In Greek mythology, the thunderbolt was Zeus’s weapon of choice. Hurling lighting from the heavens, he inspired fear and awe in his enemies. To be struck by a bolt was to be destroyed. The earth still bears wounds from the colossal battles of the gods.
Where can we find the marks of Zeus’s stray lightning? The myths of ancient Greece say that he stood atop Mount Olympus, and mountaintops, in fact, are a good place to look. Reaching up into the sky, these peaks can be lashed by thunderstorms. When lightning strikes the mountain, it discharges incredible energy and heat into the ground. How much heat? A lightning bolt can be thousands, or tens of thousands, degrees Fahrenheit.
The blast almost instantly melts the rock. In another instant, the minerals fuse together into a glassy mass. The resulting scar is called a fulgurite, popularly known as fossilized lightning.
Like the bough of a tree, a fulgurite can resemble a branch, following the bolt’s path through the ground. Sometimes a fulgurite is like a twig, small and fragile. Other times it’s like a mighty limb, stretching several yards long. The larger the fulgurite, the more powerful the lightning bolt.
Although somewhat rare, fulgurites can be found worldwide, including in sand or soil, and in deserts or beaches. If you find one, you’ve discovered evidence of a recent storm—or, a storm from tens, hundreds, or even thousands of years ago. And whether you think of thunderbolts as meteorological, or mythological, you can imagine the immense power that blasted the land. Immortalized in earth, lightning’s glassy fossil is a souvenir of Zeus’s wrath.