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  • Far beneath the palace of the treacherous King Minos,

  • in the damp darkness of an inescapable labyrinth,

  • a horrific beast stalks the endless corridors of its prison,

  • enraged with a bloodlust so intense that its deafening roar shakes the Earth.

  • It is easy to see why the Minotaur myth has a long history

  • of being disregarded as pure fiction.

  • However, there's a good chance that the Minotaur

  • and other monsters and gods were created by our early ancestors

  • to rationalize the terrifying things that they saw in the natural world

  • but did not understand.

  • And while we can't explain every aspect of their stories,

  • there may be some actual science that reveals itself when we dissect them for clues.

  • So, as far as we know, there have never been human-bull hybrids.

  • But the earliest material written about the Minotaur

  • doesn't even mention its physical form.

  • So that's probably not the key part of the story.

  • What the different tellings do agree upon, however,

  • is that the beast lives underground,

  • and when it bellows, it causes tremendous problems.

  • The various myths are also specific in stating that genius inventor Daedalus,

  • carved out the labyrinth beneath the island of Crete.

  • Archeological attempts to find the fabled maze

  • have come up empty handed.

  • But Crete itself has yielded the most valuable clue of all in the form of seismic activity.

  • Crete sits on a piece of continental crust called the Aegean Block,

  • and has a bit of oceanic crust known as the Nubian Block

  • sliding right beneath it.

  • This sort of geologic feature, called a subduction zone,

  • is common all over the world and results in lots of earthquakes.

  • However, in Crete the situation is particularly volatile

  • as the Nubian Block is attached

  • to the massive buoyant continental crust that is Africa.

  • When the Nubian Block moves,

  • it does not go down nearly as easily or as steeply

  • as oceanic crust does in most other subduction zones.

  • Instead, it violently and abruptly forces sections of the Mediterranean upwards

  • in an event called uplift,

  • and Crete is in uplift central.

  • In the year 2014, Crete had more than 1300 earthquakes

  • of magnitude 2.0 or higher.

  • By comparison, in the same period of time,

  • Southern California, a much larger area, experienced a mere 255 earthquakes.

  • Of course, we don't have detailed seismic records from the days of King Minos,

  • but we do know from fossil records and geologic evidence

  • that Crete has experienced serious uplift events

  • that sometimes exceeded 30 feet in a single moment.

  • Contrast this for a moment with the island of Hawaii,

  • where earthquakes and volcanic activity

  • were tightly woven to legends surrounding Pele,

  • a goddess both fiery and fair.

  • Like the Minotaur, her myths included tales of destruction,

  • but they also contained elements of dance and creation.

  • So why did Hawaii end up with Pele and Crete end up with the Minotaur?

  • The difference likely comes down

  • to the lava that followed many of Hawaii's worst earthquakes.

  • The lava on Hawaii is made of basalt, which once cooled, is highly fertile.

  • Within a couple of decades of terrible eruptions,

  • Islanders would have seen vibrant green life thriving

  • on new peninsulas made of lava.

  • So it makes sense that the mythology captured this

  • by portraying Pele as creator as well as a destroyer.

  • As for the people of Crete,

  • their earthquakes brought only destruction and barren lands,

  • so perhaps for them, the unnatural and deadly Minotaur was born.

  • The connections between mythical stories and the geology of the regions where they originated

  • teach us that mythology and science are actually two sides of the same coin.

  • Both are rooted in explaining and understanding the world.

  • The key difference is that where mythology uses gods, monsters and magic,

  • science uses measurements, records and experiments.

Far beneath the palace of the treacherous King Minos,

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B2 US TED-Ed crete minotaur hawaii crust pele

【TED-Ed】The scientific origins of the Minotaur - Matt Kaplan

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    Ann posted on 2016/02/09
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