National Geographic : 2000 Jul
blamed the Earth's sudden and violent changes on supernatural agents. In 464 B.C., when an earthquake destroyed Sparta and provoked an uprising of serfs, the ancient Greeks blamed Poseidon, the earth shaker. And just last year, after an earthquake devastated suburbs of Athens, a priest at the monastery of St. Kypria nos told me the catastrophe was a divine warn ing: "It was sent to shake us from our sins." Rob Reilinger, a geophysicist at MIT, pro vides the scientific explanation-"There's a full-scale continental collision going on," he says, "where Africa and Arabia are driving north and colliding with Eurasia." That colli sion, which has continued over the past five million years, creates a complex pattern of geo logic processes that fascinate scientists just as they mystified and devastated ancient cultures. The collision began in eastern Turkey and affects most of Anatolia, the peninsular part of the country. Arabia, which is moving north slightly faster than Africa, hit first, and when it shoved into the underbelly of Eurasia, it thrust up not only Nemrud Dagh but also the Caucasus Mountains. The collision has thickened the continental crust in eastern Turkey, now about 30 miles thick, compared with some 25 miles thick farther west near Ankara. As a result the region, which lay near sea level before the collision, is now a plateau averaging more than a mile high. In some places jagged remnants of ancient sea floors that once lay between the colliding con tinents jut from the compressed landscape as mountains. Most of the rock in those seafloors, however, was pressed down toward Earth's mantle. This stimulated melting and the for mation of magma that resurfaced through cracks to form volcanoes such as Mount Ara rat, the fabled final resting place of Noah's ark. Almost 17,000 feet high, Ararat, flanked by its smaller sister, Little Ararat, dominates vistas along the Turkish-Iranian border. No wonder the ancients believed that this ice-crowned massif would be the first land to emerge from a great flood. But today the legends that have surrounded the moun- KURDS HAVE LIVED in southeastern Turkey for more than 2,000 years-still not long enough to verify the tale that Noah's ark came to rest on Mount Ararat (below, left). Though Kurds live and tend sheep in sight of the dormant volcano, the last village on its flanks was lost to an earthquake in 1840. tain are forgotten by residents of Dogubayazit, the nearest town-charmless, commer cial, and ravaged by years of Turkish-Kurdish conflict.