Catastrophism is a dirty word in archaeology. But despite not being liked, it remains a fact that civilisations have abruptly ended. And the biggest of all catastrophes seems to have occurred ca. 12,000 years ago. New research, however, might argue in favour of Velikovskian – if not Atlantean? – ideas.
by Philip Coppens
For centuries, the greatest catastrophe known to Western Europeans was the biblical Deluge: a giant flood, claimed to have been brought on by God himself, to wash away the sin of Mankind and start anew. Working back from the few historical dates that are known to anchor the biblical stories, this Deluge has been dated to ca. 2300 BC. But even though biblical chronology is able to shed light on the timeframe, it remains a fact that at that time or any other within a time span of even a few thousands of years, there is no archaeological or geological evidence for such a cataclysm – neither local to the Middle East or on a global scale. In fact, archaeology and historical records have made it apparent that Mankind as a whole has had “clean sailing” for at least ten millennia.
Indeed, it now appears more likely that the “Deluge” did not end a “physical” world, but that it signalled the end of a period of time, defined by the movements of the sky. In short, the Deluge seems to have wiped clean the “slate of heaven”, rather than the “plains of the earth” below. As the appeal of Christian catastrophism has declined, scientific catastrophism has risen, the demise of the dinosaurs no doubt capturing most of the imagination. Still, archaeologists remain extremely reluctant to take catastrophes – at a relatively local level – into consideration as to how some civilisations or societies have perished. Even the gigantic explosion of Thera is rarely seen as the sole cause as to why the Minoan civilisation ended.
Amongst the various dates for a major – global – catastrophe, none has been as popular as “ca. 10,000 BC”, which fortuitously coincides with Plato’s story of Atlantis, a civilisation before all others. It was said to have been washed away in a series of deluges, though not before the internal social coherence of this society was weakened by wars and a moral decline. Apparently, for we do not even know where Atlantis was supposedly located, and hence whether it ever existed and was destroyed cannot even be addressed. Still, within the field of alternative history, the date of ca. 10,000 BC has remained very popular, largely thanks to two theories. One is based on Edgar Cayce’s prophecy – or rather, reinterpretation of history – which is that refugees from Atlantis had built the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx, and that the latter also contained – inside or nearby – a so-called Hall of Records, which itself contained proof of the claims made by Cayce about this prediluvian society. “Evidence” for the great antiquity of the Sphinx has since become the obsession of certain researchers, many of whom favour the interpretation of Robert Schoch, who has pointed out that one wall of the Sphinx enclosure shows signs of weathering that is not conform to what we “know” about Egypt’s climatological history. Of course, a seldom-posed question is whether the climatological timeline could simply be wrong.
Add to this the observations by Robert Bauval, who claims that the gaze of the Sphinx stares towards the Constellation of Leo and that the entire complex is a “timestamp” of the period ca. 10,400 BC. With these two ingredients, it is easy to mix a theory suggesting that around the time when Atlantis was destroyed, ca. 10,400 BC, refugees from that great continent came to Egypt, settled, and began a building project that involved the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid, which is somehow a remnant of the scientific knowledge of that lost civilisation. As appealing as these theories sound, none of these have ever taken the Pyramid of Khafre – so close to the Great Pyramid – into the equation… a major omission in any theory put forward about the Gizeh plateau, for its construction is on par with that of the Great Pyramid. Still, much of the appeal of a 10,000 BC catastrophe comes from the fact that the Earth did see a major catastrophe in 10,000 BC. That period roughly marked the end of the Last Ice Age, whereby it is known that ice melted and consequently water levels rose. Dare anyone call it a Deluge?
It is also a fact that at the end of the Ice Age, species like the woolly mammoth, which roamed the North American content, died extremely sudden. In fact, an often quoted statement about their demise is that some mammoths in Siberia were found to be frozen, having undigested food in their stomachs. Clear evidence – in the eyes of some – of their cataclysmic demise. However, a more detailed study reveals that these mammoths did not “freeze-dry”, as some claim, but were mummified – a process that is not as instantaneous as freeze-drying. Still, it remains a fact that the end of the Ice Age did away with some species, including the woolly mammoth. Most interestingly, the climate record shows that while the Ice Age was drawing to a close, an event occurred that resulted in an extension of the Ice Age with a further 1300 years. What this event was, remains a matter of intense scientific speculation. But geophysicist Allen West has proposed that an asteroid or comet exploded just above the Earth’s surface. The claim seems to have come straight out of Immanuel Velikovsky’s books and was thus treated with the same disrespect – the only difference, it seemed was that Velikovsky had the audacity to let his scenario play itself out in historical times, whereas West opted for the – only slightly – safer period known as prehistory.
West argued that the explosion occurred over Canada and created a shock wave that set large parts of the northern hemisphere ablaze. And that a truly global, earthshaking if not shattering event occurred, is shown by the presence of diamonds in Ohio and Indiana. Diamonds, it seems, are not merely a girl’s best friend – they might be the same for catastrophists – whether male or female.
Indeed, Ken Tankersley, professor of Anthropology at the University of Cincinnati, studied diamonds recovered in Ohio and Indiana and his analyses conclusively show that these originated from the diamond fields region of Canada. At first, however, Tankersley was sceptical of West’s catastrophic approach, himself preferring the likelihood that glaciers had brought down these diamonds – as well as gold and silver – from the Great Lakes. He then quickly changed his mind, when he realised that this conclusion was inconsistent with the evidence. For these diamonds to be located so far south requires a truly cataclysmic event. Like, as West argues, a comet impact. West believes that the object that exploded over Canada was a three-mile wide comet, creating an explosion that West compares to being 10,000 Tunguska explosions going off at once. With such a powerful explosion over an area where the soil contained diamonds, gold and silver, it is assumed that the blast threw these metals and diamonds into the sky, whereby some of them fell down further south, in Indiana and Ohio. He believes such a shower might have continued for several months after the initial strike. “Some of them you couldn’t see, and animals would’ve been breathing them in,” West states. “But other ones would clearly have been visible. They might’ve even hurt if they hit you.” The larger diamonds were visible to the naked eye and dropped like hail stones within seconds of the blasts.
For West, it is clear what caused the mass extinction of the woolly mammoth: the heat from the blast set the air on fire. North America’s grassland, the furs of animals, the hair and clothing of humans – everything was set ablaze, and would soon die. But it were not merely mammoths that died. Another casualty of this tremendous explosion was man itself: the Clovis culture, a Stone Age culture that had only relatively recently arrived on the American content, ceased to exist as a consequence of this explosion too. How global this catastrophe was, remains unknown. Going back to the Middle East, it is a fact that, even though there is no evidence of an Atlantis or a 12,000 year old Sphinx, it is a fact that ca. 10,000 BC, there were the first signs of civilisations, especially on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
It is the timeframe when Jericho was founded, as well as the first building phase of the temple complex at Göbekli Tepe. Elsewhere, there is evidence of harvesting, as well as the cultivation of figs in the Jordan River valley: in short, the earliest signs of that great new human adventure that would become civilisation. Many scientists consider these sites to be the cradles of civilisation, but one can only wonder whether they were merely the remnants – refugees – of a catastrophe. Veritable descendents of Noah that might have survived a Deluge?