How society would react to modern earthquake, if they only believed in myths
Earthquakes have been a mystery to humans for thousands of years. They have been speculated and written about. But what if we as twenty first century humans did not understand how earthquakes worked? How would we respond to an earthquake if we only believed that earthquakes were created by angry gods or mischievous animals? In ancient time catfish, snakes, elephants, and turtles were all associated with earthquakes. The civilizations believed that these animals were either below the earth or holding it up and that their movement caused the quake. The Greeks believed that it was the god’s anger that caused the earth to shake. The Scandinavians’ believed that it was their god Loki that caused the quakes. Anaxogoras, Archelaus, Thales, all had early theories on what really caused earthquakes but it was not until the 1960’s that we truly began to understand what caused them. An earthquake is a shaking of the ground caused by sudden breaking and movement of tectonic plates. The edges of the tectonic plates are marked by faults. Most earthquakes occur along the fault lines when the plates slide past each other or collide against one another. Mitigation is an important tool in keeping yourself, your property, and others safe when an earthquake strikes. Ancient, and even in some recently, cultures believed that the safest way to protect oneself from earthquakes, was to sacrifice animals, and in some cases humans, to the gods, so that the gods would not be angry with them.
Earthquakes began to be associated with catfish in the Edo Period, Namazu is the name of a giant catfish that lives in the depths of the earth causing earthquakes with his rumbles, that can only be contained by the god Kashima. Kashima restrains Namazu by standing on him, but is sometimes distracted by other business (De Wolf, p 11). When Kashima is distracted or left for a ceremony, Namazu would clatter about, causing an earthquake (Brumbaugh, 1999, p 2). The Indian culture believed that the earth is held up by four elephants that stand on the back of a giant turtle. The turtle then stands on a cobra, making for an extremely unstable foundation. The earth trembling is caused when one of the animals move (Brumbaugh, 1999, p 2). India has other beliefs about earthquakes, because of their long history of devastating earthquakes; they also believed that seven serpents were the guardians of the seven sections of the lowest heaven. They also took turns holding up earth. When one finished and another moved in place to take over, people on earth felt the ground move and shake (Brumbaugh, 1999, p2). The Greeks usually used the gods to describe earthquakes. Poseidon, the god of the sea was also known as earth shaker, was said to be the cause of earthquakes. When he became angry he would strike the ground with his trident and cause an earthquake (Brumbaugh, 1999, p 4). This Homeric Hymn specifically refers to Poseidon as the earth shaker. "I begin to sing about Poseidon, the great god, mover of the earth and barren sea, the sea god who is also lord of Helikon and broad Aigai. O Earth Shaker, two-fold is your god-given prerogative, to be a tamer of horses and a savior of ships. Hail, Poseidon, black-maned holder of the earth! , have a kindly heart, O blessed one and come to the aid of sailors!"( Athanassakis, 2004, p57). The god Loki in Scandinavia was held responsible for earthquakes. Loki was said to be tied to a rock in a cave underground as punishment for killing his brother. A serpent would drip poison down on him, which was caught in a bowl by Loki’s sister. When she emptied the bowl, Loki had to twist and turn to avoid the poison, causing earthquakes (Brumbaugh, 1999, p 3).
There have been many attempts to explain earthquakes besides the gods causing them, beginning with the Greeks. Anaxogoras believed that the collision of gases in caverns generated by fire. As the fire rose it burst through obstacles violently, causing the ground to shake. Archelaus supposed that air entered underground caverns and became compressed, causing the earth to shake violently. Thales held that earth was like a ship floating on water and that the movement of the water caused earthquakes (Brumbaugh, 1999, p6). Aristotle alleged that strong winds blew through caves and clefts inside the earth creating “effects similar to those of the wind in our bodies whose force when it is pent up inside us can cause tremors and throbbings.” John Michell (1724?-1793) a professor of geology at Cambridge university concluded that earthquakes were caused by the shifting masses of rocks may kilometers below the earth’s surface. Benjamin Franklin thought the earth’s crust floated over a fluid extremely dense and that any violent movement underneath the shell that is the crust could be broken by a violent movement of the fluid beneath it (Boer& Sanders, 2005, p3). These inconsistent early attempts at earthquake theory reflect the confusion of looking at a complex problem with inadequate data. A full understanding of earthquakes requires knowledge of plate tectonics, an idea, which would not have occurred to them at that time. For they had no way to pinpoint the precise location of earthquake focus, they also did not have anything like the modern, worldwide observation system necessary for measuring the properties of the earth’s interior and tracking the motions of points on the earth’s surface. Today scientists have tremendous advantages over those in the past ( Nur, 2008, p87). In the 1960s scientist began to understand that the earth is made up of plates, some large and some small. The movement of the tectonic plates, usually a few centimeters a year, is the cause of earthquakes (Boer& Sanders, 2005, p 5).
The lithosphere, the stiff outer rind of the earth, is broken into a dozen or so lithospheric plates and about another dozen smaller plates. These plates, although uneven in size, fit together perfectly. The plates consist of a combination of land and ocean. The South American Plate is about half below the Atlantic Ocean and half continent. The plates move up to 11 cm per year. Many move in roughly an east-west direction, but some do not. Some plates separate, others collide, and still others slide under, over, or past one another. In some cases their encounters are head on; in others, the collisions are more oblique. Plates move away from each other at divergent boundaries. Plates move toward each other at convergent boundaries. It is along these convergent boundaries that earthquakes are most likely to happen (Hyndman& Hyndman, 2011, p16-17). When the plates of the earth’s crust move, new crust is made and old crust sinks into subduction zones. It is the movement along these faults that cause earthquakes (Hyndman& Hyndman, 2011, p33). As the earth’s crust moves, the rocks on opposite sides of the fault deform, instead of slipping, over many years. When the stuck segments of the fault finally slip the bent rocks straighten with a sudden snap, releasing energy in the form of an earthquake (Hyndman& Hyndman, 2011, p 34). Rocks can bend, but if stretched to far can also break. In response to smaller stresses, rocks may merely bend, while in response to larger stresses, they fracture or break. As stress levels increase, rocks ultimately succumb to brittle failure, causing fault slippage during an earthquake. Under these conditions, a fault may begin to fail, with smaller slips, called foreshocks, preceding the main earthquake. It then continues to adjust with smaller slips called aftershocks, after the event. In a few cases aftershocks can be large and devastating (Hyndman & Hyndman, 2011, p35).
In the twenty first society there are actions you can take to protect yourself and your property in the case of an earthquake. The first step in mitigation for earthquakes is to evaluate structural weaknesses. Walls of all kinds should be soundly anchored to the floor and the foundation. Other recommendations include fastening bookcases and water heaters to walls and securing chimneys and vents. Things commonly broken during an earthquake are electric wires and gas mains; these start fires that are not easily put out if water mains are also broken. It helps if electric and gas mains are flexible and if stoves, refrigerators, and televisions sets are well anchored to floors and walls. Having insurance for areas with a high chance of earthquakes is important. Having a plan ahead of time is vital for what to do if someone finds themselves in a building during an earthquake. To increase your chances of surviving the collapse of a building during an earthquake, exiting and moving away from the building is suggested if there is time to do it (Hyndman & Hyndman, 2011, p 78-79). On Friday, March 11, 2011, at 2:46 in Sendai, Japan. A professor’s cell phone sounded a warning that indicated an imminent large earthquake. He and the student immediately took cover just as the building began to shake violently. In Japan, the world’s most advanced earthquake warning system is triggered by the shaking of p waves that arrive first. The system automatically alerts factories, schools, hospitals, radio, and television of the impending earthquake. In this earthquake, the system gave residents a critical 32 seconds of warning time before damaging s waves reached Sendai, enough time to take cover or shut down critical instruments or machines. About 2 minutes later the earthquake location and magnitude were determined; less than a minute later the tsunami warning sirens blared (Hyndman & Hyndman, 2011, p56). Japan lies at the conjunction of the Pacific plate, the Eurasian plate, and the Philippine micro-plate, experiences frequent large earthquakes. Japan has learned how to deal with this threat and today has some of the strictest building codes for earthquake resistant buildings (Nur, 2008, p264). One of the essential pieces of data that can be collected after an earthquake is an observer’s description of the ground shaking. The human body was the first earthquake instrument, capable of detecting a wide range of ground movements. Another kind of data useful, in addition to observers’ reports, is damages caused to buildings or disturbance of objects. This includes effects ranging from cracked walls and swinging doors on up to building collapse. These effects can vary with the kind and type of construction or the objects involved, as well as with the size of and distance from the earthquake, the nature of the rupture and local geological conditions. In 1783 Domenico Pignataro devised a scale, using observers’ reports of ground shaking and damage information to make an intensity scale, with five levels: slight, moderate, strong, very strong, and violent ( Brumbaugh, 1999, p17). For many areas in the world, intensity data offer the opportunity to increase the amount of information available in estimating earthquake hazards. In areas where damaging earthquakes occur less frequently, the instrumental data that can be applied to study earthquakes are often insufficient to reach conclusions about earthquake threats (Brumbaugh, 1999, p23). The development of instruments to measure and record the motion of the ground during a distant earthquake was a truly great achievement. Many attempts over a period of two thousand years had been made before true seismographs were developed. As it is used now a seismograph consists of three basic parts: a seismometer, which responds to ground motion, a chronograph, a timing system: and a recording device. The first recorded earthquake instrument was developed in China in about 132 A.D. It is not a seismograph by modern definition. This instrument was a seismoscope; it responded to ground motion buy produced no recording of the movement. Pendulums were also used as a way of detecting earthquakes. Two design principles made this a workable seismometer. First, the pendulum is largely isolated from the ground movement by its suspension design. Second, the mass of the pendulum has inertia, and tends to remain at rest. Soon after seismograph systems began recording earthquakes, it became apparent that earthquake waves were complex (Brumbaugh, 1999, p25-35). In societies that believe the gods are responsible for earthquake to punish the people, they sacrificed animals to the gods, but in unusual horrible catastrophes they have been known to sacrifice humans. One of these cases is in a Minoan temple of Anemospilia near Knossos, in Crete. We know this because the victim and three temple functionaries were buried when the temple collapsed on them, shortly after the victim had been killed. This is believed to be an exception in the cultures usual ritual slayings, where they usually sacrifice bulls (Nur, 2008, p79). Ancient Greek text link Poseidon to some specific earthquakes. The historic Sparta earthquake was believed to be a punishment for breaking certain rules of the god’s. Sacrifices to Poseidon are even mentioned in Homers Odyssey where King Nester sacrifices an extravagant amount of animals in his honor so that there would not be any earthquakes (Nur, 2008, p 78). The Aztecs believed that the first four suns were destroyed in this order, by jaguars, storms, a rain of fire, and a flood. The Aztecs
believed that their sun, the fifth one, would be destroyed by an earthquake. They regularly had human sacrifice, which is specifically associated with earthquakes. The most recent example of human sacrifice is in 1960 in Chile. Where a group of Mapuche Indians sacrificed a five year old boy and left him in the ocean, hoping to satisfy the malicious forces that had caused the damage. The people involved in this atrocity were tried in Chilean courts for their actions, but after two years in prison awaiting trial they were released. More than two decades after the event a Mapuche elder, bemoaned the passing of human sacrifice. In her opinion, when they followed their tradition of sacrificing orphans, there were fewer quakes and tsunamis (Nur, 2008, p83). People have responded to catastrophes in this way for millennia. Gunnar Heisohn believes that blood sacrifices may have come into existence around the time people began gathering in cities: “The community that participates in the great play is able to release in the act of killing the aggression born out of helplessness with regard to the catastrophe. The slaughter of the sacrificial victim is both the conclusion and the cathartic climax of the ceremony. Men liberate themselves in the bloody act from the fury that until then had been turned inward and that had caused them helpless numbness, psychosomatic suffering or aggressiveness which endangered their fellow me” (Nur, 2008, p 84). The twenty first century society is an age of science where the idea of living without it is inconceivable. The ability to live without the technology that is used to mitigate and monitor earthquakes would be detrimental to the entire earth. The days are gone where 10
we believed that sacrificing an animal or even a human to satisfy some gods would stop an earthquake. Ancient Greek, Thales, believed an agitation of the great sea on which the earth floats, produced earthquakes. But the notion that the movement of air in sub terrestrial chambers created earthquakes formed the basis for the most elaborate theories of ancient times. Whether good or bad, earthquakes are a natural consequence of living on this planet. They have been a mystery for people for thousands of years, and they will continue to fascinate us for many more years to come. Earthquakes are one of the most destructive force, maybe the most destructive, forces in nature. They can happen almost anywhere in the world, although more common and stronger in certain areas across the globe. Out of all the natural disasters, they are the most difficult to predict it is completely impossible to pinpoint exactly when and where the next major earthquake will occur. But slowly we are learning more. Earthquake mitigation, ranging from improved building codes to homeowner education to upgrading bridges and other lifelines, has had tremendous success in reducing earthquake damage. Mitigation has made a major difference in countries such as Japan where earthquakes often occur.
Works Cited Athanassakis, A. N. (2004). The homeric hymns (2nd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Boer, J., & Sanders, D. T. (2005). Earthquakes in human history: the far-reaching effects of seismic disruptions. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Brumbaugh, D. S. (1999). Earthquakes: science and society. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. De Wolf, C. (2011). Kashima & the Catfish. Commonweal, 138(8), 10-11. Hyndman, D. W., & Hyndman, D. W. (2011). Natural hazards and disasters (4th ed.). Australia: Brooks/Cole. Nur, A., & Burgess, D. (2008). Apocalypse: earthquakes, archaeology, and the wrath of God. Princeton: Princeton University Press.