The archaeological site of Akrotiri, in the southwest peninsula of the island, is one of the most important in the Mediterranean. In the 1860"s the remains of the ancient town were found by workmen quarrying volcanic ash for use in the construction of the Suez Canal. However, it wasn"t until 1967 that academic excavations started at the site. Today only the southern tip of the large town has been uncovered (200,000 square metres), yet it has revealed complexes of buildings, streets and squares, with remains of walls standing as high as 8 meters, all entombed in the solidified ash deposited during the Minoan eruption (1600 B.C.).
The first habitation at the site dates from the Late Neolithic time (4th millennium B.C.). During the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium B.C.) a sizeable settlement was founded and from the 20th to the 17th century B.C., the town developed into one of the main urban centres and ports in the Aegean. It is at this time that Santorini is believed to have become one of the most important trading partners of the Minoans, who were centred on Crete and may have been one of their colonies.
Archaeological evidence seems to confirm that the town"s life was terminated when the inhabitants were forced to abruptly abandon the town, and possibly the island, as a result of severe earthquakes and seismic activity. In fact no remains have been found of the inhabitants of the town, as was the case with Pompeii. These earthquakes were the prelude to the major Minoan eruption, during which volcanic debris buried the town. This burial in ash and pumice has however protected the buildings and their contents as well as, if not better, than at Pompeii.