749 CE Golan quake shows another is overdue
Archeologists find evidence that some 30 Tiberias synagogues reportedly collapsed due to the quake.
Photo: Jonathan Beck
The discovery by Tel Aviv University scientists that a major earthquake (over 7 on the Richter scale) took place on the Golan Heights in the year 749 CE - and none of similar magnitude in some 975 years - means the area is long overdue for another one. So say the TAU geologists and archeologists who published their findings in Seismology Research Letters released to the press on Sunday.
The archeological signs of the earthquake were found at Umm el-Kanater ("Mother of the Arches"), a five- or 10-minute drive from Katzrin and near Moshav Natur east of the Kinneret. The damage consisted of a broken pool of water whose two parts were moved a meter from one another. The pools had been used to collect water for a nearby village inhabited from the Byzantine Period until the middle of the eighth century. The dig site has been open to the public for more than three years.
The village suffered destruction, including damage to an elaborately built synagogue that collapsed and whose stones were fortunately not stolen, unlike those of many other archeological sites on the Golan.
Geological and topographical mapping of the site found that the pool was broken because it was located in the path of the landslide that resulted from the earthquake. A mechanical analysis of its distance from the earth at the base of a group of rocks that slid down made it possible to estimate the thrust needed to destabilize the slope from its equilibrium and cause the landslide, the researchers said.
The archeological dig was directed by Yehoshua Dray and Ilana Gonen, while the damage was discovered by MA research student Neta Wexler of TAU's geophysics and planetary sciences department, who is now doing her doctorate at the University of Southern California at Los Angeles. Her research was supervised by Dr. Oded Katz of the Geological Institute and Dr. Shmuel Marco of TAU.
Umm el-Kanater was abandoned in the middle of the Eighth Century, according to archeological findings, as a result of the earthquake, which is dated to January 18, 749. Some 30 Tiberias synagogues reportedly collapsed on the same day due to the quake, and it also caused damage in Beit She'an, Susita and other places.
Marco noted that the Jordan Rift is a high-risk location for earthquakes. "If we examine the records of the Kinneret and the Dead Sea over the last two millennia, there were relatively many strong earthquakes during the first 1,000 years and few during the next 1,000.
"Strong earthquakes were recorded in 31 BCE, 363 CE, 749 CE and 1033 CE, coming every 350 to 400 years." He said there were quakes of weaker magnitude among them, including one on July 11, 1927 that caused damage in Jerusalem and environs. "But we have not had any strong ones since 1033, which means another one is long due. It's impossible to know when it will strike, just like you can't predict road accidents. But just as you have to improve the roads and driving behavior to prevent them, you have to strengthen infrastructure to reduce damage from earthquakes."