Furnace of Creation, Cradle of Destruction: A Journey to the Birthplace of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis

Furnace of Creation, Cradle of Destruction: A Journey to the Birthplace of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis

Furnace of Creation, Cradle of Destruction: A Journey to the Birthplace of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis

Furnace of Creation, Cradle of Destruction: A Journey to the Birthplace of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis

Excerpt

If we needed an event to remind us of the great danger that could arise from natural disasters, then the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 played the role well. The tragedy of the Asian earthquake, and the Indian Ocean tsunami that followed it, unfolded over the period of Christmas 2004. Viewers watched in horror as television screens across the world broadcast stark images of death and destruction as a tsunami struck the coastlines of the Indian Ocean. This was real. This was disaster brought into the living room.

The response from the public was immediate and unstinting. But there was something else here as well. People had witnessed the raw power of nature at its destructive worst, and there was a thirst for understanding how it had happened. I had retired from my university post at that time, but I was asked to give a series of public lectures on volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis—that great trinity of natural disasters. During these lectures, I found audiences were fascinated by the fact that there was one single underlying thread that controlled the way the surface of our planet had evolved; a thread that underpinned the way volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis were generated. That thread was the theory of plate tectonics.

Using this theory, I could explain to audiences the causes of the trinity of natural disasters in a scientific manner. But this raised a question with me: How would volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis have appeared to people in the past, before the advent of modern theories about plate tectonics or, even more intriguing, in the time before science? How would ancient cultures view destructive visitations in the shape of these natural phenomena that threatened to destroy their world? And how did our thinking evolve as we moved toward the system of knowledge in place today?

To try to answer questions such as these, I have gone back in . . .

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