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Timewatch: The Wave That Destroyed Atlantis

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

INDIELONDON singles out notable episodes from our favourite television series for stand-alone reviews. On this occasion we take a look at Timewatch: The Wave That Destroyed Atlantis.

What exactly is it about? Three experts explore the theory that a giant tsunami wiped out the Minoan civilisation on the Greek island of Crete 3,500 years ago.

Why so good? History has a habit of repeating itself, so there are valuable lessons to be learnt. Moreover, in the right hands, archeology is a fascinating subject. It can also be open to interpretation and as such, become the subject of passionate debate.

Digging a little deeper: The Minoan civilisation was undoubtedly one of the great civilisations of the ancient world. You only have to look at their beautiful frescoes and exquisite jewellery for proof. Yet these people disappeared virtually overnight. Why?

Evidence, such as marine deposits and carbon-dated bone fragments found high in the cliffs of Crete, points to a giant tsunami generated by a massive volcanic eruption on the neighbouring island of Thera – or Santorini as it’s now called.

It all makes sense but was Crete really the mythical lost city of Atlantis? I don’t think so. It’s far more likely to be Thera itself – after all, almost two-thirds of the island disappeared into the sea as a result of the eruption, as the giant caldera bears witness. Besides, no bodies have ever been found which suggests the people of Akrotiri either escaped or were swept to a watery grave.

Which brings me to Akrotiri. I visited the ruins while holidaying on Santorini and our guide insisted that although there were similarities between the people of Akrotiri and the Minoans on Crete, there was no hard evidence to suggest they were one and the same. Timewatch obviously thought otherwise.

The programme also referred to the fabled Minotaur – half man, half bull – that fed on human sacrifice and, as Timewatch would have us believe, lived in a labyrinthine cave. However, there were no clues as to the cave’s actual whereabouts which was a pity, particularly as the guide who steered me through the labyrinth at Knossos, was of the opinion that we were walking in the footsteps not only of Theseus and Ariadne (she of the golden thread) but also of the Minataur.

We were also shown (again briefly) the famous bull-leaping fresco but with no accompanying explanation. Again a pity as even a simple explanation could have dispelled the myth surrounding the Minataur’s taste for human flesh.

That said, the programme effectively proved what it set out to do. Yet in many ways, it left me wanting more. As it was, I had to make do with just one explanation of a highly complex and intriguing story. As for history repeating itself, it already has – with the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. And it could again. If predictions are correct, an eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma in the Canaries could have similarly devastating effects.

For those of you interested in the history and mythology of Crete, a book entitled The King Must Die by Mary Renault updates the Theseus myth in the light of the Knossos finds.
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  1. Interesting article. I was also left a little unsatisfied by the programme, although some of the theories it put forward created a wortwhile debate between me and my Greek wife. It’s an interesting notion that history repeats itself – although all indications that it teaches us things often get proven otherwise. Just look at the situation in Iraq, mirrored by Vietnam, or the current environmental crisis and – by virtue of this point – the recurrence of devastating tsunamis. How much longer can man really bury his head in the sand and claim that he’s not to blame if only in some small way? Surely, given the last point you make in the article, man should be preparing itself to deal with the La Palma threat, rather than predicting and hoping for the best…

    James    Apr 24    #