Thursday, February 14, 2019

II. Punctuation marks in religious histories--examples of direct links to tectonism

II. Punctuation marks in religious histories--examples of direct links with tectonism

Eric R. Force

(second of a series addressing religion on the weblog Tectonic Environments of Ancient Cultures,  at  )


In my last posting (of 12/24/18) I showed a remarkable spatial correspondence of origination sites of today's big religions with plate-tectonic boundaries.  Some critical response thus far to this posting holds that a culture’s religion is inseparable from the whole of its  cultural aspects, and therefore that my posting basically treats a cultural phenomenon.  And so some of these responders familiar with my book (Force 2015) say that the correspondence of tectonic boundaries and origination of religion simply echoes the cultural correspondence I demonstrate there.  I see that this is a question that I myself have made more difficult. 
Therefore this post is required to show that these variables—culture and religion—are separable based on people’s elemental responses to tectonic activity. Below I list cases where religious responses are sufficiently well described to link them definitively to tectonic events. 
I have listed only responses to earthquakes rather than including volcanic eruptions, as these can be quite different.  Earthquakes generally seem totally other-worldly and unexpected, so that religious response begins at the event, whereas people living near a volcano are generally aware of that, and religious practice consequently focuses on pre- and syn-eruption protection (and in some cases volcano veneration).  These are numerous and persuasive; volcanic ties with religion have been catalogued by Chester and Duncan (2007),  consisting of at least 41 examples, 25 after 1850 and 16 before.  To their comprehensive compilation I can add only a few (Oviedo 1529, Hamilton 1776, Elson 2007, Barnes in press). 

Enumerating direct earthquake-religious links

The list below documents the religious responses I’m aware of to earthquakes, ranging from antiquity to the modern world.  I’m particularly weak on the medieval era.   Most pre-modern (and some modern) earthquakes have insufficiently recorded and preserved cultural responses, whether secular or religious, so this list is just a sampling. Not included are those pre-modern religious events--such as death of a prophet—accompanied by earthquakes, as these were easily manufactured after the fact to maximize impact.  However, one such link is included in which a religion’s appeal was changed.  Also omitted are creation myths that involve earthquakes.  Tsunami are included regardless of origin.  The listed links vary from profoundly religious to practically incidental.  In a few remarkable items the link is directly to ancient fault activity rather than to earthquakes per se. 

Pre-1300 BC: Mycenae, unusual cultic focus on recently formed fault scarp (Force and Rutter, in press)

Ca. 750 BC: an earthquake predicted by Amos (1:1) began the entire earthquake theophany of zealous prophets (Freedman and Welch 1994), described in some detail in my following post.

8th to 4th cent. BC: Delphi episodic gas release with active faulting as basis of veneration (Stewart and Piccardi 2017)

5th cent. BC: Ephesus temple sited on active fault scarp with votive (Stewart and Piccardi 2017)

4th cent. BC: Cnidus (Turkey) as at Ephesus (Stewart and Piccardi 2017)

3rd cent. BC:  Heiropolis (Turkey) priestly manipulation of fault-motion consequences (Stewart and Piccardi 2017)

Ca. AD 32: “Holy Land” death of Jesus, earthquake suggests divinity recognized outside Judaism (Matthew 27:51-54)

AD 60: Colossae, archangel appears in earthquake (Piccardi 2007)

AD 77 then 365-400: Kenchraea (Greece), earthquake-submerged port becomes Christian basilica, then that is abandoned due to recurrent submergence (Scranton 1978)

Ca. AD 100: Philippi (Turkey), earthquake releases Paul and Silas from prison, converts jailer (Acts 16: 26-31)

AD 410: Corinth,  earthquake destruction of “pagan” temples divert populace toward Christianity, now “official”  (Rothaus 1996)

AD 1157 and 1170: Syria, “holy land” sieges and battles between Crusaders and Moslems postponed by earthquakes, then influenced by damage (Raphael 2010)

AD 1257: Kamakura (Japan), rise of lotus sect spurred by earthquake (deBoer and Sanders 2005)

15th cent. AD: New Zealand Maori belief systems shift with occupation patterns due to earthquakes and tsunami (McFadgen 2007)

ca. AD 1500: Italy, political manipulation of religious response to earthquakes (Belloc et al. 2016)

AD 1638, 1727, and 1755: New England, the Mathers both father and son use each of these three earthquakes to push religious purification (Rozario 2007)

AD 1755: Lisbon earthquake first blamed by clerics on impious populace, then reversed by Marquis de Pombal, meanwhile used by Voltaire to address question of God’s permitting evil (many authors e.g. de Boer and Sanders 2005; Hough and Bilham 2006, Robinson 2016)

AD 1786 Lituya Bay AK, some Tlingit clans form tectonically related religions. Largely in response to tsunami (Emmons 1911, Howell and Grant 2016)

AD 1812: New Madrid MO earthquake increases local religiousity, blamed by Tecumseh on Great Spirit (Rozario 2007 p. 57-9, Hough and Bilham 2006 p. 82-3)

AD 1812: Caracas, Bolivar describes priestly manipulation of earthquake damage (Robinson 2016)

AD 1855:  Edo (Japan), religious imagery of earthquake initiated (Robinson 2016)

AD 1883: Krakatoa tsunami sparked Islamic fundamentalist reform (Winchester 2003)

AD 1906: San Francisco, Christian Science revival after earthquake (Winchester 2006)

AD 1923: Kanto (Japan), changes in Shinto religion permitted militarism, exacerbated intolerance (Robinson 2016)

AD 2011: Christchurch (New Zealand), increase in religiousity after earthquake (Sibley and Bulbulia 2012)

So dozens of examples show direct linkages between earthquakes and religious responses, representing a wide range of time periods in different parts of the world.  It seems permissible to generalize that earthquakes are religious punctuation marks.  Indirect links between earthquakes and religion seem unnecessary when direct links are so numerous.   In several cases priests used earthquakes to manipulate the laity.  In several others the religion is reformed in some way, making origination of a new religion (as in my post of 12/24/18) quite plausible. 
This result is in accord with dozens of additional links between religious responses and volcanic eruptions (Chester and Duncan 2007).  Those links are apparently not in dispute. 
 In the modern world links between earthquake-prone environments and religiousity are so strong as to be reduced to statistics and even equations (Bentzen in press).  Indeed it seems quite possible to me that the link between tectonism and culture occurs via religious responses in a majority of cases.  In those cases religious response to tectonism is the horse that pulls cultures along behind.  Of course in the modern world political responses are also common.  I review some of these in Force 2015.
It seems time to consider the hypothesis that religious responses are the most potent drivers of cultural connections with tectonism.  In the next posts we will see what the religious connections actually look like in individual cultures. 


Barnes, G. L., in press, Ritualized beadstone in Kofun-period society: East Asia Journal, accessed at

Belloc, M., Drago, F., & Galbiati, R. 2016. Earthquakes, Religion, and Transition to Self-Government in Italian Cities: The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 131(4), 1875-̃1926.

Bentzen, J. S., in press, Acts of God?  Religiousity and natural disasters across subnational world districts:  The Economic Journal.
(accessed at

Chester, D. K. and Duncan, A. M. 2007. Geomythology, theodicy, and the continuing relevance of religious worldviews in response to volcanic eruptions. In Living Under the Shadow, edited by J. Grattan and R. Torrence, p. 203-224:  Walnut Creek, Left Coast Press.

deBoer, J. Z. and Sanders, D. T. 2005. Earthquakes in Human History. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Elson, M. D. et al. 2007, Living with the volcano—the 11th century AD eruption of Sunset Crater, in Living Under the Shadow, edited by J. Grattan and R. Torrence,  107-132: Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press

Emmons, G. T., 1911, Native Account of the Meeting between La Perouse and the Tlingit. American Anthropologist, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Apr.-Jun 1911), pp. 294-298.

Force, E. R., 2015, Impact of tectonic activity on ancient civilizations—recurrent shakeups, tenacity, resilience, and change: Lexington

Force, E. R. and Rutter, J. B., in press, Holocene fault scarps at Mycenae (Greece) and possible cultural ties:  Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici, nuovo serie #4

Freedman, D. N., and Welch, A., 1994, Amos’s earthquake and Israelite prophesy, in Scripture and other Artifacts, edited by M. D. Coogan, J. C. Exum, and L. E. Stager:  Louisville, Westminster John Knox

Hamilton, W. 1776. Campi Phlegraei:  London:Royal Society/Fabris.

Hough, S. E. and Bilham, R. G., 2006, After the Earth Quakes—elastic rebound on an urban planet:  Oxford

Howell, W. K. and Grant, K., 2016, The sixth wave: cultural responses to the giant tsunamis of Lituya Bay, Alaska:  Society of Applied Anthropology meeting abstracts, Vancouver, p. 167

McFadgen, B. 2007.  Hostile Shores: Catastrophic Events in Prehistoric New Zealand and Their Impact on Maori Coastal Communities. Auckland: Auckland University Press.

Oviedo, 1528, Description of Nicaragua.

Piccardi, L., 2007, The AD 60 Denizli earthquake and the apparition of archangel Michael at Colossai (Aegean Turkey), in L. Piccardi  and B. Masse, eds, Myth and Geology:  Special Publications of the Geological Society #273, p. 95-105.

Raphael, K. 2010, The impact of the 1157 and 1170 Syrian earthquakes on Crusader-Muslim politics and military affairs, in Sintubin, Stewart, Niemi, and Altinel, eds. Ancient Earthquakes:  Geological Society of America Special Paper 471, p. 59-66

Robinson, A. 2016, Earth-shattering Events—earthquakes, nations, and civilization:  Thames and Hudson

Rothaus, R. M. 1996. Earthquakes and temples in Late Antique Corinth, In Archaeoseismology, edited by S. Stiros and R E. Jones, 105-112:  Athens, Fitch Laboratory Occasional Paper 7 (British School at Athens).

Rozario, K. 2007. The culture of calamity: disaster and the making of modern America: Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Scranton, R. 1978. Kenchreai--eastern port of Corinth I. Topography and architecture: Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Sibley, C. G, and Bulbulia, J., 2012, Faith after an earthquake--
-longitudinal study of religion and perceived health before and after the 2011 Christchurch New Zealand earthquake: PLoS ONE v. 7#12 p. 1-10 e49648

Stewart, I. S., and Piccardi, L., 2017, Seismic faults and sacred sanctuaries in Aegean antiquity:  Proceedings of the Geologists Association v. 128, p 711-721.

            Winchester, S. 2003. Krakatoa: New York, HarperCollins.

Winchester, S. 2006. A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906:  New York, Harper.

Monday, December 24, 2018

I. Earthquakes and big religions

I. Plate tectonics and big religions

Eric R. Force

Back about 2005, as I was preparing a paper comparing plate-tectonic boundaries with originating sites of ancient complex cultures, my former colleague Henry Spall at US Geological Survey pointed out that a similar case could be made for the originating sites of world religions.  I did not include his information in Force (2008) but it gains urgency as evidence of links between religiousity and tectonic activity emerge (Bentzen in press) and as the evolution of big religions is addressed (e.g. Norenzayan et al. 2016).   It seems possible that tectonic activity catalyzed religious change to begin this evolution.
            In this posting I will compare the big religions of today via their originating sites to the plate tectonic environments of those sites.  I keep my information base obvious and accessible, using Wikipedia where possible.
Table 1 compares today’s religions numbering adherents over a million (from Wikipedia for 2018), with the tectonic environments of the originating sites for each, listed as distance to the nearest plate-tectonic boundary. For plate boundaries I mostly use data from Force (2008) as in figure 1; these include transcurrent, spreading, and collisional boundaries.  Because seismic activity is related to plate boundaries, it should also be possible to do this analysis using seismic risk.
Taking an unweighted arithmetic average of site-distances from table 1 gives 239 km, a remarkably small average distance on a globe with thousands of kilometers of distance available for founding religions.  Indeed these originating sites form a cluster around tectonic boundaries that represent only 5.6 percent of the available land in the eastern hemisphere alone.  (Even if the distance for Confucian/Tao had been listed as 1500 km, the average would still be only 251 km; see note with table 1). 
We could calculate the chance that the distribution is random (as I did in 2008 for ancient complex cultures), but perhaps the reader can accept that this chance would be one in several million.  Regardless of causes, there is a strong spatial association of active plate tectonic boundaries with religious origination. 
Perusing table 1 also gives one the impression that religions with the most adherents originated closest to tectonic boundaries.  An average weighted by number of adherents is called for.  Dividing the product of adherents and distance by the number of adherents gives 75.7 km for the average adherent-distance for originating sites, a much smaller distance confirming that religions with the most adherents tended to originate closest to plate-tectonic boundaries.  It’s clear from figure 1 and table 1 that the northern margin of the Indian plate and the western margin of the Arabian plate were the locus of origination of disproportionately many religions, and those with many adherents. 

Table 1.—Plate tectonic positions of world religions’ originating sites, ranked by number of adherents by Wikipedia (2018). Notes: Omitted from the Wikipedia list are Irreligious, ethnic/indigenous, African indigenous, spiritism, and neopagan, i.e. religious categories that are composite and have no single origin.  Similarly Zorastrianism is omitted from calculations due to lack of definite origination site; plate boundaries Af, African; Ar, Arabian; In, Indo-Australian; Ea, Eurasian; Po, Philippine and Okhotsk plates; 3. Hastinapura taken for the coalescence of the religious traditions that became Vedic Hinduism, 4. Bodh Gaya is traditional but most sites such as Kushinagar are about 110 km.  That is, Gautama’s spiritual journeys and observations were in tectonically active terrain but enlightenment was more quiescent, 5. Confucianism and other traditional Chinese religions are thought to have been codified in Zhou times in their capital.  The distance listed is that to the Altyn Tagh-Qinling fault system, a proto-plate boundary as discussed in Force (2015).  Otherwise the listed distance would be about 1500 km.

Rank and name
Adherents (million)
Originating site
Distance to boundary (approx km)
Plate boundary
1. Christian
Jordan Valley
2. Muslim
3. Hindu
4. Buddhist
5. Tao/Confucian
(see note)
6. Sikh
7. Judaism
Jordan Valley
8. Bahai
9. Jain
10. Shinto
ca. Kyoto?
11. Cao Dai
Tay Ninh
12. Zoroastrian

            Of course many of the religions listed here now occupy huge tracts of tectonically quiescent continents.  The current distribution of Christianity, for example, would bear little resemblance to plate-tectonic boundaries, indeed several religions have migrated away from their origination sites.
            My use of the Wikipedia list for a metric (and probably any such list) obscures great complexities— list-aggregated religions each with many adherents, religions so fractured that their adherents are shooting at each other, etc.  A more sophisticated treatment seems warranted in view of the strength of my simple analysis.
            An explanation for the correspondence between religious origination and tectonic activity is beyond this posting.  The most basic question is—what catalyzes a perceived need for a new religion?
 I intend to explore converse approaches and textual materials for this question in future postings. There are potential difficulties for separating complex cultures and their religions that can be addressed with converse approaches, and texts can reveal the dynamics of religious evolution.  For this posting it seems sufficient to note that my analysis was prompted by current work (Bentzen, in press)—and abundant examples (reviewed by Force 2015)-- on links between religious and seismic activity.
            This posting (on Tectonic Environments of Ancient Cultures,  at  ) can be edited, and I intend to do so as comments come in.  Respondents from a variety of disciplines may be interested and have something to add.  Additions to the original posting benefitted (so far) from J. S. Bentzen, Wayne Howell, E. Charles Adams, Gary Huckleberry, E. H. (Ned) Brown, Claudio Vita-Finzi, David Gilman Romano, Lars Fogelin, Johan Elverskog, and David Soren.  Responsibility remains mine.  Additional suggestions are welcome.

Figure 1.--Locations of originating sites of major world religions (numbered as in table 1) relative to tectonic plate boundaries on or near land, modified from Force (2008).  P and O are the Philippine and Okhotsk plates respectively.



Bentzen, J. S., in press, Acts of God?  Religiousity and natural disasters across subnational world districts:  The Economic Journal.
(already available at

Force, E. R., 2008, Tectonic environments of ancient civilizations in the eastern hemisphere:  Geoarchaeology v. 23, p. 644-653.

-----, 2015, Impact of tectonic activity on ancient civilizations:  Lexington

Norenzayan, A., Shariff, A.Z., Gervais, W. M., Willard, A. K., McNamara, R.A., and Slingerland, E., 2016, The cultural evolution of prosocial religions:  Behavioral and Brain Sciences, v. 39, p. 1-65.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Possible earthquake history of Burnt House at tell Arpachiyeh, Iraq; or did Agatha crack a prehistoric case?

Possible earthquake history of Burnt House at tell Arpachiyeh, Iraq; or did Agatha crack a prehistoric case?

Eric R. Force

The excavation and description by Mallowan and Rose (1935) of the little mound of Arpachiyeh (near Mosul and Ninevah) first established the sequence of prehistoric cultural artifacts of Halaf and Ubaid assemblages.  Particularly rich were  Halaf remains of the so-called Burnt House at level six from the top (TT6), where diverse remains were preserved under a fallen burnt roof.  This horizon is thought (Campbell 2000, p. 1) to be about 5800 B.C.

The destruction and preservation of Burnt House is ascribed by Mallowan and Rose (1935) to invasion, the invaders’ scattering of artifacts, and fire set by them.  This genetic model follows description of only three paragraphs within a single page (p. 17), which with further comments on p. 106 remains all we know of the destruction itself.  I suggest that Mallowan’s genetic model (delivered in first-person singular) should not be taken for granted (as suggested also by other authors below), and propose here that earthquake damage is more probable.

Indeed the published journal of a photographer/conservator of the expedition (Christie 1977, p. 449) noted that preservation of the assemblage was due not only to fallen roof but also to fallen walls.  We now know the latter is an indicator of earthquake damage, though it can have other origins.  On one hand, this was not a critical point to Christie and we perhaps should not give it too much weight.  On the other hand, none doubt that she was a keen observer, and since she mentions fallen roof and fallen walls separately, she knew the difference.

Other authors such as Campbell (2000; see also Campbell and Fletcher 2000) also look askance at the invasion model.  Campbell conducted an extensive inventory of artifacts from the Burnt House (TT6) wherever accessible. Campbell’s body of information includes many intriguing relationships otherwise unclear.  His frustration with Mallowan and Rose shows as: “Little is known of the exact distribution of the objects in the Burnt House. Insufficient information is available on the nature of the burning” (Campbell’s p. 4) and “Unfortunately it is now impossible to reconstruct the original location of more than a few of the objects.” (his p. 7).   Campbell suggested a ritual aspect to the destruction of Burnt House.  I find no additional information in Hjjara et al. 1980 that add pertinent data on this subject to those of Campbell. 

I briefly suggested (Force 2017) that damage at Burnt House could plausibly have resulted from earthquake followed by fire, and in the same paper proposed criteria for earthquake damage as opposed to other causes in mud-brick structures with flammable roofs.  There is no doubt that fire can follow earthquakes where flammable roofs collapse into rooms where fires were lit. 

Four of my earthquake criteria (in table 2 of Force 2017) are, first, that unburnt debris should underlie burnt debris, some of the former resting directly on the floor; second, that only the upper margins of the fallen debris should be burnt; thirdly, that fallen debris (and mortality if any) should extend well beyond evidence of fire; and last, that fallen walls suggest seismic activity.  Admittedly in this case the evidence is tenuous for this last criterion, though I consider it suggestive, and it inspired this re-examination of the overall logic.

Let us look more closely at the other lines of evidence at Burnt House:
1. Mallowan and Rose (1935, plate XXI b with caption) present a photo of complete though probably fractured bases of pots “found on the floor of the potter’s shop in the burnt house TT6”.  Campbell (2000 pp. 7, 10) notes that this unique photograph, apparently from near the center of the room, is puzzling but suggests in situ damage, in this case directly on the floor.  That is, damage preceded fire.
2. Campbell (2000) describes artifacts burnt only on one side, suggesting to him their projection from unburnt debris at an angle (p. 12 and fig. 8, #2 and #3).  He wonders “Was the Burnt House in some disarray before the fire took place?”  He notes also many restored artifacts “where conjoining sherds have been burnt to radically different temperature and in different atmosphere,” (as noted by Mallowan and Rose 1935, p. 106 and plate XIX) suggesting to me different positions in the debris as well as the scattering proposed by Mallowan and Rose (1935, p.  17, 106).  That is, the ceramics were fragmented and incorporated in debris before the room was burnt.
3. Both Mallowan and Rose (1935, p. 106) and Campbell (2000, pp. 8, 10) note that debris at the north end of the main room contains unburnt and little-burnt artifacts.  The fire must have been more local than debris fall. 

Thus three of my criteria for earthquake damage are handsomely met in the Burnt House horizon.  Earthquakes there of course are consonant with the region’s historic seismic activity and current seismic risk.  In contrast to these criteria consistent with earthquake damage, I consider the evidence for invasion per se as very weak (also based on criteria of  Force 2007, table 2).  No evidence of weaponry or related mortality is presented by Mallowan and Rose (1935). 

Musings about blind spots of Mallowan  

Mallowan’s many writings suggest an intent to be thorough and an open-minded attitude, so his leap to an invasion theory for damage at Burnt House is puzzling to me.  Of course, genetic models based on incomplete descriptions are a common failing of early and less-exacting work in many disciplines, and would be rejected today.  Mallowan was tutored by early archaeologists who had no formal training in their field, and who in addition had preconceived ideas of what aspects of their excavations were of importance—Biblical in the case of Woolley and epigraphic in the case of Campbell-Thompson. 

Mallowan (1977) in the course of his career attributed at least six destructive horizons with or without fire to invaders (p. 113, 138, 153, 157, 160, 253) without mention of possible earthquakes, even though the last-listed was first described as earthquake damage by others of Mallowan’s staff at Nimrud (Oates and Reid, 1956), acknowledged by him in 1966 but not mentioned in 1977.  Several of the six sites (e.g. Brak) are in locations where damaging earthquakes are to be expected in sequences representing more than 500 years, as is Arpachiyeh itself.  Indeed, for Mallowan’s sites in the upper Balikh valley the expected seismic intervals are considerably shorter than I thought in Force (2017; see note below and my posting of 11/13/18).

It’s simplest I think to assume that Mallowan was uninterested in earthquakes, even though he knew something of earthquake damage (Mallowan 1977, p. 108).  Other authors such as Kenyon and Schaeffer were suggesting earthquake damage at sites to the east, but not in northern Mesopotamia proper, a situation that has continued to the present day. 

Note: For Force (2017),  I was blissfully unaware that the seismic history recorded by Ambraseys (2009) for Edessa should be added to that for Urfa/Sanliurfa, as these are alternate names for the same place under different regimes.  In my fig . 3 of that paper, therefore, the seismic recurrence interval shown at latitude 37-37.5 degrees in the Balikh valley should be about 250 years rather than 500 years.


Ambraseys, N.,  2009, Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East: a multidisciplinary study of seismicity up to 1900:  Cambridge

Campbell, S., 2000, The Burnt House at Arpachiyeh: a reexamination:  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research v. 318, p. 1-40

Campbell, S. and Fletcher, A., 2000, Questioning the Halaf-Ubaid transition, p. 69-85 in  Beyond the Ubaid, R. A. Carter and G. Phillip, eds: Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilizations #63, University of Chicago.

Christie, A., 1977, An Autobiography:  Dodd, Mead/Collins (New York/London)

Force, E. R., 2017, Seismic environments of prehistoric settlements in northern Mesopotamia: a review of current knowledge:  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research v, 378, p. 55-69.

Hijara, I., , Watson, J. P. M., and Hubbard, R. N., L. B., 1980, Arpachiyeh 1976: Iraq v. 42, p. 131-154.

Mallowan, Max, 1977, Mallowan’s Memoirs: Dodd and Mead, New York

Mallowan, M. E. L., 1966, Nimrud and its Remains:  Dodd and Mead/Collins, London

Mallowan, M. E. L., and Rose, J. C., 1935, Excavations at Tell Arpachiyeh 1933:  Iraq v. 2, p. 1-178.

            Oates, D., and Reid, J. H., 1956, The Burnt Palace and the Nabu Temple, Nimrud Excavations 1955,: Iraq 18, p. 22-39.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Gobekli Tepe: tectonic environment and consequent strategic position

Gobekli Tepe: tectonic environment and consequent strategic position

Eric R. Force

The ancient archaeological site of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey has attracted a great deal of attention since its discovery (or rediscovery) in 1994.  Its great age—thought to be about 11000 years—in conjunction with the complexity of its cultic/religious architecture (Schmidt 2001) poses new questions about the evolution of civilizations.
The purpose of this posting is not to ponder these questions, but merely to place the location of the site(s) in its tectonic context.  As it happens, I have studied the historic and instrumental seismicity of the sites’ region, for the purpose of interpreting excavation reports of much younger—but still prehistoric—tells there (Force, 2017).  That study has implications for Gobekli Tepe that are not apparent in the study itself, but may be of interest to students of the much older culture.
Gobekli Tepe is 12  km northeast of the modern town of Sanliurfa, Turkey, commonly called Urfa in older literature, and Edessa in even older literature, back to its founding in the Hellenistic era.  The site can be found in Google Earth  images at latitude 37 degrees 13’02.73”N and longitude 38 degrees 51’16.00”E.  Both town and site are at the head of a drainage basin emptying southward into the Euphrates River near Raqqa, Syria, as the Balikh River.   In Turkey this drainage is called the Colop.
The site of Gobekli Tepe is about 50 km north of the Syrian-Turkish border, but is nevertheless at the northern margin of the Mesopotamian plains geomorphically or physiographically.  That is, its location should not be considered as part of the Anatolian province in the sense of its plateaus and mountains.  Indeed, its plate boundary location places it not on the Hellenic/Turkish plate but on the impinging Arabian plate!  Gobekli Tepe is a most strategic site in its segment of the northern margin of the Mesopotamian plains, as was ancient Edessa much later—but before the Syrian-Turkish border divided the drainage basin in two. 
The Balikh/Colop basin at Sanliurfa is a graben, i.e. a tectonic basin, here outlined by north-south faults that extend southward at least to the Syrian border but immediately to the north become the Bozova dextral fault extending northwest (e.g. Selcuk and Gokten 2012, fig. 1).  The age of faulting to form these features is unclear—at least to me—but thought to be Holocene.
The basinal terraces and floodplain at Sanliurfa are bordered by Cenozoic sedimentary rocks, mostly limestones including the Gaziantep Formation of Eocene and Oligocene age.  The site of Gobekli Tepe is in such uplands marginal to the basin. The basin floor was probably important from some combination of its riparian characters for gathering, hunting, and/or agriculture, rather than directly to its tectonic context.   Since the discovery of Gobekli Tepe, related and somewhat similar sites of great antiquity have been discovered nearby, so far all in its Turkish segment (Guler et al. 2012).  The probable southern extension of the graben as Syria’s Balikh drainage is also the site of Neolithic tells, showing a continuity of cultural connection into Mesopotamia (Force 2017 reviews work of Akkermans and others).
The seismic character of the immediate area of Sanliurfa and Gobekli Tepe is shown on generalized seismic risk maps as moderately low, considerably lower than most of Turkey, and lower than the Taurus Mountains immediately north (Erdik et al. 1999; Tsapanos et al. 2005).  That is, the modest modern seismicity of the northern Mesopotamian plains on the Arabian tectonic plate extends into Turkey as an arc south of boundaries between it and the Eurasian and Hellenic/Turkish plates to the northeast and northwest respectively.
Thus there is no reason other than the location of Gobekli-related ancient sites around and near a tectonic basin to suppose that tectonic activity has influenced the course of the sites’ development.  And of course no excavation report suggests any such influence—but that is generally the case in this region regardless of the age of site, even where in retrospect some influence can be gleaned from excavation reports (Force, 2017).  In addition, the death of Klaus Schmidt in 2014 has slowed answers to the many questions his site presents. 
My own method of addressing questions about seismic history of ancient sites is to use the modern instrumental seismic record and the recorded seismicity in the historic period, to establish a rough pattern of intensities and recurrences that can be projected into prehistoric periods.  The pattern can be used to establish seismicity expectations for a given stratigraphic/archaeologic record.  Only time will tell what the reception of this method will be, but unless tectonic plate motions change between prehistoric and historic periods, it seems logical.  My existing data base of instrumental and historic seismicity for the region that includes Gobekli Tepe (Force, 2017) can continue this reasoning. 
That paper examines modern/historical seismicity along three transects, one of which is centered on the Balikh River drainage and extends north into Turkey up to a latitude of 38 degrees, i.e. past Gobekli Tepe.  The main source of historical data is the voluminous compilation by Ambraseys (2009), to which can be added Sbeinati et al. (2005) for nearby earthquakes in Syria.  Along the Balikh transect no modern earthquakes were recorded instrumentally, though several plot on nearby transects.
Quite a few damaging earthquakes are recorded at Sanliurfa (recorded both as Urfa or Edessa) in AD 499, 569-570, 679, 860, 1114, 1157, and 1162.  In addition there are records of earthquakes felt there in AD 1003, 1120, and 1822.  The epicenters of a considerable number of these earthquakes were to the west and northwest, along the Levantine margins of the Arabian plate.  The remarkable number of earthquakes occurring between AD 500 and 1200 is due in part to increased attention due to concurrent religious wars, in which some of these earthquakes played a part (Raphael 2010).
But ten earthquakes in 1500 years (to the present) is remarkable, and the apparent clustering in time even more so.  Indeed the clustering may suggest additional earthquakes in periods when observers were not paying attention.
The Syrian part of my Balikh transect shows damaging earthquake recurrences averaging about 500 years between 36 and 37 degrees latitude (Force, 2017, fig. 3) and this new information for Urfa/Edessa shows a dramatic northward increase in earthquake frequency-–one not apparent in modern seismic risk maps due to their reliance on instrumentally recorded seismic events.

What does this mean for students of Gobekli Tepe?  Perhaps an expectation of archaeologic evidence of seismic events, quite possibly about ten of them given the duration of the site’s activity and the historic record of regional seismicity.  The correspondence of tectonic basins (grabens) with ancient sites of Gebekli type may prove to be significant, but that is currently unclear. 
However, the continuity of this graben with Mesopotamian plains certainly conferred strategic advantage on the site of Gobekli Tepe.  This site could project power southward along its graben.  This view puts Gobekli Tepe into a more regional framework. 


Ambraseys, N.,  2009, Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East: a multidisciplinary study of seismicity up to 1900:  Cambridge

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Force, E. R., 2017, Seismic environments of prehistoric settlements in northern Mesopotamia: a review of current knowledge:  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research v, 378, p. 55-69.

Guler, M., Celik, B, and Guler, G., 2012, New pre-pottery Neolithic settlements from the Veransehir district:  Anatolia v. 38, p. 164-180.

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