Professor of Geoscience Communication Iain Stewart MBE, Director of the University’s Sustainable Earth Institute, has presented several BBC documentaries about the power of earthquakes shaping landscapes and communities.
Now he believes fault lines created by seismic activity in the Aegean region may have caused areas to be afforded special cultural status, and as such, led to them becoming sites of much celebrated temples and great cities.
Scientists have previously suggested Delphi, a mountainside complex once home to a legendary oracle, gained its position in Classical Greek society largely as a result of a sacred spring and intoxicating gases which emanated from a fault line caused by an earthquake.
But Professor Stewart believes Delphi may not be alone in this regard, and that other cities including Mycenae, Ephesus, Cnidus and Hierapolis may have been constructed specifically because of the presence of fault lines.
In the study, published in Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, Professor Stewart says a correspondence of active faults and ancient cities in parts of Greece and western Turkey, might not seem unduly surprising given that the Aegean region is riddled with seismic faults, and littered with ruined settlements.
Many seismic fault traces in the region do not simply disrupt the fabric of buildings and streets, but run straight through the heart of the ancient settlements’ most sacred structures.
There are prominent examples to support the theory, such as in Delphi itself where a sanctuary was destroyed by an earthquake in 373 BC, only for its temple to be rebuilt directly on the same fault line.
There are also many tales of individuals who attained oracular status by descending into the underworld, with some commentators arguing that such cave systems or grottoes caused by seismic activity may have formed the backdrop for these stories.