Stories of two-headed serpents and epic battles between Thunderbird and Whale, common among Northwest native peoples, have their root in the region’s earthquake history, according to research by scientists at the University of Washington, who have learned there was a huge Seattle fault earthquake around 900 AD.

Researcher Ruth Ludwin says, “It appears that these stories have to do with earthquake, tsunami and landslide-like events. As you go around the region, there are very many of these stories and they are central to the native cultures, which suggests that these past earthquakes had profound effects on the local inhabitants. There’s evidence for that in the geology as well, both on the coast and in the central Puget Sound area.” 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.

Thunderbird and Whale stories are part of a native oral tradition that uses symbolism and memory devices such as rhyming to create information in a way that it can be remembered and retold for generations.

Archeological sites along the coast suggest that there have been at least seven major earthquakes in the last 3,500 years.

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