Tilted pillars, cracked steps, and sliding stone canopies in a number of 7th-century A.D. temples in northwest India are among the significant signs that seismologists are using to reconstruct the extent of some of the region’s larger historic earthquakes. In their report published online July 27 in Seismological Research Letters, Mayank Joshi and V.C. Thakur of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology show how the signs of destructive earthquakes are imprinted upon the ancient stone and wooden temples. At the temples, the researchers measured the tilt direction, the amount of inclination on pillars and the full temple structures, and cracks in building stones, among other types of damage. They then compared this damage to historic accounts of earthquakes and information about area faults to determine which earthquakes were most likely to have caused the damage. Other earthquake damage uncovered by the researchers included upwarping of stone floors, cracked walls, and a precariously leaning fort wall. The temples in the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh, India lie within the Kashmir “seismic gap” of the Northwest Himalaya range, an area that is thought to have the potential for earthquakes magnitude 7.5 or larger. The type of damage sustained by temples clustered around two towns in the region — Chamba and Bharmour — suggests that the Chamba temples may have been affected by the 1555 earthquake, while the Bharmour temples were damaged by the 1905 quake, the seismologists conclude.
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