COURTESY WINDWARD COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Floyd McCoy, a Windward Community College professor, studies volcanoes.
Greece is the word for volcanoes
A local professor is studying the ancient eruption of Thera
Floyd McCoy, Windward Community College professor of geology and oceanography, hopes during a year and a half in Greece to resolve the "hugely controversial" question of when the Thera volcano erupted.
He will investigate the Mediterranean's largest volcanic eruption in history as a Fulbright scholar. McCoy has spent the past 20 years studying geological evidence of the Late Bronze Age eruption of Thera volcano that led to the end of the Minoan culture on the island of Santorini.
Geophysicists say the eruption occurred in about 1645 B.C., but archaeologists prefer 1500 B.C., McCoy said. He is combining geology and archaeology into a new discipline -- geoarchaeology -- to try to settle the controversy.
McCoy said he became fascinated with the story of Thera volcano while getting his degrees and working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts on the geology of the sea floor in the Mediterranean. "I kept finding volcanic ash material on the sea floor," he said.
He was on Columbia University's research faculty for about a dozen years to work on the Thera eruption, he said. "And I haven't stopped. Greece is a nice country. The culture we've come to like, and this eruption is stunning."
He found evidence that it was much more violent than believed, larger than the 1883 Krakatoa eruption that killed more than 36,000 people.
Scientists believe the Thera eruption spewed massive volcanic ash that led to climate changes, crippled ancient cities and wreaked havoc on cultures and sea trade.
McCoy will be working with a Texas A&M University group looking for shipwrecks in the deepest part of the ocean from the same period as the eruption. They will map the sea floor and look for evidence of ancient trade routes between Greece and Egypt. He will also develop remote techniques to record information in waters 12,000 feet deep.
"The (Minoan) culture was ruined by this volcanic eruption," McCoy said. "There is a buried city on Santorini where I've done work that is just as good as Pompeii," he said, referring to the Roman city buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. "This is where we know about the furniture, beds, paintings -- their lifestyle."
He is excavating three sites this summer and three or four next summer "to make sense of the geology."
McCoy's work has been featured on NBC, BBC and the National Geographic, Learning and Discovery channels. He said he has done 14 TV documentaries on the eruption, and the 15th is in the offing. "At the end of every one of these, the question is, How is this related to Atlantis?"
There are theories that Thera was the fabled lost city of Atlantis. "As a scientist, I can't make a definite statement," McCoy said. "About all I could say is, I wish it could be related to Atlantis."
He will be based in Athens, Greece, as a visiting research professor at the American School of Classical Studies from September to May. He will mentor students and teach graduate seminars on natural hazards and geology.
As one of seven U.S. representatives going to Greece this year in the Fulbright Program, he will try to increase understanding between people of the two countries. The Fulbright grant is supported by funding from Congress, Greece and the private sector.