Spanish conquistadores conducted such a thorough book-burning throughout the Yucatan in the 16th century that only four works of the Maya existed in the entire world in 1945. One of them was in the collection of the Staats Bibliothek in Dresden, Germany, a city which was reduced to rubble by British and American Air Forces and overrun by the Red Army in that year.
A sharp-eyed Russian major, poking through the ruins of the library, spotted the codex and recognized its value. This plucky manuscript, having escaped both the Spanish Inquisition and the holocaust of World War II four hundred years later, turned out to be indispensible to code breakers trying to decipher Maya inscriptions on the stone stelae the Spaniards couldn’t burn.
"The Dresden Codex" turns out to be an astronomical table, a lunar almanac for predicting eclipses, accompanied by dire warnings of these. Eclipses were considered harbingers of calamities by the Maya — the same people who collectively were obsessed enough with seismic events to have selected "earthquake" as one of the 20 days of their sacred calendar, and whose long count ends with their world being ultimately destroyed by earthquakes.
Mayan astronomers didn’t say straight out that they had chronicled a synchronicity between eclipses and earthquakes — but Aristotle in his "Meteorology" (350 BC) does, giving his opinion that they are part and parcel of the same subject. The classical historians Thucydides and Phlegon both give accounts of a number of eclipses-cum-earthquakes that destroyed great parts of the Peloponnesus, Bithynia and Nicaea.
The Bible also mentions both those phenomena in the same breath, "And lo, there was a great earthquake; and the Sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the Moon became as blood," Revelation 6:12.
Quite a few devout Christians who take the New Testament at its word believe that on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion there was an eclipse — and also an earthquake.
The Babylonians also considered them mutually inclusive, so did the ancient Japanese, and so did Arabic scholars of the Islamic Golden Age such as Ibn al-Batriq and Hunayn ibn Ishaq.
Granted, more than a few errors have been passed down to us from pre-scientific ages, but when the horrific hammer-blow of the cataclysmic Lisbon earthquake struck in 1755, it took place in a different era. The greatest minds of the Age of the Enlightenment (Kant, Rousseau, Voltaire, etc.) began asking what sort of power might exist sufficient to toss great cities upside-down. In a time long before fission and fusion there was really only one place to look — up.
Conjoined lunar and solar gravitational tides — Sun, Moon and Earth aligned perfectly, pulling in tandem in the same direction — are monumentally powerful forces, sufficient to bulge and warp the entire planet, to slosh uncountable trillions of tons of water in Earth’s oceans around the world with seeming effortlessness, as if all the sea were no great weight and nothing more than the water in a baby’s bassinette.
Gravitational tides, it was thought, might put colossal pressures on Earth’s fractured fault lines and help to at least trigger earthquakes about to erupt in any event, acting as the last straw. The times for maximum tidal stress would be during new and full moon phases, at perigee when the Moon drifts closer to Earth in its orbit and — during an eclipse.
The governor of California might have been apprised of this novel idea in science concerning earthquakes, just so long as it were delivered in Spanish, for the idea is so old that when Richard Edmonds published his "On the Remarkable Lunar Periodicities in Earthquakes" in the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, the year was 1845 and California was then part of Mexico.
Since that time some of the greatest scientists and seismologists from every corner of the world, by the hundreds, have published supporting evidence for tidal triggering of earthquakes — Alexis Perrey in the 1880s, Charles Davison in the 1890’s, both UCLA’s Leon Knopoff in the 1960’s and Elizabeth Cochran in the 2000’s, La Sapienza University’s Carlo Doglioni, and Diderot University’s Laurence Metivier in recent years.
Only in the last months has an explosion of media coverage broken in this very matter thanks to yet another watershed study published in Nature Geoscience (Sept., 2016). It looks like Aristotle, and all the rest from as far back as 2,500 years ago, may have been right — after all.
We, of course, have no idea what the other books of the Maya may have said in this regard since they’re all long since ashes, but there are perhaps two salient lessons to learn from all this. Burning books is a bad idea, and ignoring the wisdom of the ancients is an even worse one.
David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is www.earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now
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