The Underworld – Is It Connected With Fault Lines?

In ScienceNOW Daily News, David Malakoff reports on geologist Eric Force’s idea that most ancient civilizations were deliberately situated along fault lines:

“Earthquake-prone areas along the edges of tectonic plates were far more likely to give birth to great ancient civilizations than less dynamic landscapes, according to a new study. Researchers say the relationship suggests that forces typically viewed as destructive–such as earthquakes–might have also played a constructive role in human history.”
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The idea that people would settle on land made rich by geological phenomena coupled with the presence of water seems sufficient rationale for locating a permanent settlement, but Eric Force goes further, to suggest an intriguing, but unverifiable psychological explanation:

“Maybe the elders are telling the kids that they’d better be prepared to cope with a lot of risk and change….”

Someone at the coffee shop suggested people settled near volcanoes and earthquakes in order to be nearer their gods. While ancient people often attributed such natural phenomena to gods, I am not aware of any group that had an earthquake god that didn’t have other gods, as well. Since the earthquake is so obviously destructive, I don’t know why people would deliberately choose to live so close to that particular god instead of a more benign spirit. Even more likely, they settled without realizing the earthquake god had taken up his abode in such close proximity and when they learned, it was too late.

However… those people a few miles from the epicenter or in safe viewing distance of a spewing volcano could certainly develop a lore about it. If the earth opens up and swallows people or buries them several feet deep, it would seem that there must be quite an underworld collection of the dead; hence, the Underworld. At least one Greek myth seems based on this.

The myth is the story of Persephone’s abduction. Persephone is playing among the flowers when all of a sudden a chasm forms in the earth, a chariot emerges staffed by one Hades, god of the Underworld and possessor of a pair of thrones, one of which was going begging. The earth already had a goddess of plants and such, Persephone’s mother, Demeter. It didn’t need Persephone, but Hades and his throne did, so he snatched her while no one was looking and pulled her under the earth with him, sealing up the earth behind him so no one could see where he’d gone. (This is told in the myth often called “The Rape of Persephone.”)

It is also probably connected with the lore about the caves near and the entrance to the Underworld, somehow.

Eric Force says that 13/15 major Old World civilizations were located along these Eurasian tectonic plates, but 2/15 were not. These two were China and Egypt. Since they were not in imminent danger of becoming part of the Underworld it is, perhaps, not surprising.


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