New research has revealed something surprising: 13 out of 15 great ancient civilizations- from the Greeks to the Israelites - constructed their cities and empires on top of active tectonic plates. This put them at greater risk of earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and other forms of geological unpleasantness.
Nobody is really sure why ancient people were so keen on earthquake zones. Geologically active areas typically have richer soils and better water supplies, but this alone doesn't explain the clustering. Interestingly, study author Eric Force thinks it may have something to do with how frequent instability would demand a more organized society. Archaeologist Geoff Bailey agrees:
"It could be that a certain level of geological instability demands organizational responses from the societies that live in such areas," he says, calling it "a sort of challenge-and-response theory of social development." In his own work, he's even speculated that similar tectonic challenges, and not just factors such as climate change, could have spurred the evolution of humans in Africa. A little shaking up, he suggests, isn't necessarily a recipe for disaster.