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More Recent History

May 15
Naxos, Syros and Athens, Greece

After leaving the tourist filled island of Santorini, we traveled by ferry to the island of Naxos. Even though it was incredibly windy, it was nice to travel to an island that was not swarmed by tourists. Naxos is well known for its high quality marble. One day, we were able to tour a multi-generational, family-owned marble quarry that was cut into the side of a mountain. During our tour of the quarry, of my classmates asked the owner if he knew how far down the marble went into the mountain. He responded with, “hopefully all the way to Australia.” The quarry was an incredible site to see. While the precarious state of the Greek economy has reduced domestic demand for marble, he continues to remove large blocks of marble in anticipation of when the economy improves again. While times are tough, he reminded us, “its not like I have to water the rocks once I remove them.”

After Naxos, we were supposed to travel by ferry to Syros. This trip required us to first sail to Mykonos and then switch ships. Because the ferry arrived late to Naxos, we missed our only chance that day to reach Syros from Mykonos. Our class wasn’t too upset about this, though, because Mykonos is a very lively place. Since our ferry was departing in the afternoon, our professor did not let this unplanned stay go to waste. What was supposed to be a twenty-minute layover became a 24-hour experience that really helped with our comprehension of the regional geology of the Cyclades. Once in Syros, we looked at rocks that can only be seen in a few places around the world. When garnets are mentioned in geology courses back in Lexington, our professors almost always make a comment about how we will probably never see these in the field. We are extreme outliers in this case.

After traveling to Athens and taking a final exam, everyone in our class needed to decompress from geology. While we haven’t had long to spend in Athens, we have tried to see as many of the important sites as possible. As aspiring geologists, our spring term class has spent the last three weeks on the Greek islands of Crete, Santorini, Naxos, Mykonos and Syros, looking at rocks as “young” as several hundred thousand years old and some as “old” as 20 million years old. With a geologist’s view of time, it is easy to look at ruins over two thousand years old and think of them as “more recent history.” That being said, it didn’t take long for us to snap out of this “geology” frame of mind and marvel at how impressive it was for people to have built the Parthenon without modern equipment in less than ten years. Athens is one of the few places where you can walk through a museum and recognize multiple artifacts from history textbooks. While this trip has been very productive and fun, I think everyone in our class is ready to enjoy the last week of spring term back in Lexington.

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A Gneiss Change of Pace
May 7
Santorini, Greece

After seven tiring days driving along Crete’s back roads in search of different “road cuts,” we ended our time in Crete by touring the ancient Minoan city of Knossos. It was incredible to see first-hand something I’ve only seen in middle school and high school history textbooks. The next day, we had our exam on the material we learned in Crete. While the exam was difficult and took several hours, it was one of the most enjoyable tests I’ve ever taken. This was because we were taking it overlooking Santorini’s caldera. Santorini is one of the best places in all of Greece to study various styles of volcanic eruptions.

While Santorini is incredibly beautiful, it is also crawling with cruise ship passengers during the daylight hours. Luckily for us, we were able to experience all that Santorini had to offer. We visited the archaeological site of Akrotiri that was only recently opened to the public. Akrotiri was likely a Minoan colony and is relatively well-preserved. It was buried and forgotten about in one of Santorini’s 12 major eruptions around 1,600 B.C. This eruption is widely considered to have caused the decline and eventual collapse of the Minoan civilization. Like Pompeii in 79 A.D., the eruption left the town relatively well-preserved. Paintings, sculptures and furniture have been all been recovered from the excavations. It was pretty neat seeing the oldest discovered toilet with plumbing. According to our tour guide, this technological advance was not rediscovered for another millennium!

I don’t want you to think that we haven’t been doing any geology. Today, we took a catamaran around Santorini to observe the various layers of volcanic material. It was very helpful seeing these layers, which represent different stages of individual eruptions and eruptive cycles, from a distance. One of the many perks of geology is getting to spend a significant amount of class time outdoors. The swimming, dinner, and sunset weren’t bad either! While Santorini has one main island, we still needed a van to visit certain outcrops, road cuts, and pumice quarries. Unfortunately our professor still hasn’t fully mastered stick-shift vehicles. That aside, Santorini has really help us all decompress from our busy time in Crete. Sadly, we can’t stay in Santorini forever. Tomorrow morning, we travel to the island of Naxos by ferry. Also sorry for the geology pun in the title. I couldn’t help myself!

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Road Cuts in Crete
May 1
Chania, Crete, Greece

I knew I wanted to study abroad at least once during my time at W&L. Going abroad for an entire semester as a geology major is possible, but not the easiest thing to accomplish. Luckily, the department offers a regional geology course every spring term. This year’s class is in Greece.

Before arriving in the Greece three days ago, my understanding of the country’s culture, history and geology were limited to our one-credit winter term seminar, Wikipedia, and articles about their ongoing national debt crisis. I can’t say I am surprised so far about the great weather, friendly people, food and beautiful scenery. The geology is a different story. While our winter term class was great for forming a basic impression of Greece’s geologic and tectonic history, seeing it first-hand in the field has been invaluable.

Our trip began three days ago in the city of Chania, on northwest coast of the island of Crete. Our days have been spent mostly traveling between different “roadcuts” (the “walls” of a earth exposed along roads from their construction) along the rural back roads of western Crete. These have helped us interpret Crete’s complex past. The dramatic scenery, narrow winding roads, and our unfamiliarity with standard transmissions have made these trips even more interesting. Because I want this post to strike a healthy balance between being informative and interesting to someone other than a geologist, I will spare you anything too specific about the geology.

One of the most interesting things we have seen so far is the remains of the ancient harbor town of Phalasarna. The archaeological site is important geologically because sea level is currently 20 feet below where it would have been when the docks were in operation. Since global sea level has remained relatively constant for the past two thousand years, the difference in elevations is most likely from the land uplifting. After consulting with historical writings, many geologists attributed this to at least one major earthquake near Crete in 365 AD that was likely at least a magnitude 8.5.

This morning, we leave Chania and drive east to the city of Rethymnon. While the last few days have been tiring (mostly due to jet lag), our island-hopping and probably the most exciting part of the trip begins soon. Hopefully next Friday I will have more to share. Also, Happy Labor Day!

About Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements is a junior geology major from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. When he’s not busy with school work, he tries to fish, mountain bike, and run as much as possible. Besides geology, he loves history and spends a lot of his free time learning about the surrounding area’s past.

“I am taking the Greece regional geology course because I want to learn more about Greece’s rich and complex human and geologic history and I’ve always wanted to study abroad.”

  • Class Year: 2016
  • Major: Geology
  • Hometown: Oklahoma City, OK
GEOL 373 Course Description