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A series of large-magnitude earthquakes above 6.9 occurred in the northern Tien-Shan between 1885 and 1911. The Chilik earthquake of 11 July 1889, has been listed with a magnitude of 8.3, based on sparse macroseismic intensities, constrained by reported damage. Despite the existence of several juvenile fault scarps in the epicentral region, that are possibly associated with the 1889 earthquake, no through-going surface rupture having the dimensions expected for a magnitude 8.3 earthquake has been located – a puzzling dilemma. Could the magnitude have been overestimated? This would have major implications not only for the understanding of the earthquake series, but also for regional hazard estimates. Fortunately, a fragmentary record from an early Rebeur–Paschwitz seismometer exists for the Chilik event, recorded in Wilhelmshaven (Germany). To constrain the magnitude, we compare the late coda waves of this record with those of recent events from Central Asia, recorded on modern instruments in Germany and filtered with Rebeur–Paschwitz instrument characteristics. Additional constraints come from disturbances of historic magnetograms that exist from the Chilik and the 1911 Chon-Kemin earthquakes. Scaling of these historic records confirm a magnitude of about 8 for the 1889 Chilik earthquake, pointing towards a lower crustal contribution to the fault area.

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