Stories of two-headed serpents and epic battles between Thunderbird and Whale, common among Northwest native peoples, have their root in the regions seismic history. New research led by a University of Washington scientist has found stories that could relate to a large Seattle fault earthquake around A.D. 900 and specific eyewitness accounts linked to a mammoth 1700 earthquake and tsunami in the Cascadia subduction zone.
This illustration depicts a late 19th century interior ceremonial screen from Port Alberni, on British Columbias Vancouver Island. It shows Thunderbird carrying Whale in its talons, a common native depiction of seismic activity. The original screen is in the American Museum of Natural History. The image is taken from "Northwest Coast Painting – House Fronts and Interior Screens" by Edward Malin, ©1999, Timber Press, Portland, Ore.
The stories come from people living in areas from northern California to the northern edge of Vancouver Island. They often differ depending on where they originated, said Ruth Ludwin, a UW research scientist in Earth and space sciences and lead author of two recent papers detailing evidence gleaned from native lore.
The same event might have been depicted differently in different places, depending on the local effects and cultural differences, Ludwin said. But references to Thunderbird and Whale, or similar figures related in lore to wind or thunder and water, are found in stories of shaking and flooding that were collected all along the coastline.
Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
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