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Shaky End

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Date: 19. december 1997 17:37

How the Ancient World Came to a Shaky End
From: New Scientist, 20 December 1997, p. 6

A fift-year "earthquake storm" brought down the ancient cities of Mycenae, Troy and Knossos, a geologist announced this week. The fall of a host of civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age has often been blamed on seafaring warriors who ransacked the region around 1200 BC. But Amos Nur of Stanford University in California found that skeletons of people buried in collapsed buildings had turned up in excavations at about a dozen sites.

Suspecting earthquake damage, Nur compared the locations of 47 ancient cities that were destroyed with maps of earthquake epicentres from the past 80 years. Almost all the cities were in areas that today suffer the most intense seismic shaking, suggesting that violent quakes could have been to blame. A complicated junction of tectonic plates, with Africa diving under Europe and some microplates caught in between, has created a maze of faults that Nur believes causes periods of intense earthquake storms roughly every 400 years. "During those storms, all the faults get activated," says Nur.

In the middle of this century there was a thirty-tear earthquake storm along the North Anatolian Fault in northern Turkey, with magnitudes often reaching between 7.0 and 7.5 on the Richter Scale. Nur told the American Geophysical Union meeting that such storms were common, with examples in the 8th adn 15th centuries. The Romans recorded a cluster in the 4th century. Nur suspects that earthquake storms might be typical for complicated fault patterns elsewhere, such as the western Caribbean. If so, quake storms may have destroyed civilisations in the Americas. "We are looking now at the possibility that the Mayas collapsed because of earthquakes." Lou Bergeron