This site is intended as a clearing house for ideas, references, and questions related to the connections between geology, mythology, and ancient history. It includes information and handouts from the geomythology course I teach at UPS as well as a list of references grouped by geologic theme.  If you have comments, suggestions, or additions, please e-mail them to


The course I teach at UPS (GEOL 115 - "Geomythology of Ancient Catastrophes") is a freshman seminar with an enrollment cap of 17.  There are no prerequisites and no specific knowledge of geology or mythology is assumed.  My main goal in teaching the course is for students to develop sufficient familiarity with geologic hazards (e.g., associated phenomena, evidence left behind, how we reconstruct past events) that they can: (1) propose and critically evaluate geologic hypotheses for myth origins, and (2) describe evidence they would look for / methods they would employ to evaluate these hypotheses.  I first taught geomythology when I was at Valdosta State University and that course is described in a 1999 paper in the Journal of Geoscience Education (see reference below).  Since then the course has evolved and now includes material from the Pacific Northwest and also places more emphasis on "what would we look for" to test an idea.  Click on the links here for a copy of the course syllabus and a sample homework assignment.

Course syllabus
Discussion 1 Handout - Garden of Eden


A. Myths with possible references to volcanism:

Hesiod's battle of the Titans (Greek)
legend of Atlantis (Greek)
Jason and the Argonauts (Greek)
Exodus and the Plagues of Egypt (Biblical)

B. Myths with possible references to earthquakes:

destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Biblical)
overthrow of Jericho (Biblical)
Moses' parting of the Red Sea (Biblical)

C. Myths with possible references to flooding:

Epic of Gilgamesh (Mesopotamian)
Noah and the Deluge (Biblical)
Pyrrha and Deukalion (Greek)
Dardanus (Greek)

D. Myths with possible references to climate and/or environmental change:

Hesiod's or Ovid's account of the Golden Age (Greek)
Garden of Eden (Biblical)

E. Myths with other miscellaneous geologic themes:

disappearance of the city of Ubar (?)


General References:

Tepper, J.H. (1999)  Connecting geology, history, and the classics through a course in geomythology.  Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 47, no. 3, p. 221-226.

Vitaliano, D.B. (1973) Legends of the Earth. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 305 p. [The original book on geomythology.]

References Related to Volcanism:

Block, J.W. (1975) Sodom and Gomorrah: a volcanic disaster. Journal of Geologic Education, v. 23, p. 74-77. [The author proposes that this Biblical legend is based on a volcanic eruption that ignited hydrocarbons.]

Ellis, R. (1998)  Imagining Atlantis.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 332 p.  [A very balanced assessment of the various Atlantis theories; the author suggests that Plato probably invented Atlantis.  This is my favorite Atlantis reference.]

Frerichs, E.S., Lesko, L.H., and Dever, W.G. (1997) Exodus: The Egyptian Evidence. Eisenbrauns.  [Reports that there is no historical or archaeological evidence for Exodus during the reign of Ramses II, who may or may not have ruled at during the eruption of Thera.]

Green, M.T. (1992) Natural knowledge in preclassical antiquity. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 208 p. [Includes an excellent discussion of the theory that Hesiod's Battle of the Titans is based on the eruption of Thera.]

Luce, J.V. (1969) Lost Atlantis. New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 224 p. [Comprehensive analysis of many theories for the Atlantis legend.]

Marinatos, S. (1939) The volcanic destruction of Minoan Crete. Antiquity, v. 13, p. 425-439. [The original - and at the time controversial - paper in which Marinatos proposes that Minoan civilization was destroyed by tsunamis and other pheomena related to the eruption of Thera.]

McCoy, F.W., and Heiken, G. (1990) Anatomy of an eruption. Archaeology, v. 43, p. 42-49. [A non-technical account of the 1628 B.C. eruption of Thera.]

Pellegrino, C. (1991) Unearthing Atlantis. New York: Vintage Books, 325 p. [A recent book concerning the link between Thera and Atlantis.]

Sigurdsson, H., Carey, S., Cornell, V., and Pescatore, T. (1985) The eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79. National Geographic Research, v. 1, p. 332-387. [This is a detailed reconstruction of the eruption that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum, based on geological as well as archaeological evidence. Interesting to compare with Pliny's account of the eruption.]

Spence, L. (1974) Atlantis discovered. New York: Causeway Books, 232 p. [The author argues that Atlantis was located in the Atlantic.]

References Related to Earthquakes:

Ambraseys, N.N. (1978) The Middle East - a reappraisal of seismicity. Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology, v. 11, p. 19-32. [Analysis of the historical record of Mid-East seismicity with equations for relating earthquake intensity, magnitude and ground acceleration.]

Bentor, Y.K. (1994?) Geological events in the bible. Terra Nova, v. 1, p. 326-338.

Block, J.W. (1975) Sodom and Gomorrah: a volcanic disaster. Journal of Geologic Education, v. 23, p. 74-77.

Block, J.W. (1982) Sodom, Gomorrah, and the Crimean island of Taman. Journal of Geologic Education, v. 30, p. 112-115.

Harris, G.M., and Beardow, A.P. (1995) The destruction of Sodom and Gomorah: a geotechnical perspective. Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology, v. 28, p. 349-362. [Attributes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to soil liquifaction after an earthquake.]

Neev, D., and Emery, K.O. (1995) The destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Jericho. New York: Oxford University Press, 178 p.

Nur, A. and MacAskill, C. (1991) The walls came tumbling down (VHS video tape).  Stanford, CA: ESI Productions.  [Footage of several ancient sites that were destroyed by earthquakes and used by Nur in paleoseismicity studies.]

Nur, A. (1997) The catastrophic end of the Bronze Age: earthquakes or sea people? (abst.) Eos, v. 78, no. 46, p. F636. [The destruction of Bronze age sites throughout the eastern Mediterranean is attributed to a pulse of earthquake activity.]

References Related to Floods:

Bretz, J.H. (1969) The Lake Missoula floods and the Channeled Scablands. Journal of Geology, v. 77, p. 505-543. [Although these floods occurred before there were humans in the area, they provide an example of a very large-scale flood event.]

Collins, G.C., and Fasold, D.F. (1996) Bogus "Noah's Ark" from Turkey exposed as a common geologic structure. Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 44, p. 439-444. [The authors suggest that differential erosion of a doubly-plunging fold is responsible for reports that Noah's ark is preserved on a Turkish mountain.]

Frazer, J.G. (1919) Folk-lore in the Old Testament, v. 1. London: Macmillian and Co., 569 p. [The chapter on flood legends examines myths from all around the globe, with particular emphasis on Greek and Mesopotamian legends. An excellent source of information on flood myths.]

Hsü, K.J. (1972) When the Mediterranean dried up. Scientific American, v. 227, no. 6, p. 27-36. [Another example of a catastrophic flood, although this one occurred in the Miocene.]

Noble, J.N. (1996) Geologists link Black Sea deluge to farming's rise: New York Times, 12/17/96, p. C-1. [Links recently discovered evidence for catastropic flooding of the Black Sea to the Epic of Gilgamesh.]

Pitman, W.C., Ryan, W.B.F., and Major, C.O. (1997) Isostatic effects of rapid sealevel change in the Black Sea (abst). Eos, v. 78, no. 46, p. F635. [Catastrophic flooding of the Black Sea region caused isostatic depression of the crust and submerged Greek settlements.]

Ryan, W., and Pitman, W. (1998)  Noah's flood: the new scientific discoveries about the event that changed history:  New York: Simon and Schuster, 319 p.  [Very readable discussion of scientific evidence for catastrophic flooding of the Black Sea and its proposed impacts on humans in the area.  The book draws on material from a wide range of disciplines - linguistics, archaeology, genetics, etc.]

Ryan, W.B.F., Pitman, W.C., Major, C.O., Shimkus, K., Moskalenko, V., Jones, G., Dimitrov, P., Gorur, N., Sakinc, M., and Yuce, H. (1997) An abrupt drowning of the Black Sea shelf. Marine Geology, v. 138, p. 119-126. [Presents evidence of a rapid rise in Black Sea water level ~5500 B.C. caused by failure of a barrier in the Bosphorus.]

Soroka, L.G., and Nelson, C.L. (1983) Physical constraints on the Noachian deluge: Journal of Geologic Education, v. 31, p. 135-139. [Summarizes calculations that show it is not possible for the Earth to have experienced a flood that would have inundated all land.]

References Related to Climate Change:

Hamblin, D. J. (1987) Has the Garden of Eden been located at last? Smithsonian, v. 18, p. 127-135. [Based on geologic and linguistic evidence, the author proposes that the Garden of Eden was located at the northern end of the Persian Gulf, an area that has since been flooded by sea level rise.]

Issar, A. S. (1995) Climate change and the history of the Middle East. American Scientist, v. 83, p. 350-355. [It is suggested that the downfall of some ancient empires, previously attributed to war and/or environmental degradation, may have been influenced by climatic changes.]

Neev, D., and Emery, K.O. (1995) The destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Jericho. New York: Oxford University Press, 178 p. [This book includes much information on Holocene paleoclimateof the Middle East.]

References Related to Environmental Degradation in the Ancient World:

Gale, N.H., and Stos-Gale, Z. (1981) Lead and silver in the ancient Aegean. Scientific American, v. 244, no. 6, p. 176-192. [The authors use isotopic studies to identify the sources of lead and silver used by the Greeks.]

Hong, S., Candelone, J.P., Patterson, C.C., and Boutron, C.F. (1994) Greenland ice evidence of hemispheric lead pollution two millennia ago by Greek and Roman civilizations. Science, v. 265, p. 1841-1843. [Presents evidence that smelting of silver produced the first known hemispheric scale air pollution.]

Jacobsen, T., and Adams, R. (1958) Salt and silt in ancient Mesopotamian agriculture. Science, v. 126, p. 1251-1258. [Evidence that the decline of Mesopotamian civilization was linked to salination of the soil caused by irrigation.]

Runnels, C. N. (1995) Environmental degradation in ancient Greece. Scientific American, v. 27, no. 3, p. 96-99. [Summarizes archaeological and geological evidence for deforestation and catastrophic erosion beginning in the Bronze Age.]

Tudge, C., 1996, The time before history: New York, Scribner, 366 p.  [Includes a chapter on impacts of transition from hunter-gatherers to early farmers.]


This section focuses on major events in human history that were influenced by natural disasters, such as droughts, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.

A.  Examples of Civilizations "Toppled" By Natural Disasters

  1. Collapse of Minoan Civilization (demise accelerated by eruption of Thera?)
  2. End of Bronze Age Greece (may have been response to seismicity, drought, and/or comet impact-induced global cooling)
  3. Collapse of Mayan Civilization (linked to drought and/or depletion of natural resources)
  4. Abandonment of Anasazi sites in US Southwest (linked to drought)
  5. Disappearance of the Indus Valley Civilization (linked to drought)
  6. Demise of Viking settlements in Greenland (linked to climate deterioration)
  7. Collapse of Mesopotamian city states (linked to drought, soil salinization, and possibly also climate change)
  8. Collapse of Easter Island Society (linked to overpopulation and resource depletion)
  9. Abandonment of the Roanoak Colony (linked to drought)
  10. The French Revolution (drought-induced crop failures led to popular unrest)
  11. Fall of Nazi Germany (unusually severe weather led to defeat of German forces in Russia)
B.  Links and References
 Civilization Collapse Web Site


This page last updated on July 27, 1999