, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 329-340

Historical earthquakes in Jerusalem – A methodological discussion

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Abstract

This article is of an inter-disciplinary nature, relevant to the fields of both earth sciences and historiography, which come together in the investigation of long-term earthquake hazard. The paper emphasises the need for systematic and consistent analysis of historical earthquake data and sets out an example for such a task. The results from the historical study of earthquakes will be of value to earth scientists and engineers only when historical information is converted into “numbers” representing epicentral location and magnitude of the events, accompanied by an estimate of the reliability of their assessment. However, as we go further back in time before our era, the historical record gradually disappears and the archaeological record takes over. Unfortunately, the archaeological record is too coarse and ambiguous, without any precise internal archaeological indicators. Dating is based on, or influenced by the very few historical records, such as in the Bible and inscriptions, which provide an example of how their assumed accuracy may influence archaeologists' interpretation and dating. Quite often this develops into a circular process in which archaeological assumptions or theories are transformed into facts and used by earth scientists to confirm the dates and size of their proposed events. In this article we discuss the problems that arise when Biblical and archaeological information is used at face value to assess earthquakes in the Holy Land. This combination may produce earthquakes of hypothetical location and of grossly exaggerated magnitude with consequences for the assessment of seismic hazard.