CCNet SPECIAL: COLLAPSE OF EARLY BRONZE AGE CIVILISATIONS: HAS
GUN BEEN FOUND?
"Scientists have found the first evidence that a devastating meteor
impact in the Middle East might have triggered the mysterious collapse of
civilisations more than 4,000 years ago. Studies of satellite images of
southern Iraq have revealed a two-mile-wide circular depression which
scientists say bears all the hallmarks of an impact crater. If confirmed,
it would point to the Middle East being struck by a meteor with the violence
equivalent to hundreds of nuclear bombs. Today's crater lies on what would
have been shallow sea 4,000 years ago, and any impact would have caused
devastating fires and flooding. The catastrophic effect of these could
explain the mystery of why so many early cultures went into sudden decline
around 2300 BC."
-- Robert Matthews, The Sunday Telegraph, 4 November 2001
"Hundreds of years after the event, a cuneiform collection of
"prodigies," omen predictions of the collapse of Akkad, preserved the
record that "many stars were falling from the sky" (Bjorkman 1973:106).
Closer to the event, perhaps as early as 2100 BC, the author of the
Curse of Akkad alluded to 'flaming potsherds raining from the sky' (Attinger
1984). Davis (1996) has reminded us of Clube and Napier's impact theory,
and asked "Where is the archaeological and geological evidence for
the role of their 'Taurid Demons' in human history?" The abrupt climate
change at 2200 BC, regardless of an improbable impact explanation,
situates hemispheric and social collapse in a global, but ultimately cosmic,
-- Harvey Weiss, Late Third Millennium Abrupt Climate Change
and Social Collapse in West Asia and Egypt, 1997, p. 720
(1) COLLAPSE OF EARLY BRONZE AGE CIVILISATIONS: HAS THE SMOKING GUN BEEN
Benny J Peiser <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(2) METEOR CLUE TO END OF MIDDLE EAST CIVILISATIONS
The Sunday Telegraph, 4 November 2001
(3) THE AL' AMARAH STRUCTURE
Claudio Elidoro <email@example.com>
(4) METEOR SHOWERS BLOTTED OUT MAN'S FIRST CIVILISATIONS
The Sunday Times, 14 December 1997
(5) CLUES TO BRONZE AGE COMET STRIKE
BBC Online News, 25 May 1998
(6) BRONZE AGE CITIES MAY HAVE BEEN DESTROYED BY COMET
The Times, 8 March 1997
(7) NEW EVIDENCE FOR GLOBAL CLIMATE DISASTER IN 3rd MILLENNIUM BC
SCIENCE, Volume 279, Number 5349, 16 January 1998, pp.325-326
(8) CATCH A FALLING STAR
Jewish Chronicle, 6 March 1998
(9) NATURAL DISASTER AROUND 2300BC DUE TO COSMIC IMPACT?
Benny J Peiser
(1) COLLAPSE OF EARLY BRONZE AGE CIVILISATIONS: HAS THE SMOKING GUN BEEN
>From Benny J Peiser <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Around 2300 BC, a major disaster in the Near East wiped out hundreds of
Early Bronze Age sites in Mesopotamia, the Levant, Israel and Egypt. Of the
350 Early Bronze Age sites in ancient Greece, more than 300 were destroyed,
many others abandoned. While most archaeologists and paleoclimatologists
generally agreed that a major disaster occurred at that time, there is no
consensus as to what may have triggered it in the first place. Over the
years, there has been some speculation about possible medium-sized impact
events. But so far, a 'smoking gun' couldn't be detected.
Now, Sharad Master from the Impact Cratering Research Group at the
University of Witwatersrand, South Africa has published new data suggesting
that a rather significant structure (3.4km) recently discovered in Iraq may
actually be a Holocene impact crater. Satellite images have revealed a
ring-like ridge inside the larger bowl-like depression of the structure - a
typical feature of hypervelocity impact craters.
If the Al 'Amarah structure is indeed an impact crater dating from the late
Holocene, this would be the most significant discovery of a major impact
catastrophe in historical times. The implications would be far-reaching.
What is essential now is that researchers analyse the Al 'Amarah structure
as soon as possible in order to assess its geological origin. At the same
time, new efforts should be made to study the Rio Cuarto impact craters in
Argentina that date to roughly the same time. Our view of human history and
societal evolution during the Holocene is gradually changing - and it is
imperative that we obtain a better understanding of our cosmic environment
and its hazards.
Benny J Peiser
(2) METEOR CLUE TO END OF MIDDLE EAST CIVILISATIONS
>From The Sunday Telegraph, 4 November 2001
By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent
SCIENTISTS have found the first evidence that a devastating meteor impact in
the Middle East might have triggered the mysterious collapse of
civilisations more than 4,000 years ago.
Studies of satellite images of southern Iraq have revealed a two-mile-wide
circular depression which scientists say bears all the hallmarks of an
impact crater. If confirmed, it would point to the Middle East being struck
by a meteor with the violence equivalent to hundreds of nuclear bombs.
Today's crater lies on what would have been shallow sea 4,000 years ago, and
any impact would have caused devastating fires and flooding.
The catastrophic effect of these could explain the mystery of why so many
early cultures went into sudden decline around 2300 BC.
They include the demise of the Akkad culture of central Iraq, with its
mysterious semi-mythological emperor Sargon; the end of the fifth dynasty of
Egypt's Old Kingdom, following the building of the Great Pyramids and the
sudden disappearance of hundreds of early settlements
in the Holy Land.
Until now, archaeologists have put forward a host of separate explanations
for these events, from local wars to environmental changes.
Recently, some astronomers have suggested that meteor impacts could explain
such historical mysteries.
The crater's faint outline was found by Dr Sharad Master, a geologist at the
University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, on satellite images of the Al
'Amarah region, about 10 miles north-west of the confluence of the Tigris
and Euphrates and home of the Marsh Arabs.
"It was a purely accidental discovery," Dr Master told The Telegraph last
week. "I was reading a magazine article about the canal-building projects of
Saddam Hussein, and there was a photograph showing lots of formations -one
of which was very, very circular."
Detailed analysis of other satellite images taken since the mid-1980s showed
that for many years the crater contained a small lake.
The draining of the region, as part of Saddam's campaign against the Marsh
Arabs, has since caused the lake to recede, revealing a ring-like ridge
inside the larger bowl-like depression - a classic feature of meteor impact
The crater also appears to be, in geological terms, very recent. Dr Master
said: "The sediments in this region are very young, so whatever caused the
crater-like structure, it must have happened within the past 6,000 years."
Reporting his finding in the latest issue of the journal Meteoritics &
Planetary Science, Dr Master suggests that a recent meteor impact is the
most plausible explanation for the structure.
A survey of the crater itself could reveal tell-tale melted rock. "If we
could find fragments of impact glass, we could date them using radioactive
dating techniques," he said.
A date of around 2300 BC for the impact may also cast new light on the
legend of Gilgamesh, dating from the same period. The legend talks of "the
Seven Judges of Hell", who raised their torches, lighting the land with
flame, and a storm that turned day into night, "smashed the land
like a cup", and flooded the area.
The discovery of the crater has sparked great interest among scientists.
Dr Benny Peiser, who lectures on the effects of meteor impacts at John
Moores University, Liverpool, said [if confirmed, it would be] the most
significant discoveries in recent years and would corroborate research he
and others have done.
He said that craters recently found in Argentina date from around the same
period - suggesting that the Earth may have been hit by a shower of large
meteors at about the same time.
Copyright 2001, The Sunday Telegraph
(3) THE AL' AMARAH STRUCTURE
>From Claudio Elidoro <email@example.com>
Dear Dr. Peiser,
I'd like to bring to your attention (if you don't already know) this
abstract I found with Nasa ADS. The abstract reference is: S. Master - A
possible Holocene impact structure in the Al 'Amarah marshes... -
Meteoritics & Planetary Science, vol.36, Supplement, p.A124; 2001.
The relation of the Al 'Amarah structure with the Deluge (suggested in the
abstract) is very intriguing, but I think a possible link with the Bronze
Age fall of the Akkadian Empire (but not only) is more intriguing. An 3.4 km
astrobleme is not a small crater! That is, if the impact origin of Al
'Amarah will be confirmed.
dr. Claudio Elidoro
Via Giacomo Matteotti, 2
26010 Corte de' Frati (Cremona)
Siti Web http://www.geocities.com/elidoro/
A POSSIBLE HOLOCENE IMPACT STRUCTURE IN THE AL 'AMARAH MARSHES, NEAR THE
TIGRIS-EUPHRATES CONFLUENCE, SOUTHERN IRAQ.
Impact Cratering Research Group, Dept. Geology, Univ. Witwatersrand
P. Bag 3, WITS 2050, Johannesburg, South Africa.
A ~3.4 km-diameter near-circular, slightly polygonal, structure is found in
the Al 'Amarah marshes, at 47°4'44.4"E, 31°8'58.2"N, ~17 km NW of the
Tigris-Euphrates confluence, in southern Iraq. Prior to the
militarily-inspired draining of the marshes in 1993 , the structure was
filled with a lake enclosed by an elevated rim, surrounded by a ~500 m-wide
dark annulus. After the partial draining of the marshes, the lake has
shrunk, and it now appears as a light coloured spot, due to salt
encrustations following evaporation of the surface waters.
The alluvial plains of Iraq occupy a structural trough related to active
orogenic processes in the Zagros mountains . Near the Tigris-Euphrates
confluence, marine sediments of the Miocene-Pleistocene Dibdibba Fm  and
Holocene Hammar Fm  are overlain by Recent delta plain and delta front
deposits of the Mesopotamian Plains, in which there are numerous marshes and
permanent lakes . The Recent sediments of the Tigris-Euphrates plains
were deposited in the last 5000 years, during which 130-150 km of seaward
progradation has taken place .
Formation of the Al Amarah structure
The strikingly circular shape of the Al 'Amarah structure, contrasts
markedly with the highly irregular shapes of the other marsh lakes in the
region. Because of the extremely young nature of the sediments in the
marshlands, an origin of the structure by karst solution, salt doming,
tectonic deformation or igneous intrusion can be ruled out. The structure
predates the Iraq-Iran and Gulf wars of the 1980's to 1991, since it is
present on satellite imagery from 1984. It is postulated that the structure
was formed by a Recent bolide impact in the marshlands of southern Iraq,
thus accounting for its geometry, and the apparent rim and annulus visible
in pre-1993 imagery.
The formation of such a young impact structure may have had a catastrophic
effect on the people living in the region, and there is a possible
quasi-historical reference to such an event in the account of the Deluge
from the Epic of Gilgamesh, dating from ~2000 BC: "...and the seven judges
of hell, the Annunaki, raised their torches, lighting the land with their
livid flame. A stupor of despair went up to heaven when the god of the storm
turned daylight into darkness, when he smashed the land like a cup. One
whole day the tempest raged, gathering fury as it went, it poured over the
people like the tides of battle."  Could this be a reference to a bolide
impact which triggerred a tsunami?
 North, A. (1993). The Middle East, London, No. 227, Oct. 1993, 22-23.
 Larsen, C. E. and Evans, G. (1978). In: Brice, W. C. (Ed.), The
Environmental History of the Near and Middle East Since the Last Ice Age.
Academic Press, London, 227-244.
 Hudson, R. G. S. et al. (1957). Geol. Mag., 94, 395-398.
 Sandars, N. K. (1960). The Epic of Gilgamesh. Penguin Books,
Harmondsworth, 128 pp.
(4) METEOR SHOWERS BLOTTED OUT MAN'S FIRST CIVILISATIONS
>From The Sunday Times, 14 December 1997
by Rajeev Syal
A CATACLYSMIC shower of giant meteors destroyed the great Bronze Age
civilisations in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece by provoking a series of
New archeological and astronomical evidence indicates that a huge number of
extraterrestrial bodies caused famine, flooding and bushfires thousands of
miles wide that led to the collapse of the world's first sophisticated
The findings could solve the puzzle of why successful empires from across
the globe all apparently collapsed at roughly the same time in about 2350BC,
despite the fact that they were independent of each other and all
flourishing until their sudden demise.
Dr Benny Peiser, an anthropologist from Liverpool John Moores University,
has analysed 500 excavation reports and climatological studies from the
sites of ancient civilisations and found they all suffered huge changes in
climate at exactly the same time.
Previous explanations for the collapse of the ancient civilisations have
pointed to warfare, volcanoes and earthquakes. But Peiser's findings show
that the worldwide devastation could only have been provoked by an external
cosmic event. "There is very strong evidence to suggest that massive meteor
storms are the real scientific reason why these ancient societies
collapsed," he said last week.
Archeological reports from ancient Egypt's First Kingdom show that a
bustling and luxuriant farming region was suddenly reduced to a desert
following floods and intense heat in about 2350BC. A few artefacts were
spared the devastation, including the Sphinx, which give a tantalising clue
to the great sophistication of the civilisation before its annihilation.
The abrupt climate change could not be explained by seismic activity and no
evidence of volcanoes has been identified, Peiser said.
The civilisation of Mesopotamia, which produced the Hanging Gardens of
Babylon, was destroyed by what seems to have been a massive earthquake.
There is no evidence from geological studies, however, of any relevant
seismic or volcanic activity.
Peizer has also discovered from a study of ancient river beds that their
levels fell dramatically and then rose again during the middle of the third
British scientists have also identified at least seven impact craters which
were formed within a century of 2350BC, which they believe may have been
part of a meteor storm.
A new finding by Victor Clube, an astrophysicist at Oxford University,
appears to confirm Peiser's theory that meteorites were responsible for the
Bronze Age catastrophe. Clube claims to have identified a meteor cluster in
an orbit around Jupiter which has collided with the Earth
about every 3,000 years.
He believes it was this shower that caused the Ice Age, and then returned in
a later cycle to prompt the cataclysm of 2350BC. Meteors from the same
stream struck the Earth on a return orbit in AD500, though with less force
than previously, causing flash floods in the Middle East. The next impact is
predicted for 3000.
Meteor showers have immense power and destructive capability. One that
exploded in 1908 over Siberia was 60 metres in diameter and yielded the
energy of 2,000 Hiroshima nuclear bombs.
It is thought that a meteor cluster on the scale Clube has identified would
have dramatic meteorological effects. The temperature of the area of impact
would rise to more than 1,000C and the dust cloud that followed might block
out the sun and cause temperatures to slump. Some believe the dinosaurs
became extinct after a large asteroid collided with the Earth.
Professor Barry Cordon from the University of Ohio, a world authority on the
collapse of ancient civilisations, said: "The research is fascinating. It
shows there is still much to understand about how our world is so vulnerable
to changes in our solar system."
(5) CLUES TO BRONZE AGE COMET STRIKE
>From BBC Online News, 25 May 1998
Evidence is growing that a huge comet smashed into the Earth about 4,000
Scientists are pointing to studies of tree-rings in Ireland which have
revealed that about 2,354-2,345 BC there was an abrupt change to a colder
They have also highlighted discoveries by archaeologists in northern Syria
of a catastrophic environmental event at about the same time. This is also
about the time that Bronze Age civilisations collapsed.
Firework displays of meteors
Dr Bill Napier, an astronomer at Armagh Observatory, and Dr Victor Clube,
from Oxford and Armagh universities, say the evidence points to a comet
hitting the Earth, and have called for more research.
Writing in Frontiers, the magazine of the Particle Physics and Astronomy
Research Council, Dr Napier suggests that the Comet Encke, first observed in
1786, might be a remnant of the object along with its associated stream of
meteors, called the Taurids.
This giant mother-comet is thought to have been disintegrating as recently
as 5,000 years ago.
At this time, and for some millennia afterwards, the night sky would have
been lit up by a bright light caused by dust particles, cometary fragments,
and firework displays of meteor storms.
The scientists highlight ancient civilisations' preoccupation with the sky.
Cosmic icons were widespread
Dr Napier wrote: "People have assumed that this was driven by the need for a
calendar for both agricultural and ritual purposes.
"However, this explanation does not account for the doom-laden nature of
much cosmic iconography and early sky-centred cosmic religions associated
with these societies."
Icons apparently depicting comets were widespread among early civilisations.
The new evidence also ties in with ancient prophecies, including the Book of
Revelations in the Bible, which appears to describe cataclysmic events
involving objects falling from the sky.
Dr Napier said the ancient swastika, a symbol of great antiquity stretching
back to at least 1400 BC and found from China through India to the New
World, may also be a cometary image.
Comets are giant dirty snowballs in space, made of ice and dust. Unlike
asteroids, which are rocky, there is no known upper limit to their size, and
the largest can measure several hundred kilometres across.
Every 100,000 years or so one of these rare, giant objects enters an orbit
that crosses the path of the Earth.
Copyright 1998, BBC
(6) BRONZE AGE CITIES MAY HAVE BEEN DESTROYED BY COMET
>From The Times, 8 March 1997
BY NIGEL HAWKES, SCIENCE EDITOR
A SERIES of natural disasters which befell Bronze Age civilisations in many
parts of the world may have been the result of comets or meteorites smashing
into the Earth.
New evidence, to be discussed at a conference in Cambridge in July, is
likely to give that idea greater academic respectability. The conference,
organised by Dr Benny Peiser, from Liverpool Moores University, will bring
together astronomers, geologists and archaeologists to discuss if
extraterrestrial impacts can explain the destruction of cities and changes
of climate that eliminated agriculture from large regions.
The most exciting new evidence comes from Dr Marie-Agnes Courty, a French
expert in the microscopic study of soils and sediments. She is expected to
report that samples from three regions of the Middle East, taken from levels
corresponding to the period around 2,200 BC when there were abrupt climatic
changes, contain tiny spheres of a calcite material unknown on Earth but
found in meteorites.
She has also found evidence of huge fires in a layer of burnt soil. The
amount of black carbon in the layer is unlikely to come from local grassland
fires, she says. It is more likely to come from enormous forest fires in
other regions. Volcanic activity cannot explain the evidence, she says.
Dr Peiser says there is an abundance of evidence of violent change in many
Bronze Age cultures at the same time. More than one event seems to have
occurred, but at around 2,200 BC civilisations in Mesopotamia, the Indus
Valley in India, and Egypt all appear to have collapsed.
Much later, at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1,200 BC, the Chang dynasty
in China and the Mycenaean civilisation in Greece disappeared at the same
time. The original evidence was gathered by the French archaeologist Claude
Schaeffer and published almost half a century ago.
He found that Bronze Age sites over a huge area of the near and Middle East
showed evidence of four destructive episodes, the three most prominent at
2,300 BC, 1,650 BC, and 1,200 BC. He concluded that the destruction of
cities at more than 40 sites at the same times could have
been caused only by massive earthquakes.
But earthquakes, even the biggest, have only local effects, so Schaeffer's
explanation is no longer accepted. The alternative, which the Cambridge
conference will consider, is that during the Bronze Age the Earth was hit
not once but several times by debris from space, most
likely from a comet broken into pieces.
"We know that such impacts have happened in the distant past," Dr Peiser
says. "The question is whether it could also have happened within human
(7) NEW EVIDENCE FOR GLOBAL CLIMATE DISASTER IN 3rd MILLENNIUM BC
From: SCIENCE, Volume 279, Number 5349, 16 January 1998, pp.325-326
SEA-FLOOR DUST SHOWS DROUGHT FELLED AKKADIAN EMPIRE
By Richard A. Kerr
When civilizations collapse, the blame is often laid on the culture
itself--leaders who overreached, armies that faltered, farmers who degraded
the land. Such were the conventional explanations for the end of the world's
first empire, forged by the Akkadians by 2300 B.C.
Their reign stretched 1300 kilometers from the Persian Gulf in present-day
Iraq to the headwaters of the Euphrates River in Turkey. They were the first
to subsume independent societies into a single state, but the Akkadian
empire splintered a century later, not to be reunited in such grandeur for
In 1993, however, archaeologist Harvey Weiss of Yale University proposed
that the Akkadians were not to blame for their fate. Instead, he argued that
they were brought low by a wide-ranging, centuries-long drought (Science, 20
August 1993, p. 985) that toppled other civilizations too, including those
of early Greece, the pyramid builders in Egypt, and the Indus Valley in
Pakistan. Many archaeologists were skeptical because the timing of these
collapses was imprecise, and purely social and political explanations seemed
to suffice. But now Weiss's theory, at least as applied to the Akkadians, is
getting new support from a completely independent source: an accurately
dated, continuous climate record from the Gulf of Oman, 1800 kilometers from
the heart of the Akkadian empire.
At the annual fall meeting last month of the American Geophysical Union
here, paleoceanographers Heidi Cullen and Peter deMenocal of Lamont-Doherty
Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, and their colleagues reported that
a sediment core retrieved from the bottom of the gulf matches Weiss's
version of events: The worst dry spell of the past 10,000 years began just
as the Akkadians' northern stronghold of Tell Leilan was being abandoned,
and the drought lasted a devastating 300 years. The new results illustrate, says Weiss,
that climate change "is emerging as a new and powerful causal agent" in the
evolution of civilization.
Some archaeologists aren't willing to accept that the same drought changed
history across the Old World, however. That argument "just doesn't float,"
says archaeologist Carl Lamberg-Karlovsky of Harvard University. But he and
others agree that the new marine record lends support to the climate-culture
connection that Weiss identified at the ruined city of Tell Leilan in the
northern part of Mesopotamia, a region that includes parts of present-day
Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. Weiss began excavations there, on the Habur Plains
of northeast Syria, in 1978.
Tell Leilan was a major city covering 200 acres by the middle of the third
millennium B.C., and its people thrived on the harvests of the plains'
fertile fields. But, unlike the farmers of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia,
who used irrigation from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to ensure bountiful
harvests, the farmers of Tell Leilan depended on plentiful rainfall to water
their fields. Less than a century after the people of Akkad in central
Mesopotamia extended their reach into the north, those rains began to fail,
When Weiss and Marie-Agnes Courty, a soil scientist and archaeologist at the
National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, dug through the
accumulated debris of Tell Leilan, they encountered an interval devoid of
signs of human activity, containing only the clay of deteriorating bricks.
The abandonment began about 2200 B.C., as determined by carbon-14 dating of
cereal grains. Soil samples from that time showed abundant fine, windblown
dust and few signs of earthworm activity or the once-abundant rainfall. All
this suggested that the people of Tell Leilan, and, presumably, its
environs, retreated in the face of a suddenly dry and windy environment,
triggering the collapse of the Akkadian empire's northern provinces. Only
after the signs of dryness abated, about 300 years later, was Tell Leilan
Weiss went further, however, proposing that refugees from the drought went
south, where irrigation helped protect crops. Droves of immigrants would
have further strained a sociopolitical system already stressed by the same
drought, he says, until the whole system
collapsed under the strain. And he noted that the pyramid-building Old
Kingdom of Egypt, the towns of Palestine, and the cities of the Indus Valley
went into precipitous declines at about the same time and apparently also
suffered unstable climates.
It's a neat story, but critics questioned whether the drying really was
catastrophic enough to bring down all of Mesopotamian civilization, where
irrigation would have helped farmers cope with the drought. And they were
even more skeptical that such a drought could have felled other cultures
across the Old World. To test these ideas, deMenocal and Cullen decided to
see just how big and bad the drought really was. They analyzed sediment from
the Gulf of Oman, reasoning that if all of Mesopotamia had become a dust
bowl, the hot northwest summer wind called the Shamal would have blown that
dust down the Tigris and Euphrates valley, over the Persian Gulf, and
finally into the Gulf of Oman, 2200 kilometers from Tell Leilan.
Cullen and deMenocal looked for this far-traveled dust in a 2-meter sediment
core spanning the past 14,000 years, which was retrieved from the Gulf of
Oman by paleoceanographer Frank Sirocko of the University of Kiel in
Germany. In samples taken every 2 centimeters along the core, they measured
the amounts of dolomite, quartz, and calcite--minerals that today dominate
the dust blown from Mesopotamia by the Shamal. They found that wind-blown
dust levels in the Gulf of Oman were high during the last ice age until about 11,000 years
ago, then settled down to levels more typical of today. But in the sample from 2000
B.C. plus or minus 100 years, as dated by carbon-14, the abundance of dust
minerals jumped to two to six times above background, reaching levels not
found at any other time in the past 10,000 years.
The extreme dustiness--which suggests a wide-ranging area of
dryness--persisted through the next sample 140 years later but faded away by
the third sample, indicating a duration of a few hundred
years. The team also tracked isotopes of strontium and neodymium, which
occur in different ratios in dust from different regions. They confirmed
that during the dust pulse, the proportion of minerals with a composition
similar to that of the soils of Mesopotamia and Arabia
Given the uncertainties of carbon dating, the marine dust pulse and the
abandonment of Tell Leilan could still have been several centuries apart.
But Cullen and deMenocal found in the core another time marker that makes a
somewhat tighter connection. Less than about 140 years before the dust pulse
is a layer containing volcanic ash. And Weiss had already reported that a
centimeter-thick ash layer lies just beneath the onset of aridity and
abandonment at Tell Leilan. The strikingly similar elemental compositions of
the two ashes imply that they stem from the same volcanic event. If so, then
Tell Leilan was abandoned just after the start of a climatic change of
considerable magnitude, geographical extent, and duration. "There's
something going on, a shift of atmospheric circulation patterns over a
fairly large region," says Cullen.
Some archaeologists agree that this climate shift did change history outside
northern Mesopotamia. "Most people who work in this range of time don't pay
much attention to climate," says archaeologist Frank Hole of Yale; "rather,
it's political and social events [that matter]. ... But I think the evidence is
overwhelming that we've got something going on here."
While conceding that climate and culture interact, a number of
archaeologists still think that Weiss is pushing the connection too far.
Drought may well have driven people from farmland dependent on rainfall,
like that around Tell Leilan, says Lamberg-Karlovsky, but Weiss "generalizes
from his northern Mesopotamia scenario to a global problem. That's utterly
wrong. ... Archaeologists fall in love with their archaeological sites, and
they generalize [unjustifiably] to a larger perspective."
Even in Mesopotamia, "you do not have by any means a universal collapse of
cultural complexity," says Lamberg-Karlovsky. For example, at 2100 B.C., in
the midst of the drying, the highly
literate Ur III culture centered in far southern Mesopotamia was at its
peak, he says, as was the Indus River civilization to the east, which
thrived for another 200 years. Weiss counters that cuneiform records show
that Ur III did in fact collapse 50 years later, apparently under the weight
of a swelling immigrant population and crop failures. That timing still
fails to impress Lamberg-Karlovsky, who concludes that Weiss is "getting
little support for the global aspect of it."
Such support may yet come from climate records being retrieved from around
the world. In an enticing look at the postglacial climate of North America,
Walter Dean of the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver found three sharp peaks
in the amount of dust that settled to the bottom of Elk Lake in Minnesota.
Dust peaked at about 5800, 3800, and 2100 B.C., plus or minus 200 years,
according to the counting of annual layers in the lake sediment. During the
2100 B.C. dust pulse, which lasted about a century, the lake received three times
more dust each year than it did during the infamous Dust Bowl period in the U.S. in the
1930s. But the archaeological record doesn't reveal how this drought
affected early North Americans, who at that time maintained no major
In another sign that the Mesopotamian drought was global, Lonnie G. Thompson
of Ohio State University and his colleagues found a dust spike preserved in
a Peruvian mountain glacier that marks "a major drought" in the Amazon Basin
about 2200 B.C., give or take 200 years. It is by far the largest such event
of the past 17,000 years. But it doesn't seem to have had entirely negative
effects; indeed, it roughly coincides with a shift in population centers
from coastal areas of Peru, where the ocean provided subsistence, to higher
regions, where agriculture became important. As more such records accumulate
in the rapidly accelerating study of recent climate, archaeologists will
have a better idea of just how much history can be laid at the feet of
Copyright 1998, AAAS
(8) CATCH A FALLING STAR
>From Jewish Chronicle, 6 March 1998
Sodom and Gomorrah may have been destroyed as a result of a meteor storm
which, some believe, wiped out many ancient civilisations. And if it struck
once, it could well strike again. Simon Rocker talks to Liverpool academic
Benny Peiser about the threat to earth from heavenly bodies.
Four years ago the Shoemaker-Levy comet collided with the giant planet,
Jupiter, breaking into more than 20 fragments as it hurtled to its
destruction. One piece, a huge fireball, tore an Earth-size hole in the
atmosphere. What would have happened had the comet crashed into our own
world hardly bears thinking about. But this awesome spectacle was a warning
how vulnerable we could be to extra-terrestrial hazards.
The idea that meteors are a source of potential catastrophe is no longer
seen as the stuff of science fiction. Scientists are now looking back to the
past for evidence that falling objects from outer space brought about the
collapse of ancient civilisations.
According to Israeli born social anthropologist Benny Peiser, of Liverpool
John Moores University, such biblical catastrophes as the destruction of
Sodom and Gomorrah or the flood may well record the havoc wrought by
heavenly bodies. The Talmud records the tradition that God caused the flood
by taking two stars and casting them to earth, says Dr Peiser. "Before, we
did not know of any phenomenon that could trigger such a massive flood
disaster," he adds. "Now, recent research on ocean impacts shows that a
large body hitting one of the world's oceans could trigger the kind of
massive tsunamis capable of wiping out coastal cities."
For many years, scientists did not take the idea of cosmic calamities
seriously, and they certainly would not have gone to the Bible for clues.
"With the coming of the space age, we saw our world from above, and we have
observed more than 150 impact craters. They were not known of 40 years ago.
There is also the exploration of other planets, which are pockmarked. The
moon has hundreds of thousands of craters."
Backing up the theory is geological evidence that, at various times, life on
earth was affected by dramatic changes of climate. Analysis of soil,
tree-rings and other natural substances combines with archaeological
discoveries to suggest that whole civilisations were destroyed by natural
disasters rather than man-made forces.
Around 2,300 BCE - give or take a couple of hundred years - the world's
first urban civilisations fell away, all in a short space of time. It was
the same story in Egypt, Israel and Mesopotamia. "Two-thirds of all
settlements were destroyed or abandoned," says Dr Peiser. "A large part of
the Sahara had been fertile settlement; later, it became desert."
The fate of Sodom and Gomorrah - where God rained fire and brimstone upon
the sinful cities - fits in with this picture of global disaster. Some
Israeli researchers argue that the cause was an earthquake, but Dr Peiser
believes that the biblical account of the objects falling from the sky is
While half-a-dozen craters have been traced to this period, none so far has
been discovered in the Near East. But Dr Peiser notes that meteors do not
have to hit the earth to have a devastating effect. In 1908, an object
exploded three miles above Tunguska [river], in Siberia, with the force of
2,000 Hiroshima bombs, laying waste over 1,250 square miles below. "Had it
come half an hour earlier, it might have hit St Petersburg," he said.
With Tunguska-size impacts occurring every 100-or-so years, according to the
latest research, then it is not inconceivable that more violent events
happen every couple of millennia or so, he argues. After the collapse of
Early Bronze Age societies in the third millennium BCE, the Late Bronze Age
was also marked by a sudden decline, in 1,200 BCE: that later episode
provoked mass migrations - it was at that time that the Philistines came to
the land of Israel.
Piecing together the evidence from the past with research by astronomers, Dr
Peiser concludes that "we are living in a very vulnerable cosmic
environment." Where scientists once believed that we were relatively safe in
a universe that ran like clockwork, now peril may lie awaiting us in some
far corner of the solar system.
In our new-found realisation of danger, Dr Peiser says "we are back to
square one, where our ancestors were." But whereas they could only hope to
ward it off with prayer, we also have technological and scientific
knowledge. He advocates a global response to this extra-terrestrial threat:
first, by tracking heavenly bodies whose orbits could at some time bring
them to earth, and then by trying to devise methods to deflect them from a
In urging this world-wide effort, Dr Peiser draws on a spirit of
universalism which, he believes, originated in a response to the flood.
Almost all civilisations tell the story of a deluge: some
500 flood legends from across the world have been collected by
anthropologists. "The Jews who travelled from place to place saw that every
nation had the same story. And out of this came the
idea that we all have a common history, and [are] part of one mankind."
But what makes the biblical account special is the covenant God made with
mankind, symbolised by the rainbow, that such destruction would not be
repeated. This is essentially an optimistic worldview which enabled Jews
largely to avoid apocalyptic fatalism.
"The early Christians, for instance, were extremely afraid of the world
coming to an end", says Dr Peiser. "This was one of the points of contention
with the Pharisees. The Jews said that God had made a covenant not to punish
mankind in a global disaster. At the time that Christianity emerged, there
was increased cometary and meteoric activity in the sky and people were
afraid." So, instead of waiting for disaster to strike, Dr Peiser's message
is that we should take heart and draw up plans to avert it. "The Jewish
tradition is that we are created in the intellectual image of God," he said.
"We have to take charge of nature."
Copyright 1998, Jewish Chronicle
(9) NATURAL DISASTER AROUND 2300BC DUE TO COSMIC IMPACT?
Excerpt from Benny J Peiser: "Comparative Analysis of Late Holocene
Environmental and Social Upheaval: Evidence for a global disaster around
4000 BP", in: NATURAL CATASTROPHES DURING BRONZE AGE CIVILIZATIONS:
ARCHAEOLOGICAL, GEOLOGICAL, ASTRONOMICAL AND CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES, Benny J
Peiser, Trevor Pamer, Mark E Bailey, eds. British Archaeological Report [BAS
S728], Oxford 1998, pp. 117-139
No discussion of late 3rd millennium BC environmental change and
civilisation collapse is complete without a survey of those Early Bronze Age
settlements which fell into ruin due to seismic activity. Earthquake damage
has been a frequent explanation for settlement destruction, destruction
layers or abandonment of sites. Despite the often fragmentary and sometimes
inconclusive character of archaeological findings, it is feasible to
recognise specific features of earthquake effects in archaeological works and thereby to
distinguish these peculiarities and those from other natural or
anthropogenic effects of site damage and destruction (Stiros 1996).
Interestingly, of all the various factors and data scrutinised for clues
related to the environmental and social upheavals at the end of the Early
Bronze Age, seismic and tectonic activity is the subject matter most
neglected by scholars. Yet most archaeologists are only
too aware that Claude Schaeffer's voluminous 'Stratigraphie Comparée et
Chronologie de l'Asie Occidentale' is teeming with archaeological evidence
for extensive earthquake damage detected in Bronze Age settlements
throughout the Near and Middle East (Schaeffer 1948).
Claude Schaeffer, the 20th century's most eminent French archaeologist, was
the first researcher to present evidence for widespread seismic catastrophes
in large parts of Asia minor and the
Levant at around 2300 BC. Based on a comparative study of destruction layers
in more than 40 sites, he ordered and classified earthquake horizons as
synchronous and interrelated benchmarks in archaeological stratigraphy and
chronology. Evidence for major earthquake damage in
Early Bronze Age strata had been detected in many Anatolian and Near Eastern
settlements, such as Troy, Alaca Hüyük, Boghazköy, Alishar, Tarsos, Ugarit,
Byblos, Qalaat, Hama, Megiddo, Tell Hesi, Beit Mirsim, Beth Shan, Tell Brak
and Chagar Bazar (Gammon 1980; 1982).
Most scholars, however, have refrained from taking Schaeffer's main
research-findings into consideration. The recent and most comprehensive
textbook on 3rd millennium BC civilisation collapse fails to mention his
research altogether (Dalfes et al. 1997). One looks in vain for any
reference to his theory of Early Bronze Age collapse. This reticence is even
more remarkable in view of the fact that Schaeffer was also, to my
knowledge, the first archaeologist to claim that a distinct shift in climate
was synchronous with civilisation collapse. "Au Caucase et dans certains
régions de l'Europe protohistorique, des changements de climat semblent, ŕ
cette période, avoir amené des transformations dans l'occupation et
l'économie du pays" (Schaffer 1948, 555/556).
There is, of course, a plausible reason for the selective perception of the
available evidence by most scholars. Of all the proxy data available in the
vast literature on late 3rd millennium environmental change, the evidence
for seismic and tectonic activity appears to be the most inconclusive.
Moreover, it seems impossible to integrate widespread seismic activity into
any scenario of abrupt climate change. Indeed, most researchers would agree
that there seems to be no natural phenomenon capable of triggering abrupt
climate change *and* extensive seismic activity at the same time. Yet almost
35 years ago, René Gallant (1964) focused on this apparent anomaly in
Schaeffer's work and suggested that cosmic impacts would easily account for
the synchronicity of climate change and seismic activity.
"C.F.A. Schaeffer", Gallant wrote, "presumes that the catastrophes which
caused the end of civilisations in Eurasia originated in devastating
earthquakes which shook the world. He mentions that many sites show that the
destructions have been contemporary with 'climatic changes, which seem to
have brought about transformations in the occupation and the economy of the
country'. Schaeffer does not seem to have been struck by the connection
between those two important contemporaneous events: earthquakes and climatic
changes. As we have previously seen, those two events are closely connected
with cosmic catastrophism: both are inevitable results of huge meteoric
impacts" (Gallant 1964, 214/15).
Some twenty years later, Mandelkehr (1988) published further evidence which
confirmed a pattern of geological perturbations at c. 2300 BC. According to
his findings, "the most significant aspect of the geological evidence is the
crustal movements that apparently began at about the same time around 2300
BC at many regions of the Earth" (Mandelkehr 1988, 11). In this section, I
will present the most important palaeo-seismic data collated by Mandelkehr
and will add to that more recent research findings.
Strong earthquakes leave geological evidence in form of surface faulting,
folding or (in the case of earthquakes in urban areas) in form of site
destruction. These features are often preserved in the archaeological record
and can therefore be detected by archaeo-seismological research (Stiros and
Jones 1996). The presence of historical seismicity and tectonic features are
recognised as the most reliable criteria for identifying earthquake damage.
However, lack of such unambiguous characteristics cannot be considered
conclusive evidence for a lack of earthquake destruction (Vittori et al.
Geological evidence for ancient earthquakes may be preserved in the
archaeological record and, therefore, palaeo-seismological studies may
detect and date them. Historical seismicity and the presence of
well-developed tectonic geomorphic features are often recognised as reliable
criteria for identifying active faulting. However, extra-terrestrial impacts
are capable of triggering seismic activity in geological areas which are
normally not prone to tectonic activity.
A particularly manifest episode of seismic activity at the mid/late Holocene
boundary has been detected by Forman et al. (1991) in sediment cores of the
Wasatch fault zone, in north central Utah. The stratigraphy in two trenches
excavated across fault scarps is characterised by a distinct earthquake
stratum which buried a soil developed on a middle Holocene layer. The
researchers have dated this palaeo-earthquake at the mid/late Holocene
transition tentatively to
c. 4300 BP.
Other evidence for extensive tectonic activity during the late 3rd
millennium BC comes from the Oquirrh fault zone, a normal fault that bounds
the east side of Tooele Valley in central Utha. A recent study by Olig et
al. (1994) on scarp morphology suggests that the most recent
surface-faulting earthquake in this region occurred during the 3rd
millennium BC, an event tentatively dated to c. 4400 BP. The researchers
also found that, at two sites at the Big Canyon and Pole Canyon, trenches
exposed faulted Lake Bonneville sediments and thick wedges of fault-scarp
derived colluvium associated with this event. Since a bulk sediment sample
from fluvial deposits which buried the fault scarp of the last major
earthquake yielded a radiocarbon age
estimate of c. 4340 ± 60 BP, it is highly probable that this massive
earthquake coincided with similarly high levels of seismic activity in other
parts of the world.
At some time around 2300 BC, a large number of major civilisations
collapsed. At the same time, there is widespread evidence for abrupt and
widespread environmental catastrophes. Sudden sea-level changes,
catastrophic inundations, widespread seismic activity and earthquake damage,
changes in glacial features and a signal for an abrupt climatic downturn
have been detected at c. 2350. A survey of some 500 excavation reports,
research papers and scientific abstract on late 3rd millennium BC
civilisation collapse and environmental change show a distinct pattern of
environmental and social upheaval at this time.
A large number of sites and cities of the first uraban civilisations in
Asia, Africa and Europe appear to have collapsed at around the same time.
The proxy data detected in the marine, terrestrial, biological,
climatological and archaeological records point to sudden environmental,
climatic and social upheavals which appear to coincide with simultaneous
sea- and lake-level changes, increased levels of seismic activity and
widespread flood disasters. The main problem in interconnecting this vast
amount of data is the application of incoherent and imprecise dating methods
in different areas of geological and climatological research. It is
hypothesised that the globally detected evidence for the sudden
environmental and social upheavals at the start of the late Holocene are
interconnected and that chronological deviations are primarily due to
imprecise dating methods. Neither a seismic nor a climatic explanation for
these significant natural and social punctuations appear capable to account
for these events since it is evidenced by a great diversity of ecological
alterations and an enormous variety of damage features. The punctuation of
extra-terrestrial debris, on the other hand, can have catastrophic effects
on the ecological system in a variety of patterns which match the main
features documented in this comparative analysis.
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