We’re all storytellers at heart, but we often prefer the more mythical and legendary tales of times long gone than ones of real scientific discovery. However, on occasion, some ancient stories turn out to be grounded almost entirely in fact, not fiction.
Take this story that’s been passed down through more than 230 generations of Gugu Badhun Aboriginal people, for example.
Once upon a time, a huge explosion rocked the land and a massive crater appeared in the ground. A malicious dust filled the air, and when people wandered into it, they disappeared forever. The air was so hot that along the waterfronts, the ground appeared to be on fire.
This story was first definitively documented in the 1970s, when a recording was made of an Aboriginal elder talking about it. At the time, it was considered to be nothing more than a work of someone’s imagination.
As it so happens, a brand new study has just confirmed that this 7,000-year-old epic has likely been true all along, and it probably won’t surprise you that it was based on a volcanic eruption.
Yirrganydji Aboriginal people, another group indigenous to Queensland. ChameoleonsEye/Shutterstock
A team led by the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC) explain in the journal Quaternary Geology that they were initially investigating a young volcanic eruption in northeastern Australia.
Australia isn’t actively volcanic anymore, but it’s had a rather explosive past, and the scars are still around for all to see today. One such scar is the Kinrara volcano in Queensland, whose 55-kilometer-long (34-mile-long) lava flows can still be seen entombed across the landscape.
Kinrara was responsible for just one of over 400 eruptions that have rocked this part of Australia in the last 9 million years, with one major blast taking place once every 10,000-22,000 years or so from a huge variety of different volcanoes.
It was known to be one of the youngest volcanoes in the region, but researchers weren’t sure what its precise age was. Using cutting-edge dating techniques, they determined that it was almost certainly 7,000 years old, perhaps slightly younger or older.