A prerequisite to seismic hazard assessment is to have knowledge of historical and prehistorical earthquakes. To obtain such data, researchers have already practiced different methods including historical seismology, paleoseismology, and recently archaeoseismology. Archaeoseismology is a multidisciplinary approach which ideally tries to find the age, epicenter, and magnitude of past earthquakes through investigating the damage left in ancient monuments. However, a successful archaeoseismological study needs the help of other disciplines like archaeology, seismology, geology, geophysics, history, and civil engineering.
One of the difficulties of archaeoseismology is the recognition of seismic damage from that of nonseismic. Sometimes, the effects of natural disasters such as floods, landslides, and rockfalls or human activities like wars and revolutions might be very similar to damage caused by earthquakes. Accordingly, it is very important to develop methods which help distinguish between earthquake related destruction and that caused by other calamities.
In this review, we categorize the archaeoseismic evidences into the following groups:
- Displacements and collapses
- Coseismic geological effects (liquefaction, etc.) due to earthquakes and their effects on structures
- Deformation of building remains still in primary position
- Human and animal skeletons under collapsed ruins
- Abandonment of sites
- Evidence of reconstruction of damage caused by earthquakes
We also introduce some methods to recognize these evidences from nonseismic damages such as:
- Application of the feasibility matrix
- Dating the probable effect
- Territorial archaeoseismology
- Microzoning of the archaeological site
Iran is an ancient country with an old civilization which has many historical monuments and prehistorical tells. These structures could play the role of a seismoscope for ancient earthquakes, and might have recorded the effects of such events. On the other hand, Iran is placed in the Alpine-Himalayan seismic belt and most parts of it have experienced large and fatal earthquakes during both historical and instrumental periods. These two factors present a great potential for archaeoseismological studies in Iran. However, Iran is still untouched in this respect. In this paper, we also investigate the applicability of archaeoseismology in Iran by providing a few examples.