If you open any book containing some history of volcanology (e.g., The Encyclopedia of Volcanoes), you will always find the same story: first the "internal wind" theory of ancient Greeks, then the account of the AD 79 Vesuvius eruption by Pliny the Younger, then the discoveries of the eighteenth century by Guettard, Desmarest, and others, etc. Only European scientists studying European volcanoes.

While I am not questioning the tremendous contributions of these studies to our current understanding of the volcanic phenomenon, I wonder if there are similar texts from other parts of the world. I'm thinking of places like Japan, China, the Arab world, Mesoamerica... All of which have had both active volcanoes and a writing system for quite some time. Considering this, there must exist accounts of eruptions, or old volcanological theories, in Old Japanese or Classical Arabic.

  • $\begingroup$ I am aware that this is a super broad question, sorry... But I can't see how to narrow it down. Fishes are scarce so I throw a large net! $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2022 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ Unfurtunately I don't have the book with me in this moment, but I suggest to give a look to the Volume 3 of Needham's Science and Civilisation in China (for sure there are chapters on geology and seismology, not sure about volcanology) $\endgroup$
    – user6530
    Apr 13, 2022 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ @user6530 Thank you for pointing to this reference, I'll look for a copy of the book! $\endgroup$ Apr 14, 2022 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ @user6530 So, there is actually a section on volcanoes pages 610$-$611, but it is very brief. Needham begins with "As there are in China proper no volcanoes, all information on this subject had to come from outside", which I find odd considering the Millennium eruption... Anyway, it was an interesting read since it has some cool information on early seismology, so thanks again! $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2022 at 10:12

1 Answer 1


Here is a first list of things that I've found in the literature. I will update it as I gather more. They are more "accounts" than "theories", but interesting nonetheless (at least to me!). I won't quote every account here for the sake of brevity, but they are available in the cited references.

  • In the Arabic peninsula, there are historical accounts of the 1256 CE eruption of the Harrat Rahat volcanic field, according to Camp et al. (1987):

Two eyewitness accounts of the eruption were written by A1-Kistlani, a resident of Madinah, and Kadi Sinaan, the judge at Makkah. These manuscripts are no longer extant, but their descriptions are paraphrased in two later manuscripts; one, Wafa A1-Wafa, was written in 1568 A.D. (976 A.H.) (reprinted in A1-Samhoudy 1954) and the other, Jazb Al-Kulub, was recorded by an early European traveler, JL Burkhardt, and published as a footnote in Burton (1893). These two sources show remarkably good agreement in detail and dates which, together with our field observations, permit a reconstruction of events (Table 1).

  • In Indonesia, a recent study (Malawani et al., 2022) found accounts of the 1257 CE eruption of Samalas volcano; although they were probably written centuries later and thus "represent a recent recording of what appears to have been older oral traditions".

  • In Indonesia still, History of the volcanology in the former Netherlands East Indies (Neumann van Padang, 1983) contains interesting data on volcanic eruptions found in ancient Javanese sources, although he mainly cites Van Hinloopen Labberton (1921), which is hard to find and written in Dutch. He also questions the validity of some dates:

A problem with the use of these ancient sources is the fact that eruptions and earthquakes at the birth and death of princes were used to emphasize their importance and divine offspring. It is therefore more than likely that the dates of the eruptions were made to coincide with such events by either changing the date of the eruption or the date of birth (c.q. death) of the princes (see van Bemmelen, 1956).

  • The Persian book Sharafnama (Sharaf Khan Bitlisi, 1597) contains a description of an eruption of Mount Nemrut (Turkey), which has been translated and interpreted by Aydar et al. (2003).

  • Karakhanian et al. (2002) list several eruptions in Armenia and adjacent countries, inferred from historical chronicles. Among them, the following cuneiform inscription, attributed to King Argishti I, is interpreted as an eruption of Porak volcano in 782$–$773 BCE:

...when I again (for the second time) laid the siege of the town of Behoura, Mount Bamni in the area of Behoura Town was destroyed...; smoke and soot now rise from it to the sun. When Mount Bamni was destroyed, I took the town of Behoura.

  • Martin-Del Pozzo et al. (2016) did a reconstruction of 800 years of eruptive activity of Popocatépetl, including some pre-Columbian sources (codices) documenting the activity of the volcano.

To be continued...


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