Date sent: Mon, 10 Mar 1997 10:30:23 -0500 (EST)
Subject: THE TIMES, 8 March 1997
Priority: NORMAL


On Saturday, just hours before the second part of
the mini-series ASTEROID was broadcasted on national TV,
Nigel Hawkes, one of Britain's top science journalists,
published the following news article about the 2nd SIS
Cambridge Conference on page 7 of THE TIMES.

[The article can also be accessed on the internet
homepage of THE TIMES (]


By Nigel Hawkes, Science Editor

A series of natural disasters which befell Bronze Age
civilisations in many parts of the world may have been
the result of comets or meteorites smashing into the

New evidence, to be discussed at a conference in
Cambridge in July, is likely to give that idea greater
academic respectability. The conference, organsied by Dr
Benny Peiser, an historian from Liverpool Moores
University [sic], will bring together astronomers,
geologists and archaeologists to discuss if
extraterrestrial impacts can explain the destruction of
cities and changes of climate that eliminated agriculture
from large regions.

The most existing new evidence comes from Dr Marie-Agnes
Courty, a French expert in the microscopic study of soils
and sediments. She is expected to report that samples
from three regions of the Middle East, taken from levels
corresponding to the period around 2,200 BC when there
were abrupt climatic changes, contain tiny speres of a
calcite material unknown on Earth but found in

She has also found evidence of huge fires in a layer of
burnt soil. The amount of black carbon in the layer is
unlikely to come from local grassland fires, she says.
It is more likely to come from enormous forest fires in
other regions. Volcanic activity cannot explain the
evidence, she says.

Dr Peiser says there is an abundance of evidence of
violent change in many Bronze Age cultures at the same
time. More than one event seems to have occurred, but at
around 2,200 BC civilisations in Mesopotamia, the Indus
Valley in India, and Egypt all apear to have collapsed.

Much later, at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1,200
BC, the Chang dynasty in China and the Mycenaean
civilisation in Greece disappeared at the same time. The
original evidence was gathered by the French
archaeologist Claude Schaeffer and published almost half
a century ago.

He found that Bronze Age sites over a huge area of the
near and Middle East showed evidence of four destructive
episodes, the three most prominent at 2,300 BC, 1,650 BC,
and 1,200 BC. He concluded that the destruction of cities
at more than 40 sites at the same time could have been
caused only by massive earthquakes.

But earthquakes, even the biggest, have only local
effects, so Schaeffer's explanation is no longer
accepted. The alternative, which the Cambridge conference
will consider, is that during the Bronze Age the Earth
was hit not once but several times by debris from space,
most likely from a comet broken into pieces.

"We know that such impacts have happened in the distant
past," Dr Peiser says. "The question is whether it could
also have happened within human experience."

CCCMENU CCC for 1997