Millennia ago, ancient cultures were astounded by the seeming miracle
of natural flames which burned day and night for weeks, decades, or
even centuries. The tales of such flames have become a focus of interest
for geologists and oil and gas explorers, as the flames not only reveal
the spiritual and cultural rituals of the past, but can also give clues
related to modern geology and current gas seepage.
According to science news website Phys.org, Guiseppe Etiope of the
National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Italy writes in his
new book, "Natural Gas Seepage” that studying legends of historical
eternal flames can reveal to researchers locations and durations of gas
seepage fires observed in the ancient past. Knowing certain fires burned
and for how long can help determine which ones have not been caused by
modern human activity, such as fracking or drilling.
Determining where an ancient gas fire burned, and for how long, can
also allow researchers to estimate how much may have already been vented
to the atmosphere and what amount of gas might remain at a location.
Eternal flames can be found in historical record stretching back
several millennia. Pliny the Elder chronicled Chimera, a mountainous
location near ancient Lycia (modern Turkey) which "…indeed burned with a
flame that does not die by day or night.” Methane gas seeps from vents
below, and the surface burns with strange fires.
This geological phenomenon give birth to the myth of the Chimera, a
horrible beast that breathed fire and had the body and head of a lion, a
goat head on its back, and a serpent tail.
Ever-burning lamps are a mainstay in religious legends which perhaps were inspired by the seemingly inexhaustible fires from gas or oil seepages.
Phys.org writes that Zoroastrians worshiped the eternal "Pillars of
Fire,” and a stream of crude oil bubbling from the ground is mentioned
in ancient Roman legend from 38 B.C. The location became a meeting spot
for the first Roman Christians, and a basilica now is found upon it. The
Manggarmas flame, sacred in Indonesia, has reportedly been active since
the 15th century, and is still used in ceremonies to this day.
So powerful is the symbolism of the eternal flame that it is
preserved to this day. Modern-day eternal flames usually serve as
memorials and are fueled by propane or natural gas. The Olympic flame is
a well-recognized, global symbol of an eternal fire, and at many
Olympic sites the flame which was lit by the torch remains blazing
Once again scientists seek out ancient knowledge and answers to complement their modern research.