Skip to comments.Comets And Disaster In The Bronze Age
Posted on 04/30/2007 4:38:09 PM PDT by blam
Comets and disaster in the Bronze Age
Cosmic impact is gaining ground as an explanation of the collapse of civilisations, writes Benny Peiser
At some time around 2300BC, give or take a century or two, a large number of the major civilisations of the world collapsed. The Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, the Old Kingdom in Egypt, the Early Bronze Age societies in Israel, Anatolia and Greece, as well as the Indus Valley civilisation in India, the Hilmand civilisation in Afghanistan and the Hongshan Culture in China - the first urban civilisations in the world - all fell into ruin at more or less the same time. Why?
A thousand years later, at around 1200BC, many of the civilisations of the same regions again collapsed at about the same time. This time, disaster overtook the Myceneans of Greece, the Hittites of Anatolia, the Egyptian New Kingdom, Late Bronze Age Israel, and the Shang Dynasty of China.
The reasons for these widespread and apparently simultaneous disasters - which coincided also with changes to cultures and societies elsewhere, such as in Britain - have long been a fascinating mystery. Traditional explanations included warfare, famine, and more recently systems collapse, but the apparent absence of direct archaeological or written evidence for causes, as opposed to effects, has led many archaeologists and historians into a resigned assumption that no definite explanation can be found.
Some decades ago, the hunt for clues passed largely into the hands of natural scientists. Concentrating on the earlier set of Bronze Age collapses, researchers began to find evidence that natural causes, rather than human actions, may have been initially responsible. There began to be talk of climate change, volcanic activity, and earthquakes - and some of this material has now found its way into standard historical accounts of the period.
Agreement, however, there has never been. Some researchers favoured one type of natural cause, others another, and the problem remained that no single explanation appeared to account for all the evidence.
Over the past 15 years or so, however, a new type of natural disaster has been much discussed and is beginning to be regarded, by many scholars, as the most probable single explanation for widespread and simultaneous cultural collapse, not only in the Bronze Age but at other times as well. The new theory has been advanced largely by astronomers, and remains almost completely unknown by archaeologists (notable exceptions include Prof Mike Baillie of Queens University, Belfast, and Dr Euan Mackie at Glasgow University). The new idea is that these massive cultural disasters were caused by the impact of comets or other types of cosmic debris on the Earth.
The hunt for natural causes for these human disasters began when the French archaeologist Claude Schaeffer published his book Stratigraphie Comparée et Chronologie LAsie Occidentale in 1948. Schaeffer analysed and compared the destruction layers of more than 40 archaeological sites in the Near and Middle East, from Troy to Tepe Hissar on the Caspian Sea and from the Levant to Mesopotamia. He was the first scholar to detect that all had been totally destroyed several times in the Early, Middle and Late Bronze Age, apparently simultaneously. Since the damage did not show signs of military or other human involvement, and in any case was too excessive, he argued that repeated earthquakes might have been responsible.
At the time he published, Schaeffer was not taken seriously. Since then, however, natural scientists have found widespread and unambiguous evidence for abrupt climate change, sudden sea level changes, catastrophic inundations, widespread seismic activity and evidence for massive volcanic activity at several periods since the last Ice Age, but particularly at around 2300BC, give or take 200 years. Areas such as the Sahara, and around the Dead Sea, were once farmed but became deserts. Tree rings show disastrous growth conditions at c 2350BC, while sediment cores from lakes and rivers in Europe and Africa show a catastrophic drop in water levels. In Mesopotamia, vast areas of land appear to have been devastated, inundated, or totally burned.
Scholars who, following Schaeffer, favour earthquakes as the principal cause of civilisation collapse argue that the world can expect vast earthquakes every 1,000-2,000 years, leading to widespread abandonment of sites; while scholars who prefer climate change as the principal cause argue that severe droughts caused agriculture to fail and that societies inexorably fell apart as a result.
Yet what was the cause of these earthquakes, eruptions, tidal waves, fire-blasts and climate changes? By the late 1970s, British astronomers Victor Clube and Bill Napier of Oxford University had begun to investigate cometary impact as the ultimate cause. Then in 1980, the Nobel prize-winning chemist Luis Alvarez and his colleagues published their famous paper in Science that argued that a cosmic impact had led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. He showed that large amounts of the element iridium present in geological layers dating from about 65 million BC had a cosmic origin.
Alvarezs paper had an immense influence and stimulated further research by such British astronomers as Clube and Napier, Prof Mark Bailey of the Armagh Observatory, Duncan Steel of Spaceguard Australia, and Britains best-known astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle. All now support the theory of cometary impact and loosely form what is now known as the British School of Coherent Catastrophism.
These scholars envisage trains of cometary debris which repeatedly encounter the Earth. We know that tiny particles of cosmic material penetrate the atmosphere every day, but their impact is insignificant. Occasionally, however, cosmic debris measuring between one and several hundred metres in diameter strike the Earth and these can have catastrophic effects on our ecological system, through multi-megaton explosions of fireballs which destroy natural and cultural features on the surface of the Earth by means of tidal-wave floods (if the debris lands in the sea), fire-blasts and seismic damage.
Depending on their physical properties, asteroids or comets that punctuate the atmosphere can either strike the Earths surface, or explode in the air. Those that strike leave an impact crater, such as the well-known Baringer Crater in Arizona caused by an asteroid made of iron some 50,000 years ago. At least ten impact craters are known around the world dating from after the last Ice Age, and no fewer than seven of these date from around the 3rd millennium BC - although none occurred in the Near East.
Air-explosions, however, can be more disastrous. A recent example - known as the Tunguska Event - occurred in 1908 over Siberia, when a bolide made of stone exploded about 5km above ground and completely devastated an area of some 2,000 km2 through fireball blasts. The bolide, although thought to have measured only 60m across, had an impact energy of about 40 megatons, three times as great as the Arizona example and equivalent to the explosion of about 2,000 Hiroshima-size nuclear bombs - even though there was no actual physical impact on the Earth. (The object that destroyed the dinosaurs, by contrast, is thought to have had a diameter of about 10km.) A smaller cometary blast occurred over the Brazilian rainforest in 1930.
In addition to the physical impact of comets, the British astronomers point to the occasional massive influx of cosmic dust high above the stratosphere which can cause a dramatic drop of global temperatures, leading to the suspension of agriculture; and also to the massive influx of cosmic chemicals (associated with dust) with, as yet, incalculable biochemical potentials. Until recently, the astronomical mainstream was highly critical of Clube and Napiers giant comet hypothesis. However, the crash of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter in 1994 has led to a change of attitudes. The comet, watched by the worlds observatories, was seen to split into 22 pieces and slam into different parts of the planet over a period of several days. A similar impact on Earth, it hardly needs saying, would have been devastating.
According to current knowledge, Tunguska-like impacts occur every 100 years or so. It is, therefore, not far-fetched to hypothesise that a super-Tunguska may occur every 2,000, 3,000 or 5,000 years and would be capable of triggering ecological crises on a continental or even global scale. In the past, sceptics have demanded the evidence of a crater before they would accept an argument of cosmic impact, but it is now becoming understood that no crater is necessary for disastrous consequences to ensue. The difficulty this leaves scholarship, however, is that in a Tunguska Event no direct evidence is left behind. It may be impossible to prove that one ever took place in the distant past.
The extent to which past cometary impacts were responsible for civilisation collapse, cultural change, even the development of religion, must remain a hypothesis. But in view of the astronomical, geological and archaeological evidence, this giant comet hypothesis should no longer be dismissed by archaeologists out of hand.
Dr Benny J Peiser is a historian and anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University. With Mark Bailey and Trevor Palmer, he is editing Natural Catastrophes during Bronze Age Civilisations (BAR, 1998, in preparation).
Catastrophism Ping. (Oldie)
You ever get the feeling that we have done this before?
If this were proven to be true, it would definitely be an “inconvenient truth.” Let’s see Algore do something about comet debris...
If that were the case there would be massive impact craters that are somewhat fresh.
Where are they?
The yrecently announced that in the Atlantic Ocean the Earth’s crust or mantle is not present in a large area leaving some to think it was a metor strike.
Now, why would you say that? (LOL)
“God does not play dice” (or some words to that effect)
Here's one that was discovered after Saddam drained the swamps of the Swamp Arabs.
Tunguska was a 40Megaton blast, and left no crater. Lots of this type of event across a wide area would be devastating, but leave no craters.
They are just getting ready to go and do more research in the area with deep diving robots.
You said — God does not play dice (or some words to that effect)
But, God does send judgement, and during the 7-year time period, which is referred to as the Tribulation, the Bible says that God dispenses all the judgement that He has “stored up” since the time of creation. In other words, God has not dealt out the full judgment of what was due, from that time to now, saving it up until this one time period.
And the following is just part of what is due, at that time period. This sounds like more of the same kind of thing, as above, except that it’s larger than all before, as it’s also accompanied by a whole series of judgements before and after this event (described below)...
7 The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
8 Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood.
9 And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
10 Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.
11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.
12 Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night.
13 And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”
We’re not too far off from that time period (things lining up in the Middle East). And so it goes...
Yeah, that’s a blam alright .... that would leave a mark ...
You got a “flood ping”, too... :-)
We have craters up and down the east coast that are called, "bays" but are they as recent as the Bronze Age?
Good point. I thought of that after my original post.
Carolina Bays. There are 500,000 of these along the US east coast.
Some are rather large. Lake Waccamaw and Lake Madamuskeet in NC are pretty big.