History of Landslides – Landslides in History

Landslides belong to a class of geological phenomena which occur rapidly, contradicting our common believes of geology occurring only in large time spans. For this characteristic and the often catastrophic and well visible aftermaths such mass movements are widely recognized even by non geologists.

Ancient myths in the Alps often refer to landslides as punishment for greedy people – god or the spirits of the mountain punish the village or man who denied help to others or became corrupted by wealth by entombing it/him alive.

In the year 1618 the landslide that destroyed the Swiss village of Plurs, killing over 1.000 people, was explained as a divine act. A first glimpse of naturalistic approach is however shown by suggesting that god used an earthquake to shake the mountains and cause the catastrophe. Earthquakes seemed a plausible trigger mechanism; publications in 1757 and 1806 still connect landslides to earthquakes. In 1806 the landslide of Goldau, where an entire village was destroyed and 457 people killed, was described in detail by many naturalists and a surviving testimony – this event it is considered today the first landslide described and explained in a naturalistic approach.

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