This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

Myths About Earthquakes

Alison Henning and Bill Dupre
Topic: Introduction to earthquakes and early attempts to explain them
Course Type:intro


This is not an activity as an introduction to earthquake science.


The goal is to show students that people try to explain natural phenomenon based upon their own experiences. As our understanding of science improves, we leave the early "myths" behind.

A myth is a traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to explain a natural phenomenon. Myths about earthquakes evolved in many cultures to explain the catastrophic eruptions before the science behind them was well-understood. Some myths continue into today's culture. For example, some believe that certain weather (calm and oppressively humid) is a precursor to an earthquake. This idea probably comes from Aristotle, who believed that subsurface winds caused earthquakes.

Other myths include:

Ancient Greece
Movement of air in subterrestrial chambers created earthquakes and ties in to Aristotle's ideas of earth, air, fire and water as the basis for all natural events.

Elephants held up the Earth. When one grew tired and lowered and shook its head, an earthquake occurred.

A giant frog held up the Earth. When it twitched, it produced an earthquake.

A giant catfish lived beneath the Earth's surface and when it thrashed about, it caused an earthquake.

East Africa
A fish carries a rock on its back and a cow stands on the rock, balancing the Earth on one of its horns. When her neck begins to hurt, she tosses the Earth from one horn to another and causes an earthquake.



Earthquakes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Seismic Disruptions, by Jelle Zeilinga de Boer and Donald Theodore Sanders