Soon after the end of the ice age, a powerful blow from a celestial body hit the Earth. As a result, mammoths and other large animals began to die out. Let's try to figure out how and why this happened.
Who helped the conqueror flower
Soon after the end of the last ice age, the warming for some reason stopped and turned back. About 12,800 years ago, an unusual conqueror flower, the eight-petal dryad, suddenly spread across Europe. This shrub, a relative of the rose, now lives only in the European mountains or in the Far North (European tundra, including mountain tundra), where it outperforms competitors less adapted to the harsh climate.
The habits of this species are well known even today: it is very cold-loving. Its appearance on the territory of Spain or Italy meant a sharp cooling. Calling a spade a spade, Europe almost instantly became tundra, although before that it was slightly colder than today. Moreover, the original warm postglacial climate was restored only after a thousand years: the "tundrophication" of Europe (and not only it) turned out to be very long-lasting.
Throughout the 20th century, the legacy of the Ice Age was believed to be the cause of this cooling. Ice sheets remained in the north of North America, and as they melted, huge lakes up to a thousand kilometers long were created near them. At a certain point, the glacier surrounding them retreated so far that huge masses of fresh water poured along the empty routes into the ocean. Fresh water is less dense, so it can remain on the sea surface, blocking currents. Naturally, many scientists believed that fresh water, a legacy of the Ice Age, “knocked down” the warm currents of the Atlantic and thereby “froze” Europe and part of North America.
However, over time, new data became more and more difficult to fit into this explanation. First, in a number of places in North America, and then in Europe, they began to find a thin layer, 12,800 years old, containing iridium. This element is very heavy, therefore all terrestrial iridium has long been "drowned" in the bowels of our planet, and if it is on the surface, it means that it was brought there by the impact of another celestial body.
Second, fossil layers of the same age in North America and parts of Europe and even the Middle East showed traces of unusually powerful fires - the amount of charcoal in them was abnormally large. According to calculations, to provide such traces, it was necessary to burn immediately 9% of the Earth's terrestrial biomass.
Thirdly, over time, tektites began to be found in the Northern Hemisphere - small but numerous pieces of melted glass lying in the same layers in time. In historical time, fine sand particles were formed only at atomic test sites, during nuclear explosions, capable of heating the sand so much that it began to give glass. It is clear that 12,800 years ago no one could arrange nuclear explosions. Where does the glass come from then?
Comet / asteroid hypothesis
In 2006, a group of scientists put forward a hypothesis that explained all these discrepancies and showed the reasons for a sudden cold snap in a completely different way. They noted that iridium is a typical trail of falling celestial bodies, and large fires and powerful explosions are the logical result of such falls. What's more, really big fires generate a lot of soot, which blocks out sunlight.
Obviously, the celestial bodies that fell on the planet 12,800 years ago cannot be really large. As we recently wrote, the fall of a 10-kilometer body reliably destroys all large species on the planet. Man existed a dozen thousand years ago, and judging by the fact that he exists now, the fallen body was relatively small.
The authors of the hypothesis turned to the epic of the American Indians, describing very old times. And, according to researchers, many descriptions of the largest catastrophe of ancient times are very similar to the fall of heavenly bodies. Here are some quotes from Indian legends:
“A heavy rain of flaming stones of fire and blood began to fall from the sky. He fell on houses - and they burst into flames … He fell on the forests - and swallowed them. People sought refuge, but their clothes were engulfed in flames, and they died. Falling hot stones shook the earth … Finally, when it was all over, thick dark clouds covered the earth for a long 25 years”(Aztec legends).
When falling to the Earth, secondary debris, passing through the atmosphere, is red-hot and vaguely similar to blood. They have a great incendiary ability - their temperature often exceeds a thousand degrees. The duration of the closure of the Earth by dark clouds (25 years), cited by the Aztecs, is somewhat doubtful. Yes, dust from powerful explosions can hang in the atmosphere for a long time, but it is obvious that it could lead to really dark days only in the first years after the disaster.
For all the inaccuracies of the Aztec legends, it is interesting that other Indians have similar ones, and not close relatives of the Aztecs. The legends of the South American Toba and Pilago say: “Suddenly, a giant fireball that flew out of the disk of the Sun flew to the ground. Thousands of burning stones and huge chunks of ice hail fell at the same time. They wrought tremendous havoc among the trees and ignited the jungle. A roaring fire lit everything around the village until the flames almost surrounded it."
Thousands of burning stones and huge chunks of ice hail fell at the same time. They wrought tremendous havoc among the trees and ignited the jungle.
Iroquois legends tell: “Stars fell from the sky, and some of them fell to the ground. Shooting stars of fire hissed straight into the Iroquois camp. With violent explosions and searing heat, one star hit the ground near the camp, scattering trees and earth in all directions.” The Matamusca Indians echo: “Loud, sharp noise and the sound of a huge explosion, and then the sounds of one blow after another. … Hundreds of stars fell from the heavens and exploded on the forested mountains around her, shaking the earth with such force that … barely … to stay on my feet. Furious orange-red flames and pillars of black smoke rose into the sky as the forest around the site was burning."
Alas, from a scientific point of view, a hypothesis about events that occurred 12,800 years ago cannot be based on folklore data. Modern science is generally reluctant to use such a source. Requiring scientists to admit that his data can accurately describe events many times older than the pyramids is a bit overkill.
2011 was a real PR disaster for the comet / asteroid fall hypothesis. It then emerged that its lead author, Allen West, had no degrees at all, had never worked for academics, and it’s not clear when he graduated at all. Colleagues say West is self-taught.
In the academic world of the XXI century, it is not so easy to do without a scandal, doing science without an appropriate education.
In the academic world of the XXI century, it is not so easy to do without a scandal, doing science without an appropriate education, and even with the advancement of new hypotheses. Most of these people are normal - outright charlatans, so trust in West after the scandal fell to near-zero. Meanwhile, it was he who made all the original finds of particles identified as meteorite, in layers dated 12,800 years ago. The hypothesis hung in the air without a foundation.
Coprophilic controversy and platinum
This time, researchers from the University of South Carolina, led by Christopher Moore, tried to find a foundation for her, on which the shadow of the former scandal would not lie. They studied lacustrine sediment samples from Lake White Pond in South Carolina.A narrow 2-centimeter layer, 12 785 ± 58 years old, showed a sharp surge in the content of platinum, palladium and carbon - mainly in the form of soot. Platinum and palladium, like iridium, are good independent markers for asteroid or comet fragments. Soot is a normal consequence of large fires, which around that time affected a third of the world and destroyed 9% of the Earth's biomass.
A number of unusual traces were found in the same lacustrine sediments. Since ancient times, the manure of large animals has attracted coprophilous fungi that feed on it. The peculiarity of the species composition of these mushrooms is that they are adapted to a specific manure. In particular, in the excrement of mammoths, scientists consistently find the same ratio of spores of coprophilic fungi.
In the lake sediments, of course, there are no mammoth feces themselves: they would not dive into the lake for such purposes. But the wind carries fungal spores quite efficiently, and in the White Pond sediments there are many spores, typical of mammoth dung. However, immediately after a two-centimeter layer containing platinum and palladium dust, traces of such spores become much less common. The amount of nitrogen-15 after this event also fluctuates sharply, which indicates a strong cooling.
Of course, mammoths, as cold-loving animals, could not die out from the temperature drop. The authors of the work reasonably believe that other consequences of the fall of celestial bodies, namely, enormous fires, could have caused their death.
In the words of the Ojibwe legends: “After the world cooled down [after the fire caused by the celestial stones], people covered with mud cautiously left the swamp and looked around. They were shocked that the world had changed completely. There were only smoking black trees and burnt grass everywhere. People who did not listen to Chimantu [and did not take cover in advance] died along with all the giant animals. Only skeletons remained of them."
There were only smoking black trees and burnt grass everywhere. People who did not listen to Chimantu [and did not take cover in advance] died along with all the giant animals. From them only skeletons remained
Of course, the researchers do not mention the cited legends. However, they note that the discovered ratio of platinum to palladium in the White Pond sediments, in fact, cannot be of terrestrial origin: even if native platinum and palladium are found on Earth, they cannot have the same "asteroid" ratio in their finds … In addition, similar traces of Pt and Pd were found in 2019 in South Africa, in Chile - and also in layers about 12,800 years old. Consequently, the scattering of the debris of the ancient celestial body that struck our planet at the beginning of the Late Dryas was great.
All this makes the hypothesis that it was the fall of a celestial body that caused both massive fires and the decline of megafauna on the American continent very plausible. Of course, one should not rush and conclude that all dozens of species of glacial megafauna have disappeared precisely because of these events. So far there is no evidence that the mammoths of Yakutia became their prey, and there are still unclear reasons for a number of other species. Nevertheless, it seems that the legends of the Indians contained quite accurate information: the stones from the sky were indeed able to return the world to the ice age for a thousand years.