Ancient Apocalypse: The MinoansThree and a half thousand years ago, the tiny Aegean island of Thera was devastated by one of the worst natural disasters since the Ice Age - a huge volcanic eruption.

This cataclysm happened 100km from the island of Crete, the home of the thriving Minoan civilization. Fifty years after the eruption, that civilization was in ruins. Did the volcano deliver a death blow to the Minoans? It's a whodunnit that has haunted historians and scientists for decades.

The lost world of the Minoans has intrigued people for thousands of years. Their palace at Knossos was vast and elaborate, with Europe's first paved roads and running water. The ancient Greeks wove its magnificence into their myths; it was the home of King Minos and his man-eating bull, the Minotaur, which roamed the palace labyrinth.

In the 1900s, British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans excavated and restored the ruins at Knossos. Beautiful and delicate frescoes of bulls and dolphins revealed a highly artistic civilization and a people who apparently lived in harmony with nature.

Early 20th-century archaeologists knew of the devastating volcano and some concluded it must have snuffed out the Minoan civilization almost instantly. But was it really as simple as that?

For a start, they discovered little ash had fallen on Crete - as luck would have it, the prevailing winds took the volcano's ash in the opposite direction. Then archaeologists found clay tablets that proved the Minoan civilization survived for about 50 years after the eruption. So if the volcano killed the civilization, what accounted for this long gap?

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