Date sent: Wed, 02 Apr 1997 14:05:32 -0500 (EST)
From: HUMBPEIS <B.J.PEISER@livjm.ac.uk>
Sorry. But the accurate headline of the article in the
Independent on Sunday reads: "Comet debris destroyed
Sodom and Gomorrah"
Date sent: Wed, 02 Apr 1997 12:55:18 -0500 (EST)
From: HUMBPEIS <B.J.PEISER@livjm.ac.uk>
Subject: INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY, 30 March
CAMBRIDGE CONFERENCE MAKES FRONTPAGE HEADLINES
The first victim of an election campaign is always the
truth, so the saying goes. As Britain finds herself in
the midst of general election fever (if this is the
right word for a comparatively composed affair), even an
article on the forthcoming 2nd Cambridge Conference has
fallen victim to accurate reporting.
Last week, inspired by Nigel Hawkes TIMES' article and
the Reverend R Dormandy's letter to the editor of THE
TIMES ("Divine Intervention?", The Times, 12 March 1997),
Geoffrey Lean, the environment correspondent of the
INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY, wrote a lengthy feature article
about the Cambridge Conference. On Easter Sunday, his
article appeared on the frontpage of this national
Sunday paper. During the editing process, however, it was
cut to such an extend that parts of its contents became
rather misleading. So, what had happened?
Unexpectedly (but, I should add, not surprisingly), the
chairman of the Scottish Tory party, who was to stand as
a candidate for the only save Tory seat in Scotland,
resigned because of an alleged (homo)sexual affair with
his private secretary (I have always wondered who
invented the nonsensical saying, "No Sex please, we're
Well, whatever the case, the 'scandal' also hit the
frontpages of the Sunday papers. Consequently, Geoffrey
Lean's article was considerably revised and shortened by
the frontpage editor (who, by the way, is also
responsible for the rather sensationalised headline).
Please find attached i) the Independent on Sunday article
and ii) my letter to the editor below. The parts deleted
by the sub-editor are in brackets.
Benny J Peiser
INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY, 30 March 1997
COMET DESTROYED SODOM AND GOMORRAH
Sodom and Gomorrah may have been destroyed by debris from
a comet, startling new archaeological and astronomical
research suggests. Another bombardment from space may
have brought on the Dark Ages.
The research, to be presented to a special conference at
Cambridge University this summer, provides dramatic
evidence for an extraterrestrial cause for the wholesale
collapse of several civilisations around 2200 BC.
[Experts believe that the Biblical account of the
destruction of the 'Cities of the Plain' may be an early
description of what happened.]
The conference, on natural catastrophes during Bronze Age
civilisations, will bring together astronomers,
archaeologists, geologists and other scientists to try to
find an explanation for the near-simultaneous fall of the
Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, the Sumerian civilisation
in Mesopotamia and the Harrapin (sic) Civilisation of the
Indus Valley. In all, some 40 cities are thought to have
disappeared [about the same time] in a series of
Astronomers calculate that the Earth is bombarded by a
particularly dense storm of meteorites over a couple of
centuries every 2,500 years - the last two blitzes
occurred around 2200-2000 BC and 400-600 AD.
[A leading] French archaeologist, Dr Marie-Agnes Courty,
will provide powerful [corroborative] evidence [at the
conference]: samples dating from around 2200 BC [that she
has taken] from three [separate regions in the] Middle
East(ern regions), all contain a [calcite] material found
(only) in meteorites [but not on Earth].
Tradition ascribes the destruction of Cities of the Plain
[- thought to have been south of the Dead Sea - ] to
around the same period. Genesis [19 verse 24] describes
how "the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone
and fire from the Lord of heaven" - a [plausible] fair
description of a meteorite storm.
Dr Benny Peiser, of Liverpool John Moores University [who
is organising the conference], says the destruction [of
civilisations] is clear from the archaeological record
and that cometary debris could explain it. [Previous
explanations, like a massive earthquake or volcanic
eruption, could not account for destruction over such a
vast area.The meteorites would have exploded above the
ground with the power of scores of nuclear bombs: one
devastated a vast area of Siberia in 1908; another did so
in Brazil in 1930. And in 1994 the comet Shoemaker-Levy
broke up into 21 pieces and smashed into Jupiter.
Dr Peiser is sceptical about Biblical chronologies but
thinks the story of Sodom and Gomorrah could be an early
description of the impact of the debris, "a record of a
real natural event that ended up as a Biblical
Prof Mark Bailey, Director of the Armagh Observatory,
agrees: "If I were to put money on it, I would bet that
there is a wealth of information on astronomical
phenomena in legends and myths and such written records
as the Bible."]
Dr Victor Clube, senior research fellow in astrophysics
at Oxford [University, takes the same view, saying that]
(says) the Biblical account accords [well] with
[descriptions of] similar events in Babylonian records.
He has calculated that the Earth [would have] passed
through a [particularly dense] cloud of debris - the
Taurid meteorite stream - thought to have resulted from
the break-up of a comet 40,000 years ago, between 2200 BC
and 2000 BC.
This happened again [he says] between 400 and 600 AD and
may have led to the fall of Rome and the Dark Ages (when)
contemporaries report "fires of the righteous vengeance"
falling from the sky [while evidence from tree rings
suggests that a particularly bad impact may have stunted
growth for a decade in the mid sixth century.
The Taurid stream is not due to return until the end of
the next millennium, but Dr Clube says that similar
bombardment from other debris could occur in the
meantime. He warns: "There is danger in the sky and
people would be right to be afraid".
Letter to the Editor
Independent on Sunday
London E14 5DL
I appreciate your interest in the forthcoming Cambridge
conference on Natural Catastrophes during Bronze Age
Civilisations ("Comet debris destroyed Sodom and
Gomorrah", 30 March). A number of inaccuracies,
presumably as a result of the editing process, have,
however, crept into the otherwise good article. I would
therefore like to make the following clarifications:
Whilst the biblical account of the destruction of Sodom
and Gomorrah appears to suggest some kind of catastrophic
meteorite shower, there is no agreement as to the exact
location of these two Middle Eastern sites. The
destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah - if it really did
happen - was, after all, not a 'divine punishment' by a
vengeful God, but a tragic disaster which affected a l l
major population centres in large parts of Asia, Africa
and Europe at the end of the 3rd millennium BC.
Rather than focusing on some selected biblical events,
the 2nd SIS Cambridge Conference will discuss the
widespread collapses of Bronze Age civilisations in many
parts of the world. It is these unambiguous calamities -
and not the literary tradition of Sodom and Gomorrah -
which have been clearly detected in the archaeological
In fact an increasing number of astronomers,
archaeologists and climatologists have suggested that
these catastrophes might have been triggered by cosmic
impacts, particularly the disaster around 2200 BC which
brought down the first high civilisations of mankind. The
number of Early Bronze Age sites destroyed in this
interconnected catastrophe is thought to be more than
500. Previous explanations, like massive earthquakes or
volcanic eruptions, are unable to account for destruction
levels covering such a vast area.
Dr Marie-Agnes Courty has indeed discovered conspicuous
material from samples in Middle Eastern destruction
layers dating to 2200 BC. However, I should like to
stress that the exact derivation of this material is
still undetermined. Thus, whilst there is increasing
astronomical and archaeological evidence to bolster the
'giant comet' theory of Bronze Age collapses, I wold like
to emphasize that we are still dealing with a scientific
hypothesis which needs further scrutiny.
Dr Benny J Peiser
Liverpool John Moores University
2 April 1997
CCCMENU CCC for 1997
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