North American Comet Catastrophe 10,900 BC
October 31, 2007 10:54 AM   Subscribe

On May 23, 2007 a multi-disciplinary team of scientists announced (YouTube, 70mins, 7-parts, part1-1 is a summary) the finding of physical evidence strongly suggesting that, around 12,900 years ago (10,900 BC), a massive Shoemaker-Levy type comet hit the atmosphere, air burst over the Great Lakes region of North America and probably engulfed much of the continent in a fireball and subsequent firestorm with catastrophic effects for life and climate.

The extraterrestrial event coincides with the mass extinction or depopulation of many of North America's largest mammals (including camels, mammoths, the short-faced bear and numerous other species); coincides with the end of the Clovis culture; and coincides with the start of a global climatic shift known as the Younger Dryas, a sudden return of Ice Age conditions. The "Younger Dryas impact event", as it is banally being called, now competes with some well known and hotly debated theories, such as human hunters killed the mammals; or the Younger Dryas was caused by a slow down in the Gulf Stream (which has implications for current Global Warming predictions). On September 27, 2007 the team officially published their findings as "Evidence for an extraterrestrial impact 12,900 years ago that contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling" (PNAS open access).
posted by stbalbach (23 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

The odd coincidenceof megafauna disapearing whenever humans show up is till pretty hard tog get over though.
posted by Artw at 11:09 AM on October 31, 2007

Anyone familiar with how much Indians love the environment already knew they couldn't have killed those animals off.

(Kidding, this is awesome. Who doesn't love killer komets? I can't wait for the dramatized footage from NOVA.)
posted by DU at 11:13 AM on October 31, 2007

The Fire God must have been angry.
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:16 AM on October 31, 2007

Cool. Watching that from space would have been ridiculously awesome.
posted by baphomet at 11:19 AM on October 31, 2007

"Younger Dryas impact event" banal?

Don't you realize it's first letters spell out YDie? Y'get?
posted by Kattullus at 11:22 AM on October 31, 2007

The large mammals are so amazing, like this giant ground sloth. Pronghorn antelopes are one of the few that survived the extinction. They are amazingly fast -- the fastest outside of Africa -- since they evolved to outrun the cheetahs that used to live in North America. Do you think they still dream of being chased?
posted by salvia at 11:40 AM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Baloney. Everyone knows the mammoths died off because Noah kicked them off the ark because they shit on the carpet.
posted by Ynoxas at 12:00 PM on October 31, 2007

See also, Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:00 PM on October 31, 2007

Pronghorn are fast? I never would have guessed. In Wyoming, they just stand around and eat. I rarely ever see them run, and not fast enough to outrun a cheetah.

This is really interesting news. I am going to read it in detail to see if I buy it over the "Great BBQ of 10,900 BCE" theory (we showed up, we ate everything).
posted by JeremyT at 12:17 PM on October 31, 2007

Fascinating. This sent me down the wikipedia rabbit hole looking up all sorts of fun things.... great post!
posted by wowbobwow at 12:21 PM on October 31, 2007

the short-faced bear

I first read that as the shit-faced bear.

With a big lump of frozen space-hurt headed for his noggin I should certainly hope so.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:44 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

HAH! Wrong! The Earth is only 6,010 years old! Some Jesus guy said so, therefore it's true and these guys are LIARS.

(Seriously, though, thanks for these links)
posted by briank at 1:09 PM on October 31, 2007

Awesome article about Pronghorns Ynoxas, the mind boggles!
posted by blue_beetle at 1:14 PM on October 31, 2007

JeremyT - I've been "raced" by herds of pronghorn along I-80 outside Cheyenne. They'll stand along the fence line, waiting... once they start running they're wicked fast.
posted by jazon at 1:26 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

salvia: Some of the people who think that people are highly evolved to run set out to chase antelope in the US to test their theory. Problem was that they were chasing pronghorn, which are some of the highest-stamina animals in the world. The pronghorn of course made them eat dust. There's an idea that if you chase them just right you can get them to always pull to the left and run a wide circle while you run the smaller inner circle and still run them down.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:26 PM on October 31, 2007

a robot: Thanks for the information!

There's an idea that if you chase them just right you can get them to always pull to the left and run a wide circle while you run the smaller inner circle and still run them down.

Youtube link, please?
posted by salvia at 1:41 PM on October 31, 2007

jazon: I see the movie title screen now. Races With Pronghorn... Starring Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow...
posted by salvia at 1:44 PM on October 31, 2007

salvia: here's your test footage
posted by jazon at 1:58 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding great post and interesting thread.

What came to mind first was Immanuel Velikovsky's book, Worlds in Collision.

His books use comparative mythology and ancient literary sources (including the Bible) to argue that Earth has suffered catastrophic close-contacts with other planets (principally Venus and Mars) in ancient times. Velikovsky argued that electromagnetic effects play an important role in celestial mechanics. He also proposed a revised chronology for ancient Egypt, Greece, Israel and other cultures of the ancient Near East. The revised chronology aimed at explaining the so-called "dark age" of the eastern Mediterranean (ca. 1100-750 BCE) and reconciling biblical history with mainstream archeology and Egyptian chronology.


The entire body of work could be said to stem from an attempt to solve the following problem: that to Velikovsky there appeared to be insufficient correlation in the written or archeological records between Jewish history (as recorded in Biblical and other sources) and the history of the adjoining nations (particularly Egypt).[22]

Velikovsky searched for common mention of events within literary records, and in the Ipuwer Papyrus, he believed he had found a contemporary Egyptian account of the Israelite Exodus. Moreover, he interpreted both accounts as descriptions of a great natural catastrophe. Velikovsky attempted to investigate the physical cause of the Exodus event, and extrapolated backwards and forwards in history from this point, cross-comparing written and mythical records from cultures on every inhabited continent, using them to attempt synchronisms of the historical records, yielding what he believed to be further periodic natural catastrophes which can be global in scale.

He arrived at a body of radical inter-disciplinary ideas which might be summarized as:

* Planet Earth has suffered natural catastrophes on a global scale, both before and during mankind's recorded history.

* There is evidence for these catastrophes in the geological record (here Velikovsky was espousing Catastrophist ideas as opposed to the prevailing Uniformitarian notions) and archeological record. The extinction of many species had occurred catastrophically, not by gradual Darwinian means.

* The catastrophes which occurred within the memory of mankind are recorded in the myths, legends and written history of all ancient cultures and civilisations. Velikovsky pointed to alleged concordances in the accounts of many cultures, and proposed that they referred to the same real events. For instance, the memory of a flood is recorded in the Hebrew Bible, in the Greek legend of Deucalion and in many legends of India. Velikovsky put forward the psychoanalytic idea of "Cultural Amnesia" as a mechanism whereby these literal records came to be regarded as mere myths and legends.

* The cause of these natural catastrophes were close encounters between the Earth and other bodies within the solar system - not least what were now the planets Saturn, Jupiter, Venus and Mars, these bodies having moved upon different orbits within human memory.

* To explain the celestial mechanics necessary to permit these changes to the configuration of the solar system, Velikovsky thought that electromagnetic forces might somehow play a greater role to counteract gravity and orbital mechanics.

* Velikovsky argued that the conventional chronology of the Near East and classical world, based upon Egyptian Sothic dating and the king lists of Manetho, was wholly flawed. This was the reason for the apparent absence of correlation between the Biblical record and those of neighbouring cultures, and also the cause of the enigmatic "Dark Ages" in Greece and elsewhere. Velikovsky shifted several chronologies and dynasties from the Egyptian Old Kingdom to Ptolemaic times by centuries (a scheme he called the Revised Chronology), placing the Exodus contemporary with the fall of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. He proposed numerous other synchronisms stretching up to the time of Alexander the Great. He argued that these eliminate phantom "Dark Ages", and vindicate the biblical accounts of history and those recorded by Herodotus.

posted by nickyskye at 3:24 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just finished Kim Stanley Robinson's Fifty Degrees Below, (book two in a trilogy), in which a modern-day Younger Dryas begins because the Gulf Stream quits streaming. As a consequence, Washington, DC hits fifty degrees below zero (the first book ends with DC flooded to the gills). All the climate posts on the blue the last week or so have been synchronistically alligned with exactly the issues Robinson brings up, and sometimes I've had trouble remembering whether I read something in a linked report here, or in the novels.

Anyway. Looking forward to reading all of this, and learning more about the Younger Dryas. Thanks for the links!

if anyone here likes good fiction with science in it, and also a fair dose of policy wonkishness, the Robinson trilogy oughta be right up your alley.
posted by rtha at 4:37 PM on October 31, 2007

Cool, jazon, thanks!
posted by salvia at 6:23 PM on October 31, 2007

nickyskye, I don't know if you watched the press video announcements, but they are mystified the "comet" material seems to be from the moon. It's an open question at the moment and brings up some interesting scenarios - perhaps something really big hit the moon, which broke off and hit earth. That would be a something to watch (from the safety of Australia), but if true, it probably did not become a part of human mythology, like the great flood story, because it was just too strange.
posted by stbalbach at 8:57 PM on October 31, 2007

Yeah, I remember that. Blew my shed right into the lake. The kid’s short faced bear died. My place burned down and everything. That was long before insurance was invented, although my buddy Dave came up with rock spear points around then so y’know, good with the bad.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:35 PM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

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