Island’ will enchant anyone who appreciates the natural world and the history of early civilizations. If it were up to me, I would reintroduce the name the island had in antiquity: Calliste–the most beautiful.
“You must write this book”, said the volcanologist Maurice Krafft in 1989 during his visit to Santorini, when I showed him and his wife Katja our latest discoveries and told them about my projected book. Sadly, they never saw the final result because they were both killed a short time later in an eruption of Unzen volcano.
Fourteen years have passed since the first German edition of ‘Feuer im Meer’ was published. In this interval, many discoveries have been made and a great number of publications about the island have appeared. When I realized that so much had changed, it became necessary for me to find a new title for the book-project.
In 1975, when I visited Santorini for the first time, the island looked different–at least in the tourist guide-books. At that time, one could read that prior to the Minoan eruption Santorini had a 1600 meter high mountain in its centre and that this catastrophic eruption took place around 1500 BC. But since then things have changed a lot. Today it is generally accepted that a water-filled caldera existed about 10 000 years before the Minoan eruption, and that the people who lived at that time have showed us in the ships fresco from the Akrotiri excavation what their island looked like: There were two harbors in the caldera and there were houses on the central island. The Bronze Age Santorini was similar to the one we see today. This new interpretation has also been supported by geological observations.
The date of the Minoan eruption has also changed: we now have the most direct and precise radiocarbon dates, that were based on the lucky find of two olive trees, which were buried alive, in upright position, by the eruption. The dates show us that the Minoan eruption occurred about 100 years earlier than people thought three decades ago.