Abu Hureyra is an important site for archaeologists, as it was the first known site which saw humans develop from hunter-gatherers to farmers around 13,000 years ago. However, researchers have discovered another fascinating event from the site, which is now submerged by Lake Assad in northern Syria.
Scientists from the University of California (UC) Santa Barbara have analysed findings from the site to discover meltglass splattered along some of the discoveries.
Meltglass is formed at extremely high temperatures, around 1,200 degrees Celsius – a temperature which would not have been achievable by early civilisations.
James Kennett, a UC Santa Barbara emeritus professor of geology, said: “To help with perspective, such high temperatures would completely melt an automobile in less than a minute.”
Prof Kennett added that the only way a temperature like that could have occurred naturally would result from an extremely violent, high-energy, high-velocity phenomenon, something on the order of a cosmic impact.
The team analysed fragments of meltglass at the site and determined that a comet could have come crashing into Earth at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, which ended around 11,700 years ago.
The collision would have ejected a large amount of dust and debris into the atmosphere, which could have contributed to the extinction of large mammals which existed at the time such as mammoths, and American horses and camels, according to the report published in the journal journal Scientific Reports.
Prof Kennett said: “Our new discoveries represent much more powerful evidence for very high temperatures that could only be associated with a cosmic impact.
“The Abu Hureyra village would have been abruptly destroyed.”
Abu Hureyra is found at the very east of the Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB), which included 30 other sites in the Americas, Europe and parts of the Middle East.
All of the sites show evidence of extreme and rapid burning which are consistent with a cosmic collision.
Prof Kennet said: “The critical materials are extremely rare under normal temperatures, but are commonly found during impact events.
“Meltglass was formed from the nearly instantaneous melting and vaporisation of regional biomass, soils and floodplain deposits, followed by instantaneous cooling.
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“A single major asteroid impact would not have caused such widely scattered materials like those discovered at Abu Hureyra.
“The largest cometary debris clusters are proposed to be capable of causing thousands of airbursts within a span of minutes across one entire hemisphere of Earth.
“The YDB hypothesis proposed this mechanism to account for the widely dispersed coeval materials across more than 14,000 kilometres of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
“Our Abu Hureyra discoveries strongly support a major impact event from such a fragmented comet.”
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