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Birth of an archipelago

31 August 2014 / 15:08:38  GRReporter
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Long before the Aegean sea become a subject of diplomatic discussions and disputes, its exciting history included volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, orogenesis, extreme climate changes, as well as many even more dramatic events. From next Wednesday, guests of the Eugenides Foundation will have the opportunity to discover how the typical island landscapes that have become the cradle of civilizations and areas of violent conflict were formed through geological processes that have continued over more than 20 million years.

The exhibition "Aegeon: Birth of an archipelago", an initiative of the Natural History Museum of the Petrified Forest on Lesvos island, was organized in collaboration with the Museum of Geology and Paleontology of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Museum of Natural History of the University of Crete. Since the beginning of 2013 until last May, the exhibition visited the Noesis Science Centre in Thessaloniki, where it was seen by thousands of visitors. An enriched version, specifically for the halls of the Eugenides Foundation will remain in Athens until October, after which it will resume its journey in Greece and abroad.

Dry Mediterranean

Fossils of plants and animals, recent discoveries of underwater exploration, traces of the ancestors of modern man, stunning video and panoramic pictures of the islands tell the story of Aegis, the endless land that emerges from the great ocean of Tethys and covers the area from the Ionian Sea to Asia Minor. In a sense, today's Mediterranean is a remnant of the Tethys’ Ocean - although for a few tens or hundreds of thousands of years the entire Mediterranean basin was transformed into a dry desert that eventually filled with water from the Atlantic Ocean. Gradually, as a result of changes and collisions of tectonic plates, the single land Aegis broke into pieces and much of it sank back into the sea. Thus the Aegean islands were born, as well as the geological monuments of the region, such as the Petrified Forest on Lesvos island, formed about 18 million years ago and preserved under a layer of volcanic material. Although the exhibition focuses primarily on the development over the last 20 million years, some of the events described took place 150 million years ago.

Perhaps the most impressive of the exhibits is a 14-metre high petrified trunk, an ancestor of redwood, from subtropical forests that 18 million years ago covered the area of today’s Lesvos. Among the exhibits are also included equally unique items, such as fossils from the ocean of Tethys or two pieces of petrified volcanic ash with fossilized leaves of trees: the oldest one dates back about 20 million years ago and was found near today’s Sigri, while the petrified olive leaf of Santorini is newer because its age does not exceed 60,000 years. As the Director of the Museum of the Petrified Forest and associate professor at the University of the Aegean, Nikos Zouros, stated, the petrified trunks of trees do not come only from the Petrified Forest of Lesvos, but also from the underwater surveys of the coastal area of the island Nisiopi west of Lesvos.

The first of the three parts of the exhibition entitled "Memories about Gaia - from Tethys to the Aegean Sea" reveals the most distant past to tell how "the land occurs of the Aegean sea emerges in the ocean and how it comes to today's archipelago", explains Zouros.

The second part is entitled "On the islands of Hephaestus and Poseidon" and tracks the volcanic activity which plays a crucial role in the creation of the archipelago. Amongst the volcanoes are the active volcanoes of Santorini, Nisyros, Methana and Susaki belonging to the South Aegean volcanic arc. Some of the most diverse - and most popula - islands of the archipelago – such as Milos, Limnos, Thira, Kimolos, Samothraki, owe their existence to volcanic activity.

"Gaia: from myth to science" is the title of the third part of the exhibition tracing ecosystems. Development of biodiversity over the past 150 years is shown by the opposition of recovered progenitor forms of trees and animals - between them one short-neck giraffe from today’s Chios, one dwarf elephant from Tilos and a skull of antelope in the region of Samos - with their modern "descendants". Some findings are also presented documenting the early presence of the ancestors of modern man, and three hominid skulls from Greece: of a Macedonian uranopitek discovered in 1988 in Chalkidiki, of a mesopitek of Pendeli, a prehistoric inhabitant of Europe and western Asia, and of a man from the Petralona cave in Chalkidiki. As highlighted by Nikos Zouros, the importance of the phenomena that led to the birth of the Aegean Sea is not only geological.

Cultural evidence

The movement of tectonic plates form not only the topography we know today, but also play an important role in the development of human cultures, offering copious amounts of minerals - from obsidian from Milos to copper in Kythnos and Serifos. Moreover, for many thousands of years, unexplained natural phenomena and disasters have inspired the creation of myths, artwork and metaphysical theories as human imagination rushes to fill the gaps left by the lack of knowledge.

Tags: exhibition Aegean sea geological phenomena formation volcanic activity islands archipelago
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