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The Impact of Geologic Events on History and Legend
with Special Reference to Atlantis*
Several years ago, while I was looking something up in the dictionary, my
eye chanced to light on a word that was so completely unfamiliar that I
paused to read its definition. The word was "euhemerism," and this is
what it said: "[ ... Euhemerus ... a Sicilian philosopher, about 300 B.C.].
The theory, held by Euhemerus, that the gods of mythology were but
deified mortals; hence, interpretation of myths as traditional accounts of
historical personages and events. "1
Normally I would have forgotten it immediately, but this word went
straight into my memory bank because it chanced that I had just read two
perfect examples of euhemerism. Moreover, while the two were absolutely
different in character (one being a work of fiction and the other a scientific
paper), they nevertheless, like two intersecting circles, had two points in
common; and both those points were geologic events.
The term "geomythoJogy" is my own, so I can define it to suit myself.
I consider it to be the geologic application of euhemerism. The geomytho-
logist seeks to find the real geologic event underlying a myth or legend to
which it has given rise; thus he helps convert mythology back into history.
Involving earth science, history, archeology, and mythology and folklore,
it is as interdisciplinary a subject as one could hope to find.
Geologic events that took place long before man appeared on the scene
may profoundly affect human history. The distribution of natural
resources, for instance, which makes some nations "haves" and others
This is the slightly revised text of a lecture given to the Geology Colloquium at
Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, on May 8, 1967.
1 Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth ed. (Springfield, Mass., 1946), p. 344.
"have-nots," is governed by events that have been occurring since the
earth began. There is a bona fide branch of geography - geopolitics -
which concerns itself with such matters. These ancient geologic events
also may engender myths, but only in an inverse way. People have always
tended to make up stories to account for striking landforms. One example
from classical mythology is the Cyclops r slands off the east coast of
Sicily (Fig. 1), which arc supposed to be the rocks that the one-eyed giant
hurled at Ulysses and his crew after they had blinded him and escaped
from his cave. There must bc thousands upon thousands of examples of
such tales - the Paul Bunyan legends are full of them -- but if there is
any resemblance between the legend and the actual geologic event or
process which shaped the landform with which that Icgend is associated,
it is purely coincidental; we might call them "ex post facto geomyths,"
and they do not properly come under geomythology as defined.
Then there are geologic events which have taken place during man's
time on earth, but so slowly that thc.ir effects are perceptible only over
years or generations - climatic changes, or the silting up of harbors, for
example. These may affect human history, perhaps quite significantly, but
they are hardly dramatic enough to give rise to picturesque legends. I
cannot think of any examples, though, as will be shown below, there was
an attempt to relate the Phaethon myth to climatic changes as early as
Solon's time.
It is the sudden - especially the catastrophic - geologic events such
as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and floods that make the most pro-
found impression on those who live through them. EspeciaHy if they are
primitive and superstitious people, it is not surprising that as the accounts
of their experiences are passed down through the years the tales eventually
emerge as supernatural stories in which the original incident might be as
deeply hidden as the grain of sand that started the growth of a pearl.
A very ordinary sort of volcanic eruption is said to have influenced a
crucial decision in the history of a small country. Iceland is one of the
most active volcanic areas in the world, and the whole island is essentially
a pile of lavas. The first settlers, who came about A.D. 874, could not fail
to notice the striking difference in appearance between the older Tertiary
lavas and the fresh post-glacial lavas. Though a modern geologist would
have no difficulty recognizing the older lavas (Fig. 2) as such, let us not
, Plato, The Timaeus and the Critias, or At/anticus, trans. Thomas Taylor (New York,
1944), pp. 100-101.
forget that when geology was still a very young science, a great controversy
raged over the origin of this type of rock. The "neptunists" claimed they
were marine sediments, while the "plutonists" insisted they were of
igneous origin, and it was not until the invention of the petrographic
microscope that the question was settled decisively in favor of the pluto-
nists. The young lavas (Fig. 3), on the other hand, are unmistakably the
products of volcanism, and if the settlers did not already know how such
rocks formed, it could not have been long before they found out. They
have a special word in Icelandic to designate the recent flows, hraun.
In A.D. 930 the Icelanders established the Althing, the oldest democratic
parliament in the world. It met every summer at Thingvellir, where a
natural volcanic cleft, the Almannagya, provided excellent acoustics for a
speaker standing on the Law Rock (Fig. 4). In the year 1000 the main
item on the agenda of the Althing was the question whether the country
should officially adopt Christianity or remain with the old Norse gods.
Skillful arguments were presented on both sides, and no decision could be
reached. It looked like a hopeless deadlock until word came that one
of the volcanoes in East Iceland had started to erupt. The spokesman for
the old gods seized the opportunity to remark that this was a sign the gods
were angry, and if the new religion was adopted there would be more of
this sort of thing. Whereupon the spokesman for Christianity pointed to
the vast hraun which formed the floor of the valley before them (Fig. 5)
and said, "Yes, but which gods did we honor when all that was sent?" -
and the vote went for Christianity.
If a common or garden variety of eruption, which may not have harmed
anybody (East Iceland is still very sparsely populated), could affect a
country's history, just imagine the impact if eruption, earthquake, and
flood were combined in a single event, and in the heart of the civilized
world! Such an event did occur about three thousand years ago in the
Aegean Sea, with consequences both historical and mythological which
are just beginning to be appreciated. My two examples of euhemerism are
concerned with that event.
The first work, the fictional one, is Mary Renault's magnificent retelling
of the tale of Theseus. Tn two novels, The King Must Die and The Bull
from the Sea,3 she tells his story in terms of events that actually could have
Mary Renault, The King Must Die (New York, 1959) and The Bull from the Sea
(New York, 1962).
happened. The other was a paper by the Greek seismologist Angelos G.
Galanopoulos, entitled "Tsunamis
Observed on the Coasts of Greece
from Antiquity to Present Time. ".'
Professor Galanopoulos' paper catalogued tsunamis that had affected
Greek shores since olden times and was compiled with the aid of his-
torical records. One of the points of contact between his work and the
novels concerns the death of Theseus' son Hippolytos. In the myth,
Hippolytos is killed by a bull from the sea which comes in on the crest of
a huge wave. In the novel, Hippolytos is driving his chariot along a
coast road when a tsunami strikes, and he is overwhelmed together with
his horses and chariot and a bull from a nearby pen, and fatally injured by
the struggling and frenzied animals.
Professor Galanopoulos noted that Greece had suffered surprisingly
few destructive tsunamis, considering how seismic the region is. But there
had been one notably devastating one connected with the eruption of
Santorin (or Santorini) volcano. Ash from that event has been dated by
the radiocarbon method to 1400 and 1500 B.C.' (As the latter is a good
round figure, I will use it henceforth.) The Santorin eruption is the second
point of contact between the novels and the scientific paper.
According to the myth, Theseus goes to Crete as one of the seven
youths and seven maidens demanded annually as tribute to the more
powerful king Minos. These youths and maidens were to be sacrificed to
the Minotaur, a bull-headed monster kept by Minos in his labyrinth at
Knossos. With the aid of the king's daughter Ariadne, Theseus slays the
Minotaur, finds his way out of the labyrinth, and escapes from Crete with
Ariadne and his companions.
In the novel, the youths and maidens are sent to Crete as tribute, not to
"Tsunami" is a Japanese word used internationally as a scientific term for what we
otherwise call a seismic sea wave, popularly but quite erroneously known as a tidal
wave. Tsunamis are generated by earthquakes that affect the sea bottom, and have
nothing whatever to do with tides. They can travel thousands of miles across the ocean,
and if there is nothing to dissipate their energy on the way they may cause fearful
destruction when they pile up on a coast. The Alaskan earthquake of 1964 produced a
tsunami which did extensive damage on the California coast and proved fatal to a
number of people who heard the warning and went to the shore to watch the big wave
come in.
S Angelos G. Galanopoulos, "Tsunamis Observed on the Coasts of Greece from
Antiquity to Present Time," Annafi di Geofisica, XIII, 3-4 (1960), 396-386.
Mary Renault, The Bull from the Sea, pp. 304-306.
? Angelos G. Galanopoulos, "Zur Bestimmung der Alters der Santorin-Kaldera,"
Annales Geologiques des Pays HelUniques, IX (1958), 185-186.
be sacrificed to a monster, but to be trained in the highly dangerous sport
of bull-leaping, or bull-dancing, which we know from archeological
discoveries was the popular spectator sport of Minoan Crete. Theseus
and his companions escape from the palace at Knossos when it is de-
stroyed in an earthquake. When they get down to the port, Amnisos, they
find that the harbor has been smashed by a huge wave, but they manage to
find a ship still seaworthy among those thrown up on the shore, launch it,
and set sail for Athens. On the way home they pass the island of Kalliste
(Kalliste, or Kallisti, is one of the old names for Santorin) and find half
of it blown away. They learn that the eruption and the earthquake were
simultaneous. Further, it is brought out that in the confusion following
the earthquake, rebellious elements in Crete were able to seize control,
completing the destruction of Minoan power.s
Miss Renault's novels are very carefully researched, and in linking the
downfall of Crete with the Santorin explosion she is evidently following
a theory proposed by the Greek archeologist Spyridon Marinatos.
very abrupt disappearance of Minoan civilization (Fig. 6) and the equally
abrupt rise of the Mycenaean, which was the first Greek civilization to
have a written history, has long been an archeological mystery. None of
the usual explanations for the decline and fall of a great power has seemed
quite adequate. Marinatos stressed that it was not a coincidence that
Minoan power ended just at the time of the Santorin explosion. The
accompanying earthquake (or perhaps a series of preceding earthquakes)
destroyed the palaces at a number of cities, and the accompanying
tsunami wrecked the fleet and harbor installations on which their sea
power was based. More recently, Ninkovich and Heezen have pointed
out an even more plausible geological relationship between the end of the
Minoan period and the eruption of Santorin, by tracing the blanket of ash
which covered a large part of the area (Fig. 7) and undoubtedly rendered
the land uninhabitable, or at least inhospitable, for some time.lO
It is doubtful that anyone on Santorin itself could have survived the
explosion, but refugees from other parts of the area affected would have
8 Mary Renault, The King Must Die, pp. 293-314.
Spyridon Marinatos, "The Volcanic Destruction of Minoan Crete," Antiquity, XIII
10 Dragoslav Ninkovich and Bruce C. Heezen, "Santorini Tephra," Colston Papers,
xvn (1965), 413-452. The present paper is based to a large extent upon this work,
which includes comprehensive information on all aspects of the Santorin explosion and
its consequences published up to 1965.
had a choice of moving to the mountainous eastern part of Crete or
emigrating to other lands. The rise of Mycenaean civilization (Fig. 6) is
attributed by Marinatos to the influence of Cretan refugees who intro-
duced their culture, including the art of writing. It has also been suggested
that some settled in Egypt and others in Palestine (where they were called
the Philistines), and that the Minoans and Phoenicians may have been one
and the same people. If Minoan civilization was destroyed by volcanism,
and if Linear B script spread from Crete to Mycenae rather than vice
versa, the Minoans may have been a Semitic people who were dominant
on the southern and eastern Mediterranean coasts as well as in the
islandsY The recent decipherment of Linear A script of Crete as a
Semitic language tends to lend support to this idea.
By far the most interesting part of Galanopoulos' paper was a section
provocatively entitled "The Origin of the Deluge of Deukalion and the
Myth of Atlantis,"I" which gave the substance of a paper he had read at
the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics in 1960. In this
section he linked the Greek deluge story to the Santorin explosion, and
also made the startling proposal that Atlantis was really the island of
Stronghyli, as Santorin was known before the eruption of 1500 B.C.
The Deluge of Deukalion is a very familiar story with a new cast of
characters, and it appears in different versions in many Greek records.
The essential story is that Zeus became angered at the human race because
of their wickedness, and sent a flood to destroy the world. Warned by his
father Prometheus, Deukalion, king of Thessaly and ancestor of the
Hellenes, built a vessel in which he and h is wife Pyrrha rode out the flood,
coming to rest nine days later on Mount Parnassus. They re-populated
the world by following Zeus' command to cast over their shoulders "the
bones of the earth" (rocks), which turned into people. This story has been
dated fairly accurately, as such things go. There was a king named
Deukalion (though some think that the word was a title borne by more
than one king, rather than a personal name), and the flood with which
that name is associated occurred about 1500 B.c.
11 J. W. Mavor, Jr., "A Mighty Bronze Age Volcanic Explosion," Oceanus, XII, 3
(1966), 14-23.
" Cyrus H. Gordon, "The Decipherment of Minoan," Natural History, LXXiI, 9
18 Also published separately: Angelos G. Galanopoulos, "The Origin of the Deluge
of Deukalion and the Myth of Atlantis," Athens Archaiologike Hegaireia, III (1960),
The Noah story is older, but it is by no means the oldest version. It
in turn is derived from the flood of Utnapishtim in the Gilgamesh epic
of Mesopotamia. The idea of a universal flood is so widespread and
persistent that some have sought to find an explanation in some cosmic
catastrophe that affected all or a large part of the world at the same time.
Thus we have the wildly improbable Worlds in Collision of VelikovskyI4
and the somewhat more plausible (at least so far as mechanism is con-
cerned) giant meteorite impact invoked by Kelly and Dachille.
poulos suggests, and I think more reasonably, that memorable floods have
affected different lands at different times, just as today, but many floods
fit more or less the same general description and people's experiences tend
to be the same.
" Thus an older story of someone else's flood becomes
attached to one within their own experience, with appropriate modifica-
The tsunami resulting from the Santorin explosion must have affected
all the Mediterranean coastsY The exact degree to which a particular
part of the coast would have felt its effects would depend on its location
with respect to Santorin, what lay between, and the exact local configura-
tion of the shore. The north coast of Crete, less than one hundred miles
from Santorin with no islands in between, must have suffered its full force.
Heavy rains, a natural result when huge quantities of ash are injected into
the atmosphere, could account for flooding of inland areas.
As for Atlantis, surely no other legend has intrigued so many, or
spawned such a wealth of literature, ranging from out-and-out fantasy
to respectable speculations as to its reality and location and the reason
for its destruction. A bibliography compiled in 1920 had 1,700 entries. IS
At the same time there is probably no other legend with a more limited
source. Except for a couple of uncertain references in Herodotus and
Homer,I9 all that is known about Atlantis comes from two of Plato's
dialogues, the Timaeus and the Crilias. Some have dismissed Atlantis as
" Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (New York, 1950).
" Allan O. Kelly and Frank Dachi\1e, Target: Earth (Pensacola, Florida, 1953),
pp. 239-253.
" Angelos G. Galanopoulos, "Die Deukalionische Flul aus geologischer Siehl," Das
Altertum, IX, I (1963), 37.
17 In addition, the aerial vibrations and sound generated by the explosion would have
been fell at least as far away as Gibraltar, Scandinavia, tbe Arabian Sea, and central
Africa. (Ninkovich and Heezen, p. 440.)
18 J. G. Bennett, "Geopbysics and Human History," Systematics, I (1963), [n., 130.
19 Bennett, p. 130.
a tale Plato made up to illustrate a point, but most agree that he told it as
he heard it and believed it to be the truth. He learned about it from
Critias, who in turn had heard it from his grandfather (also named Critias),
who had known the great Athenian lawgiver Solon who lived about two
hundred years before Plato. In his youth Solon had visited Egypt and had
discussed the story of Deukalion's deluge with priests there. They told
him the Athenians (then a relatively young power) apparently did not
know much about their own ancient history. Didn't he know that there
had been a much greater catastrophe which destroyed a mighty nation
with whom Athens had been involved in a life-and-death struggle? That
nation was a federation of about ten island kingdoms or cities, a great sea
power. Only two of those islands are described in Plato's account.
The description of the one would fit any volcanic caldera,20 such as
Santorin was even before the 1500 B.C. eruption (Fig. 8). The island was
occupied by a city called the Metropolis of Atlantis. It was a round island
- and the pre-explosion name of Santorin, Stronghyli, means "round."
In the central depression there were three concentric harbors connected
with the open sea by a narrow channel, and on the island in the very
center stood a temple of Neptune, or Poseidon, to give the sea god his
Greek name. The city evidently was the center of the religious life of the
nation. The culture described is definitely a Bronze Age culture, like the
The other description is of a part of the main island of Atlantis, said to
be much larger than the island occupied by the Metropolis of Atlantis and
rectangular in shape - as is Crete. The part described is the plain of the
Royal State, and it is strikingly similar to the Neogene basin of central
As long ago as 1909 someone drew attention to the startling
20 A caldera is a volcano which has collapsed into the void left by the eruption of vast
quantities of material. They are commonly associated with pumice eruptions, the most
violently explosive kind. Crater Lake is a perfect example. It was formed about 5,000
years ago. We know that Santorin erupted very violently about 25,000 years ago
because the ash layer from that event has been traced in deep-sea cores and dated by
radiocarbon. (Ninkovich and Heezen, p. 428.) Krakatau in Sunda Strait off Java
blew up in 1883, and it is because that eruption and its consequences are so well docu-
mented that, by comparing the respective calderas, we can draw inferences concerning
the Santorin event of 1500 B.C. with a high degree of confidence. The Santorin caldera
rim at present consists of three islands, the largest of which is Thera. The present
caldera is about four to five times larger than that of Krakatau.
21 Angelos G. Galanopoulos, "On the Location and Size of Atlantis" [in Greek with
English summary and captions], Akademia A/henan Pra/ika, XXXV (1960), 401-418.
See Fig. 7 and summary.
resemblance in a letter to the London Times.
Plato located Atlantis
beyond the Pillars of Hercules, which he identified with the Straits of
Gibraltar. This great kingdom was said to have existed 9,000 years before
Solon's time and to have vanished beneath the sea in a night and a day.
There are several discrepancies in Plato's account. The most glaring
inconsistency is that the Bronze Age began only 5,000 or so years ago;
9,000 years before Solon's time would have been 11,500 years ago, just at
the end of the Ice Age and definitely in the Stone Age so far as culture is
concerned. Then, the dimensions are incredibly large. Galanopoulos
suggested that Solon, or some interpreter or translator, was gUilty of a
translation error and mistook the Egyptian for one hundred to mean one
thousand. When all Plato's figures are divided by ten, not only does the
time come out to be about 1500 s.c., but the Metropolis of Atlantis fits
rather neatly into the Santorin caldera (Fig. 9), and the plain of the Royal
State is exactly the size of the Neogene basin of Crete!
Having an unusually extensive experience with this business of trans-
lation, as user, producer, and editor, I can say that this explanation is
thoroughly convincing to me, particularly as it disposes of two discre-
pancies, in time and in space, at once. Reducing the size of Atlantis by a
factor of ten also makes it more credible that it could have vanished in a
night and a day. There is no internal geologic mechanism that could
cause the abrupt disappearance of a region as large as Plato's Atlantis,
whereas there is no problem at all in the case of a volcanic island the size
of Santorin.
As for location, Galanopoulos suggests 1:hat Plato, who knew his geog-
raphy well, realized that the kingdom described could not possibly fit
into the Mediterranean, so he transferred the Pillars of Hercules from the
Peloponnesus, which was Hercules' sphere of activity,23 to the Straits of
Gibraltar, and Atlantis to the relatively unexplored ocean beyond. As we
learn more and more about the Atlantic Ocean floor, however - and our
knowledge has been increasing by leaps and bounds in the last decade or
so - places once considered possible sites for Atlantis are being eliminated
one by one, while no new possibilities have been discovered. It seems
doubtful that the Athenians would have been engaged in a struggle with a
22 Bennett, p. 131.
23 "There is a great possibility that Hercules' columns were called rather the southern
peninsulas Tainarum and Maleas." Galanopoulos, "On the Origin of the Deluge of
Deukalion and the Myth of Atlantis," p. 132.
nation out in the Atlantic Ocean, whereas the Minoans were their neigh-
bors. Also, the worship of Poseidon is not known to have extended
beyond the Greek sphere of influence, which certainly did not extend far
out into the Atlantic Ocean, if at all. On the other hand, there is as yet
no evidence that the Minoans worshiped Poseidon, although it would
have been logical for a sea power to have honored the sea god above
others. A possible link between Poseidon and the Minoans is the bull
motif, for the bull was the animal sacred to the sea god."4
Galanopoulos claims that traces of the inner harbors of the Metropolis
of Atlantis are still discernible on the floor of the Santorin caldera (Figs.
JO and I I). Some consider it a bit overly optimistic to expect such traces
to have survived not only the collapse, but also the buildup of the
Kameni Islands in the center of the caldera in subsequent eruptions. In
the summer of 1966 the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute's research
vessel Chain made a seismic sparker profile through the caldera and
around the island. According to Mavor, preliminary analysis of the
records has indicated "a radial cross section of the collapsed portion of
the island underwater and a deep filled basin within the caldera which
could have been a pre-eruption waterway. "25
In 1962 J. G. Bennett in England gave a lecture in which he not only
endorsed Galanopoulos' interpretation of the Deluge of Deukalion and
Plato's Atlantis, but also attributed to the Santorin catastrophe the
plagues of Egypt which paved the way for the Exodus."" He drew atten-
tion to the resemblance between the Biblical descriptions of the plagues
and volcanic phenomena observed at the time of the eruptions of Tom-
boro in Java in 1815 and Krakatau in 1883. Biblical scholars do not yet
agree as to the date of the Exodus, but one of the two possibilities is
1500 B.C.
Galanopoulos in turn developed this idea much furtherY It is true that
a tremendous distant explosion could have had effects in Egypt which
directly or indirectly could account for some of the plagues described.
The great clouds of ash thrown into the air during the eruption, which
.. Bennett, p. 132.
" J. W. Mavor, Jr., "Volcanoes and History or 'Atlantis' Revisited," Oceanus, XIII,
I (1966), 14-22.
26 J. G. Bennett, "Geophysics and Human History," Systematics, I (1963), 127-156.
27 Angelos G. Galanopoulos, "Die Agyptischen Plagen und der Auszug Israels aus
geologischer Sieht," Das Alter/um, X, 3 (1964), 131-137.
presumably had gone on for some time before the final paroxysm,28 could
easily have obscured the sun and produced a period or periods of dark-
ness. Heavy rains, mentioned before as a natural concomitant of ash
eruptions, might be accompanied by hail, and might bring out the frogs,29
insects, and other pests. Even more indirectly, the unaccustomed damp-
ness and other effects could conceivably have caused sickness in beasts
and men. Changing water into blood is harder to account for, but
Galanopoulos explains this phenomenon with the suggestion that rains
laden with red ash (and some volcanic ash is red) might accomplish such
an effect. 30 Other affiic1!.tions mentioned in the Bible, however, such
as the selective death of the first-born of the Egyptians, cannot be related
to the eruption by any stretch of the imagination.
The most startling, and to me least convincing, proposal made by
Galanopoulos concerning the Exodus is that the miracle of the parting of
the waters can be explained in terms of the tsunami resulting from the
Santorin explosion. In order to fit this interpretation into the picture, the
locale has to be moved from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean coast. This
shift is accomplished by citing arguments that what the Bible meant by
the Red Sea was really a lagoon called the Sebcha el Bardawil, known in
Herodotus' time as the Sirbonis Lake (Fig. 12), which lay along the road
between Egypt and Asia Minor. Galanopoulos suggests that the Israelites
could have crossed a stretch normally under water during the withdrawal
of the sea that always precedes the arrival of a tsunami, and then the
pursuing Eguptians were overwhelmed by the wave itself. The greatest
difficulty with this idea is the time element. Fifteen to thirty minutes is
the usual duration of the period of retreat of the water. Even if it were
somewhat longer in this case, and even if the Israelites numbered only
about forty families (as Biblical scholars believe), it is hard to imagine how
they could have crossed in the required time, with all their household
goods and livestock, what might very well have been a very muddy stretch
of ground. Krebs has criticized Galanopoulos' arguments connecting
28 "The stratification suggests that the Minoan eruption of Santorini occurred in three
successive phases of ejection of tephra .... " (Ninkovich and Heezen, pp. 437-438.)
29 I have seen frogs appear in the desert, apparently out of nowhere, after a flash
flood in New Mexico. They plagued everyone with their noise for several days, and
then disappeared as soon as the water dried up.
'0 There was a red rain here in Bloomington, Indiana, several years ago, only that was
due to dust from Texas that had gotten into the high atmosphere during a dust storm.
Exodus with the Santorin explosion.s
He makes a good case that the
parting of the waters episode took place in the sound connecting present
Suez with the Timsah Lake, which was dircctly connected with the Red
Sea and where a combination of winds and tides could expose shallow
bars for hours and bring the waters back with a rush.
It seems to me that for the Israelites to have been just at the right spot
just at the right time to catch such a fleeting opportunity as that afforded
by the tsunami is a coincidence of such magnitude that it requires divine
intervention. Thus Galanopoulos is in effect merely invoking another
miracle to explain the one for which he is seeking a natural explanation.
Inasmuch as the Santorin explosion undoubtedly had consequences
observable in Egypt, it is surprising that there is so little mention of it
in Egyptian records. Bennett suggests that they preferred not to record
unpleasant events.
Ninkovich and Heezen suggest that most of the
scriptures written before the reign of Ikhnaton, the pharaoh who tried
to introduce monotheism into Egypt, were ordered by him to be destroyed
because they used the names of the ancient gods.
Records that did
survive, usually in out-of-the-way temples, do mention violent winds and
darkness and other phenomena compatible with the effects of the Santorin
explosion. There is even reference to a king and his army being drowned
in a sudden flood.
The Bible has three passages which refer to the destruction of Crete,
the Biblical name for which was Caphtor. One of them might even be
construed to mean that the Exodus was contemporaneous with that
destruction: "Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and
the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?"35 The other
passages are these: "That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and
distress, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of cloud and thick
darkness .... And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like
blind men .... Woe unto the inhabitants of the seacoast ... the land of the
Philistines. I will destroy even thee, that there shall be no inhabitant."36
"Behold, waters rise up out of the north, and shall be an overflowing
31 Walter Krebs, "Die Santorin-Katastrophe und der Exodus,"' Das Altertum, XII, 3
(1966), 135-144.
" Bennett, "Natural Catastrophes that Change History," p. 153.
33 'Ninkovich and Heezen, p. 446.
34 Bennett, "Natural Catastrophes that Change History," p. 154.
as Amos 9:7.
"' Zephaniah 1:15,17 and 2:5.
Fig. 2. Gorge below the Dettifoss, Iceland. Section through Tertiary lavas; topmost
layer in background is post-glacial (hraun). (Photo by D.B.V.)
Fig. 3. Recent Java flow (I,rollll) at Lake Myvatn, Iceland, erupted in 1729. (Photo
by D.B.V.)
Fig. 4. The Almannagya at Thingvellir, Iceland. Flagpole marks the Law Rock.
(Photo by D.B.Y.)
Fig. 6. Upper: Geographic distribution of Minoan civilization from Neolithic times
to the Santorin eruption. Lower: Geographic distribution of Mycenaean civilization
from the Santorin eruption to the fall of Troy. (From Ninkovich and Heezen, "San-
torini Tephra," Colston Papers, XVII 119651, 442.)
15 20 25 30
40. f. 7 .. Ii -!\. .1 .40
A r


'88 It1
A ? A
.,... Uc_
30"" ". " .';1';' ."" hog
W &
Fig. 7. Distribution of ash from the Minoan eruption of Santor in. The area covered
is elongated in the direction of prevai ling winds. Compare with distribution of Minoan
civilization as shown in Fig. 6, top. (From Ninkovich and Heezen, p. 425.)
LIIU .. TIfHI II.OUT 11000 . C.
$ C '" L C
Fig. 8. The calderas of Santorin, Crater Lake, and Krakatau. (From Ninkovich and
Heezen, p. 437.)

, .-
Fig. 9. The Metropolis of Atlantis compared with the shape and size of Santorin
caldera. (From Galanopoulos, "On the Origin of the Deluge of Deukalion and the
Myth of Atlantis," Athens Archaiologike Hegaireia, III [1960], 228.)
Fig. 10. Section along line A-A' in Fig. 9. (From Galanopoulos, "On the Origin of
the Deluge of Deukalion and the Myth of Atlantis," p. 230.)
400 ..
Fig. II. Relief map of Santorin caldera. (From Galanopoulos, "On the Odgin of the
Deluge of Deukalion and the Myth of Atlantis," p. 229.)
o Romom

C A I R 0
30"L-__________ '0"
Fig. 12. The Sebcha el Bardawil and vicinity. (From Galanopouios, "Die Agyp-
tischen Plagen und der Auszug Israels aus geologischer Sieht," Das Allerlllfll. X, J
flood, and shall overflow the land .... Because of the day that cometh to
spoil all the Philistines ... for the Lord will spoil the Philistines, the rem-
nant of the country of Caphtor. "37 Though in the form of prophecy,
these passages are known to have been written in the ninth, seventh, and
sixth centuries B.C., long after the Santorin event.
Recently Galanopoulos has attempted to link the Phaethon myth, too,
to the Santorin explosion.
Phaethon was the son of the Sun god who one
day attempted to drive the chariot of the Sun in his father's stead. He
was not strong enough to control the fiery steeds, and they plunged wildly
from their appointed path across the heavens. Sometimes they came too
close to the Earth and scorched everything and dried up the waters;
sometimes they drew too far away and caused snow and freezing cold.
This myth is discussed in the Timaeus in the same frame of reference as
Deukalion's Deluge and Atlantis. An Egyptian priest tells Solon that the
Phaethon myth "is indeed considered as fabulous, yet is in reality true.
F or it expresses the mutation of the bodies revolving in the heavens about
the earth; and indicates that, through long periods of time, a destruction
of terrestrial natures ensues from the devastations of fire." Galanopoulos
demonstrates that temperature changes due to glaciation and other long-
term geologic or astronomical phenomena are far too small and too slow
to be noticed by man. He suggests that if the Phaethon myth dates from
the same epoch as that of Deukalion's Deluge, it is more likely that it
also is a consequence of the Santorin explosion. "The annihilation of the
vegetation by a tremendous ash fall of this type, in conjunction with
widespread and total darkness which the spread of the ash cloud brought
with it, undoubtedly produced the impression that the devastation of an
extensive part of the Anatolian Mediterranean Sea area should be attri-
buted to scorching of the Earth by the Sun's coming too close.":!" The
idea of the fiery chariot, he claims, might stem from one of the spectacular
electrical displays that frequently accompany eruptions. If something
like that had been observed in the sky during the Santorin catastrophe,
people might easily have imagined a fiery chariot and its horses. Con-
sidering what people imagined they saw in the heavens when naming the
constellations, one can hardly consider this interpretation too farfetched!
31 Jeremiah 47:2,4.
as Angelos G. Galanopoulos, "Der Phaethon-Mythus im Licht der Wissenschaft,"
Das A/tertum, in press.
39 ibid. Quotation translated by Dorothy B. Vitaliano.
However, this interpretation of the Phaethon myth leaves unexplained the
cold due to the Sun's drawing too far away.
Although Galanopoulos may be overextending his theory, particularly
where the Exodus and possibly Phaethon are concerned, I for one would
like to believe that he has really found Atlantis. At least one archeologist
accepts his explanation.
Now that attention has been focused on the
question, perhaps some corroborative evidence will eventually be turned
up. Here we must look to the archeologists, for it is their discoveries that
push that fuzzy line dividing history from legend further and further
back in time, and at the same time bring it into sharper focus. After all,
Troy and Knossos were once thought to be purely legendary, but today
one can walk about their ruins.
We have been discussing thus far the effect of geology on mythology.
In closing I would like to point out that there is a slight reciprocal action
involved. We are indebted to mythology for a number of geologic terms.
"Volcano," of course, comes from Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and
metal, whose forge was under Mount Etna. Though we no longer have a
"neptunist-plutonist" controversy over the origin of basalt, we still have
"plutonic" rocks, "plutons," and "plutonism" from Pluto, the Roman
god of the underworld. And finally, when the new volcano that appeared
off the coast ofIceland in 1963 was named, it was called "Surtsey," which
means in Icelandic "Surtur's island," Surtur being the old Norse god of
the underworld.
In conclusion I would like to express my most grateful appreciation to
Dr. Bruce C. Heezen of Columbia University'S Lamont Geological
Observatory, for a critical review of this manuscript and for permission to
reproduce illustrations from "Santorini Tephra," and to Professor
Angelos G. Galanopoulos of the University of Athens' Seismological
Observatory, for permission to reproduce illustrations and, especially,
for use of his unpublished manuscript on the Phaethon myth.*
U.S. Geological Survey41
Bloomington, Indiana
<0 Rhys Carpenter, Discontinuity in Creek Civilization (London, 1966). Professor
Carpenter accepts not only Galanopoulos' explanation of Atlantis, but also Marinatos'
theory concerning the destruction of Minoan Crete by the Santorin catastrophe.
41 Published with the permission of the Director, United States Geological Survey.
* Editor's note: Mrs. Vitaliano is expanding this material into a book to be published
by the Indiana University Press.