Scent of a myth: tectonics, geochemistry and geomythology at Delphi (Greece)
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Extensive geochemical investigation (of water, travertine, soil and diffuse gas), coupled with geo-structural analysis, provides new insights into local fault–fluid interaction and allows us to pinpoint basic elements in the geological origin (or geomythology) of the Delphic Oracle, still debated by geologists. Delphi hosted the most famous oracle of antiquity, supposed to prophesy under the effects of intoxicating gas exhaling from a chasm in the ground. CO2–H2S-rich, ethylene-rich or CH4-rich gases have been invoked to explain the mantic vapours. Although previous interpretations dismissed the results achieved by classical scholars, this study fits together history, archaeology, mythology and geology in a single coherent frame. We highlight that no hydrocarbon gas discharges are released at present to the surface in the area. The lack of any geochemical ‘anomaly’ indicates that the Delphi active fault does not at present constitute a preferential route for the circulation of thermogenic deep fluids. The mythological gas-exhaling chasm can plausibly be related to episodic seismic ruptures in the ancient past, which affected for a limited time gas pockets fed by a relatively deep confined hydrothermal system. The Delphi fault has produced shocks up to Ms=6.7 (1 August 1870), and similar seismic faulting events in the past could have episodically triggered CO2–H2S-rich emissions.