The excavation at Akrotiri begun by professor Spyridon Marinatos in 1967, as a project of the Archaeological Society at Athens, is still in progress. The large deposits of volcanic material covering the prehistoric city have not permitted the location of its boundaries, even by employing modern technology. Over thirty buildings have been located in the area of 1,2 hectare protected under the new bioclimatic shelter, and only four of these have been explored as fully as possible. Yet the wealth and the variety of the finds recovered have enabled us to reconstruct the history of the settlement to a satisfactory degree.
Before the eruption of the volcano, the coastline was about one hundred meters south of the excavated area, where a low promontory thrust into the sea. It was the tip of this promontory that the first settlers of Thera inhabited around the mid-5th millennium BC (Neolithic Age). With two sandy beaches at either side, the site was ideal, providing safe refuge for the vessels of the time. This settlement expanded gradually to the northeast over the ridge of th promontory and during the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC) developed into an important harbor town involved in maritime trade, as the transport amphoras from different parts of the Aegean testify.
After a destruction by earthquake, the Middle Broze Age city emerged (ca 2100-1650 BC). The seafaring and mercantile activities of its inhabitants expanded far beyond the Aegean, mainly towards the East Mediterranean, and Akrotiri seems to have played an important role in the trade of copper from Cyprus to Crete where the economic and cultural foundations of the palatial society were being laid. This explains the wealth of the city and its cosmopolitan character. Shortly after the mid-17th century BV the city was destroyed by an earth-quake once again, but it was soon rebuilt and its development continued apace.
The impressive public and private buildings, the hygienic installations of the houses and the sewage system brought to light, bear witness of the prosperity and the advanced cultural level of the Late Bronze Age Therans. On the other hand, the exquisite pieces of furniture and generally the rich household equipment and, above all, the diffusion of the mural paintings reveal a society of bourgeois mentality. The exhibits in the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira, offer visitors a taste of this high civilization.
Before the end of the 17th century BC, an earthquake ruined the city again and for yet another time its inhabitants embarked on its reconstruction. However, their efforts were cut short by the sudden eruption of the volcano. The city, still bearing the scars of the seismic destruction, was buried under the mantle of pumice and volcanic ash, which preserved it for posterity.