On the banks of Siletz Bay in Lincoln City, Oregon, officials dedicated a memorial last week to one of America’s worst calamities: a huge earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of Native Americans 300 years ago. But the memorial’s main job is not to commemorate the disaster, which has only just come to light, but to warn local people that similar devastation could strike at any time.
The area sits over massive fault lines whose dangers have been highlighted by a startling new scientific discipline that combines Earth science studies and analysis of ancient legends. This is geomythology, and it is transforming our knowledge of earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis, says the journal Science.
According to the discipline’s proponents, violent geological upheavals may be more frequent than was previously suspected. Apart from the ‘lost’ Seattle earthquake, geomythology has recently revealed that a volcano in Fiji, thought to be dormant, is active, a discovery that followed geologists’ decision to follow up legends of a mountain appearing overnight.
Geologists have found that Middle Eastern flooding myths, including the story of Noah, could be traced to the sudden inundation of the Black Sea 7,600 years ago. The Oracle at Delphi has been found to lie over a geological fault through which seeped hallucinogenic gases. These could account for the trances and utterances of the oracle’s mystics.
‘Myths can tell us a great deal about what happened in the past and were important in establishing what happened here 300 years ago,’ said Brian Atwater, of the US Geological Survey in Seattle.
Along the Oregon and Washington coast, there are Native American stories about boulders, called a’yahos, which can shake to death anyone who stares at them. In addition, Ruth Ludwin, a seismologist in Seattle, discovered tales of villages being washed away and of whales and thunderbirds locked in fights…
(Note to readers who follow my comics work: I found this today, and started writing the forthcoming BLACKGAS months ago.)