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A Comet Strike 13,000 Years Ago May Have Sparked a Civilization Shift
The day the Earth burned -- The Younger Dryas period is one of the best known examples of an abrupt environmental change. About 14,500 years ago, Earth's climate began to slowly shift from a cold glacial world to a warmer interglacial state. Partway through this transition, temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere suddenly returned to near-glacial conditions. But at the end of the Younger Dryas period, about 11,500 years ago, things changed abruptly. For example, in Greenland, temperatures rose 10°C (18°F) in a decade. A new study at the University of Edinburgh suggests that around 13,000 years ago, a comet hit Earth and triggered the climate change. Now, 13,000 years is not long ago in the greater scheme of things and humans were clearly around at the time. What effect did this rapid climate change have on them? One thing that jumps out to the researchers – our ancestors in the in the Fertile Crescent of southwest Asia during this time switched from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to ones centered on agriculture and the creation of permanent settlements. Also, this major cosmic catastrophe appears to have been memorialized on the giant stone pillars of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey about 11,000 years ago. The researchers believe that this cosmic event (known as the Younger Dryas impact or the Clovis Comet impact) may have set in motion the changes in social lifestyles that eventually led to human civilization as we know it today. (Image Credit: University of California - Santa Barbara, Sonia Fernandez)
A Comet Strike 13,000 Years Ago May Have Sparked a Civilization Shift
A new study at the University of Edinburgh suggests that a comet believed to have hit Earth nearly 13,000 years ago may have shaped the origins of human civilization. Possibly the most devastating cosmic impact since the extinction of the dinosaurs, the comet strike appears to coincide with major shifts in how human societies organized themselves, researchers say.
It is thought that the comet strike – known as the Younger Dryas impact (also known as the Clovis Comet impact) – also wiped out many large animal species and ushered in a mini ice age that lasted more than 1000 years.
Since it was proposed in 2007, the Younger Dryas hypothesis about the catastrophic comet strike has been the subject of heated debate and much academic research. Now, researchers from the University of Edinburgh have reviewed evidence assessing the likelihood that an impact took place, and how the event may have unfolded.
The team says a large body of evidence supports the hypothesis that a comet struck around 13,000 years ago. Researchers analyzed geological data from four continents, particularly North America and Greenland, where the largest fragments are thought to have struck.
Their analysis highlights excess levels of platinum, signs of materials melted at extremely high temperatures and the detection of nano-diamonds known to exist inside comets and form during high-energy explosions. All of this evidence strongly supports the impact hypothesis, researchers say.
The team says further research is needed to shed more light on how it may have affected global climate and associated changes in human populations or animal extinctions.
The Younger Dryas is one of the best known examples of abrupt environmental change. About 14,500 years ago, Earth's climate began to shift from a cold glacial world to a warmer interglacial state. Partway through this transition, temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere suddenly returned to near-glacial conditions. This near-glacial period is called the Younger Dryas, named after a flower (Dryas octopetala) that grows in cold conditions and that became common in Europe during this time. The end of the Younger Dryas, about 11,500 years ago, was particularly abrupt. In Greenland, temperatures rose 10°C (18°F) in a decade. Other proxy records, including repetitive sedimentary rock stratification in lake sediments in Europe, also display these abrupt shifts.
The analysis backs up claims that an impact occurred prior to start of the Neolithic period. 13,000 years is not that long ago and humans were clearly around at the time. What effect did this climate change present to them? During that time, humans in the in the so-called Fertile Crescent of southwest Asia – which spans parts of the modern-day countries of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Egypt, together with the southeastern region of Turkey and the western fringes of Iran – switched from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to ones centered on agriculture and the creation of permanent settlements.
“This major cosmic catastrophe seems to have been memorialized on the giant stone pillars of Gobekli Tepe, possibly the “World's first temple,” which is linked with the origin of civilization in the Fertile Crescent of southwest Asia. Did civilization, therefore, begin with a bang?” asks Dr. Martin Sweatman of the University of Edinburgh School of Engineering.
Predating the Egyptian pyramids by 6,500 years, Gobekli Tepe is the oldest place of worship ever discovered. In fact, this vast temple complex in southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border may be, “the very first thing human beings ever built.”
Before the invention of pottery, agriculture, domesticated animals or writing, hunter-gatherers constructed this vast ceremonial site of at least fifty colossal T-shaped pillars, some as high as 17 feet, adorned with intricate reliefs of totem animals such as jaguars, symbols of death like carrion birds, and game animals such as the wild boar that still roam these hills today. Covering the entire hillside and visible for miles around in its day, these Early Neolithic monoliths boast diameters ranging from 30 to 100 feet, weigh up to 20 tons and were each set within around 20 concentric rings, the widest measuring 30 yards across.
Before excavations at Gobekli Tepe, it was not thought possible that such an ancient community could have erected a complex on this scale. The massive sequence of stratification layers here suggests several millennia of activity, perhaps reaching back to the Mesolithic period. The oldest occupation layer even contains pillars linked by coarsely built walls. Four such temple buildings have been uncovered and geophysical surveys indicate the existence of 16 additional structures.
Yet we know this was not a settlement but a sanctuary where early humans met to engage in sacred rites. Gobekli Tepe thus potentially overturns long held theories of social development by offering evidence that communal worship first drew mankind together rather than the city which begat the temple.
Hastily buried by its congregants, Gobekli Tepe (meaning “Potbelly Hill” in Turkish) lay hidden for millennia under gently sloping curves of tawny earth. Ground-penetrating radar studies indicate that only five percent of the entire structure has been excavated to date.
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