AT FIRST GLANCE, the Minotaur seems absurd. A half-man, half-bull creature? The idea is as ridiculous as it Is biologically impossible. However, writings from the 3rd Century BC hint that the fears behind the myth were real enough. While most descriptions of the minotaur’s physical form are vague, its bellows were described as so terrible that they could be heard for miles emanating from the labyrinth on the Greek island of Crete where it was imprisoned. Bellows coming from an underground maze… might the rise of the minotaur be linked to earthquakes?
Crete is tectonically active, but so are many locations around the globe that do not have minotaur myths associated with them. Yet a 2007 study by an international team of researchers published in Nature Geoscience hints that Crete has had earthquakes of truly epic proportions.
The study analysed the carbon isotopes of fossilised marine organisms along the island’s coast to work out when they died and through this analysis the team discovered something staggering. Countless animals died at precisely the same moment in 365AD.
As the team looked closer, it became clear that the animals perished because they dried out when Crete was pushed nearly 10m out of the ocean in a single moment, Ten metres of uplift from a single earthquake… that really is the stuff of nightmares, But 365AD is long after the days when the minotaur came to be. Crucially though, this tectonic incident wasn’t just an isolated event.
A 2008 paper published in Earth And Planetary Science Letters by an international team of scientists identified boulders along the Greek coast with shelled marine animals attached to them. The boulders had been thrown out of the sea by earthquake-induced tsunamis, and the animals attached to them quickly desiccated. Carbon analysis of these animals allowed the team to date the moments when the tsunamis took place. As expected, some boulders dated to 365AD, but many had been thrown from the sea thousands of years earlier when the minotaur was only just emerging as a monster.