Date sent: Wed, 18 Mar 1998 10:44:48 -0500 (EST)
From: Benny J Peiser
Priority: NORMAL

From: JEWISH CHRONICLE, 6 March 1998


Sodom and Gomorrah may have been destroyed as a result
of a meteor storm which, some believe, wiped out many
ancient civilisations. And if it struck once, it could
well strike again. Simon Rocker talks to Liverpool
academic Benny Peiser about the threat to earth from
heavenly bodies.

Four years ago the Shoemaker-Levy comet collided with the giant planet,
Jupiter, breaking into more than 20 fragments as it hurtled to its
destruction. One piece, a huge fireball, tore an Earth-size hole
in the atmosphere. What would have happened had the comet crashed
into our own world hardly bears thinking about. But this awesome
spectacle was a warning how vulnerable we could be to
extra-terrestrial hazards.

The idea that meteors are a source of potential catastrophe is no
longer seen as the stuff of science fiction. Scientists are now
looking back to the past for evidence that falling objects from
outer space brought about the collapse of ancient civilisations.

According to Israeli [born] anthropologist Benny Peiser, of
Liverpool John Moores University, such biblical catastrophes as
the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah or the flood may well record
the havoc wrought by heavenly bodies. The Talmud records the
tradition that God caused the flood by taking two stars and
casting them to earth, says Dr Peiser. "Before, we did not know of
any phenomenon that could trigger such a massive flood disaster,"
he adds. "Now, recent research on ocean impacts shows that a large
body hitting one of the world’s oceans could trigger the kind of
massive tsunamis capable of wiping out coastal cities."

For many years, scientists did not take the idea of cosmic calamities
seriously, and they certainly would not have gone to the Bible for
clues. "With the coming of the space age, we saw our world from
above, and we have observed more than 150 impact craters. They
were not known of 40 years ago. There is also the exploration of
other planets, which are pockmarked. The moon has hundreds of
thousands of craters."

Backing up the theory is geological evidence that, at various times,
life on earth was affected by dramatic changes of climate.
Analysis of soil, tree-rings and other natural substances combines
with archaeological discoveries to suggest that whole
civilisations were destroyed by natural disasters rather than
man-made forces.

Around 2,300 BCE - give or take a couple of hundred years - the world’s
first urban civilisations fell away, all in a short space of time.
It was the same story in India, China, Egypt, Israel and
Mesopotamia. "Two-thirds of all settlements were destroyed or
abandoned," says Dr Peiser. "A large part of the Sahara had been
fertile settlement; later, it became desert."

The fate of Sodom and Gomorrah - where God rained fire and brimstone upon
the sinful cities - fits in with this picture of global disaster.
Some Israeli researchers argue that the cause was an earthquake,
but Dr Peiser believes that the biblical account of the objects
falling from the sky is more plausible.

While half-a-dozen craters have been traced to this period, none so
far has been discovered in the Near East. But Dr Peiser notes that
meteors do not have to hit the earth to have a devastating effect.
In 1908, an object exploded three miles above Tunguska [river], in
Siberia, with the force of 2,000 Hiroshima bombs, laying waste
over 1,250 square miles below. "Had it come half an hour earlier,
it might have hit St Petersburg," he said.

With Tunguska-size impacts occurring every 100-or-so years, according
to the latest research, then it is not inconceivable that more
violent events happen every couple of millennia or so, he argues.
After the collapse of Early Bronze Age societies in the third
millennium BCE, the Late Bronze Age was also marked by a sudden
decline, in 1,200 BCE: that later episode provoked mass migrations
- it was at that time that the Philistines came to the land of

Piecing together the evidence from the past with research by astronomers,
Dr Peiser concludes that "we are living in a very vulnerable
cosmic environment." Where scientists once believed that we were
relatively safe in a universe that ran like clockwork, now peril
may lie awaiting us in some far corner of the solar system.

In our new-found realisation of danger, Dr Peiser says "we are back to
square one, where our ancestors were." But whereas they could only
hope to ward it off with prayer, we also have technological and
scientific knowledge. He advocates a global response to this
extra-terrestrial threat: first, by tracking heavenly bodies whose
orbits could at some time bring them to earth, and then by trying
to devise methods to deflect them from a collision course.

In urging this world-wide effort, Dr Peiser draws on a spirit of
universalism which, he believes, originated in a response to the
flood. Almost all civilisations tell the story of a deluge: some
500 flood legends from across the world have been collected by
anthropologists. "The Jews who travelled from place to place saw
that every nation had the same story. And out of this came the
idea that we all have a common history, and [are] part of one

But what makes the biblical account special is the covenant God made
with mankind, symbolised by the rainbow, that such destruction
would not be repeated. This is essentially an optimistic worldview
which enabled Jews largely to avoid apocalyptic fatalism.

"The early Christians, for instance, were extremely afraid of the world
coming to an end", says Dr Peiser. "This was one of the points of
contention with the Pharisees. The Jews said that God had made a
covenant not to punish mankind in a global disaster. At the time
that Christianity emerged, there was increased cometary and
meteoric activity in the sky and people were afraid." So, instead
of waiting for disaster to strike, Dr Peiser’s message is that we
should take heart and draw up plans to avert it. "The Jewish
tradition is that we are created in the intellectual image of
God," he said. "We have to take charge of nature."


Date sent: Wed, 18 Mar 1998 10:14:42 -0500 (EST)
From: Benny J Peiser
Subject: CC DIGEST 18/03/98
Priority: NORMAL

CC DIGEST, 18 March 1998

Bob Kobres

Ron Baalke

Ron Baalke


A. Chepstow-Lusty, University of Cambridge

S.C. Morris, University of Cambridge


From: Bob Kobres

The day that many people were informed of a potentially hazardous
object (PHO), which might actually collide with our planet within a few
decades, brought forth some interesting responses that help to show why
this particular threat to our future can and should be perceived very
differently from other hazards.

One aspect of the event that I experienced personally was several
people relating to me that their children were quite upset by the news.
This was likely due to the way various media conveyed this news
combined with minds less accustomed to thinking of the destruction of
our world than those of us who have spent much of our lives wondering
if the BUTTON might get pushed (unfortunately still a possibility).
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could better reassure these young people that
we were actively doing all that was possible to ensure that this type
of disaster could not befall us? But what I sensed positive among
various reactions was a feeling of global unity in a willingness to
support whatever it would take to prevent this PHO from doing us in.

This potential to focus and to a great extent unify our view of what is
REALLY important is one aspect of this natural phenomenon that I have
long felt could be valuable in improving our species’ social self
perspective. Perhaps mitigating the too common negative view of
ourselves as environmental villains ( I personally tend to think of us
as a bunch of wacky beavers ;^). So I was personally pleased to hear
that PHO, 1997XF11, was bearing down on us with its sufficiently
alarming mass. What I did not expect to hear was others less familiar
with this subject professing a similar gladness that Earth seemed to be
under a serious, but resolvable, global threat from a source outside of
ourselves. So I was a bit surprised when Scott Simon of National
Public Radio (NPR) began his two and one half minute reflection on the
"killer asteroid" by saying: "It took only hours for Earth to swerve
away from destruction by an incendiary celestial fireball and I’ve got
to tell you—I was almost disappointed." Simon’s complete insightful
spiel on this event is available for listening under "Doomsday" at:

[ ]

Obviously news like this would not have evoked a hopeful mood had it
come in the 1930s, when this class of object was first recognized and
we were incapable of influencing the course of such events. But let us
not forget that a large part of the rationale for the efforts of the
perspicacious pioneer of practical space development, Konstantin E.
Tsiolkovsky, (who died in 1935 at the age of 78) was his recognition
that, confined to Earth, we remained vulnerable to cosmic catastrophe.
He wrote in his 1911 "Investigation of Cosmic Space by Reaction

Comets have long been expected to bring an end to the Earth,
and not without reason, though the probability of this end is
extraordinarily small; still and all, it might happen tomorrow
or in trillions of years. [But] it will be rather difficult for
a comet and other accidental, highly improbable but terrible
and unexpected enemies of living beings to strike down in one
blow all creatures that have formed [extraterrestrial]
habitations. (English quote from: COMETS, Sagan and
Druyan, 1985, p. 343)

Hence his most famous saying:

The Earth is the cradle of human civilization, but one cannot live in
the cradle forever.

[ ]

There were and are, of course, conspiracy seekers whose views run from
‘How much did Disney INC. pay Brian Mardsden?’ to ‘It really is going
to hit—THEY just don’t want people to panic.’ But I think, or at least
I hope, that there is a growing recognition that we are coming to terms
with a natural force of change, which has, over time, made us what we
are. Anywhere Life gets started this same type of influence will map
its course of change. The real question should not be ‘When is the
next impact going to occur?’ but ‘How soon can we halt this ancient
radical agent of biological r-evolution?’

It is this profound element that makes the threat of a major celestial
smash-up different from other dangers. We are faced here with a risk to
our future that is truly egalitarian. Past impacts have shaped us all
and, if not prevented, future impacts will either transform us into a
different ‘breed of cat’ or neuter us as a species. The opportunity to
do something really good for us and the rest of Life on this planet
will only last—How long? Will we seize this opportunity?

BTW: There are some very interesting articles in the last two issues
of The Mammoth Trumpet regarding the Pleistocene to Holocene
transition. See:

Also, I have placed THE LENAPE STONE by H. C. Mercer, 1885, online at:

Still searching.

Bob Kobres
Main Library
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602


From: Ron Baalke

Paul Chodas has just informed me that the Solar System Dynamics group
at JPL has released an Asteroid 1997 XF11 home page:

The home page includes:

o A summary of the 2028 Earth close-approach
o Plots showing positions of 1997 XF11 in the Earth target-plane at
closest approach
o Table of all Earth close-approaches between 1990 and 2029
o Geocentric ephemerides for 1997 XF11

Ron Baalke


From: Ron Baalke

CONTACT: Lawrence D. Roberts
Tel: (212) 744-5667


(New York, NY) -- March 13, 1998 -- The announcement by scientists that
Asteroid 1997 XF11 will pass close to the Earth in 2028 as well as the
upcoming films "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon" have revived interest by
the general public and media in the possibility of creating a defense
against the possibility of a devastating impact. The Archimedes
Institute said today, however, that in addition to the immense
technical challenges of protecting the planet against an asteroid or
comet, there are a host of thorny legal issues that must be resolved.

"The discovery of Asteroid 1997 XF11 merely serves to illustrate how
unprepared the government is to deal with this kind of low-probability,
high-consequence risk." said Lawrence Roberts, Director of the
Archimedes Institute and a professor at Seton Hall University School of
Law. "Our institutions regularly neglect to provide the resources
necessary to mitigate the danger from such destructive events."

In the specific case of planetary defense, the policy problems run even
deeper. Given the likelihood that nuclear explosions would be necessary
to deflect an oncoming asteroid, international agreements designed to
reduce tensions during the Cold War present their own obstacles to an
effective response. For example, the agreement commonly known as the
Outer Space Treaty prohibits the placement of nuclear weapons anywhere
in outer space. Just as important to the success of an asteroid
defense, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 prevents the testing of
any nuclear device in any part of the high frontier.

"Clearly, if it were simply a matter of launching a rocket with a
nuclear payload at a wayward asteroid, such legal obstacles would not
be a significant consideration. The process of diverting an asteroid,
though, is not nearly so simple." Roberts noted. "Any effective
response will require years, if not decades, of preparation -- more
than long enough for the more 'down to Earth' concerns of nuclear
proliferation to intrude. We would be faced with the very real
possibility of legal fiddling while the Earth remains in danger of

Despite the danger, these spaceborne hazards are seen as a great
opportunity by many in the space advocacy community. Some see the
threat as a reason to nudge these small bodies into stable but
commercially exploitable orbits, thereby removing the immediate risk to
Earth and providing a potentially lucrative mining concern at the same

These asteroid mining enterprises, however, pose their own legal
problems. "By moving these asteroids from their original orbits, the
developers would be risking liability of titanic proportions." says
Professor Roberts. "New standards in liability and property rights are
needed in order to ensure the protection of all concerned."

The Archimedes Institute is an independent, aerospace law and policy
research organization headquartered in New York City. The Institute is
working to improve the regulatory climate through the generation and
dissemination of reasoned policy analysis, the enhancement of
communication between government, academia, the commercial sector and
the general public, and the implementation of private policy

Information on the Archimedes Institute is available at:



A brief paper by Jeff Wynn and Gene Shoemaker has appeared on the WWW
describing the Wabar Craters and estimating their age as between 134
and 600 years.

The URL is

Gerrit Verschuur


From: THE HOLOCENE 8 (1998), p.122

Book Review

Edited by H. Nuzhet Dalfes, George Kukla and Harvey Weiss.
NATO ASI Series, Vol I 49. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag
1997, 728 pp., c. 137 (hardback). ISBN 3-540-61892-9

If we ever develop the ability for time travel, don’t set your clock
close to 2000 BC in any area between the Mediterranean, the Near East
and across India. Don’t even consider West or East Africa, as these
were not good times in the supposedly benign Holocene.

An international meeting was organised under the auspices of the NATO
Scientific and Environmental Affairs Division to address the evidence
linking abrupt climate shifts and social changes in the Old World at
about 4000 years ago. This brought together over 40
palaeoclimatologists and archaeologists to discuss their findings,
in Kemer, Turkey, between 19 and 24 September, 1994. The product
is this huge volume of 33 papers, running to 728 papers, packed
with a diverse range of environmental proxy data, models,
archaeological evidence and climatic mechanisms for linking it all

The archaeological excavation at Tell Leilan in north-east Syria,where
major settlement abandonment occurred between 2200 and 1900 BC,
provided the original stimulus for the conference. Abrupt climatic
change in this area was suspected as the overriding cause. However,
disentangling human from climatic impact is an everlasting minefield,
always guaranteed to polarise opinions, when in fact there is no easy
solution. The best potential comes from combining continuous records of
proxy vegetation and climatic change such as from lake cores obtained
as close as possible to archaeological sites, which are the direct link
to the cultural history.

Nevertheless, prior to 4000 years ago, human impact on the landscape
had markedly increased as populations expanded rapidly under conditions
favourable to farming. Whether Old World societies collapsed because
their technologies could not adapt to decreasing rainfall, inducing
social upheavals and famine or because inappropriate farming techniques
degraded the landscape as conditions were getting drier, the underlying
cause producing these dramatic knock-on effects appear to be climate.
Apart from a few dissenting voices, there is no doubt that major events
were happening across a wide geographical range and relatively
synchronously for which humans cannot have been responsible alone.

Themes of the papers vary geographically from declining Nile floods
and political disorder in Early Egypt, resulting from low levels on
Lake Turkana at c. 2200 BC to droughts in Russia causing migrations to
eastern Europe and Siberia. Some of the papers were exceedingly short
(eight pages), whereas some were excessively long (52 pages) allowing
an opportunity to publish information that could have been more
succinctly summarised. One example was the Tell Leilan chapter by
Courty and Weiss, which contained too much detail on soil
characteristics, however interesting this may seem. [...]

Though I came away overpowered by the sheer weight of information
linking the collapse of civilizations with climatic change, there
were some anomalies in the records, such as Bottema presenting eight
pollen records from across Turkey, Iraq and Israel, which miss the 2200
BC drought event, although other records from this region clearly show
it. [...]

For anyone interested in both widescale climatic events, and how human
societies fared in the face of deteriorating conditions - or did not as
the case may be (unless you lived on Crete!) - this is a book to be
dipped into frequently, but it is obviously not the last word nor meant
to be. This is a subject which is being added to all the time, whether
it is new archaeological discoveries, new techniques for dating or a
plethora of high resolution continuous proxy environmental records.

I was taken aback by the sheer range of records globally correlating
broadly with these events, such as lake levels falling in NE Queensland
c. 3700 BP, to floods increasing in the Amazon between 3500 and 2700
BP, and even a core in the South Atlantic revealing a cooling between
3800 and 3500 BP.

Of most relevance is that the book should make us consider if our
civilizations are any less fragile or any more adapted to deal with a
100-year drought today that the civilizations in 2000 BC. Although we
may understand superficially how these events may be connected, we
still do not know the actual cause that set it off or how to predict
the next of its ilk. Britain and Ireland may once again prove
favourable places to inhabit, so stay put for a while longer.

Alex Chepstow-Lusty, University of Cambridge
(c) The Holocene 1998


S.C. Morris*), The evolution of diversity in ancient ecosystems: a
SERIES B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 1998, Vol.353, No.1366, pp.327-345


On a perfect planet, such as might be acceptable to a physicist, one
might predict that from its origin the diversity of life would grow
exponentially until the carrying capacity, however defined, was
reached. The fossil record of the Earth, however, tells a very
different story. One of the most striking aspects of this record is the
apparent evolutionary longueur, marked by the Precambrian record of
prokaryotes and primitive eukaryotes, although our estimates of
microbial diversity may be seriously incomplete. Subsequently there
were various dramatic increases in diversity, including the Cambrian
'explosion' and the radiation of Palaeozoic-style faunas in the
Ordovician. The causes of these events are far from resolved. It has
also long been appreciated that the history of diversity has been
punctuated by important extinctions. The subtleties and nuances of
extinction as well as the survival of particular clades have to date,
however, received rather too little attention, and there is still a
tendency towards blanket assertions rather than a dissection of these
extraordinary events. In addition, some but perhaps not all mass
extinctions are characterized by long lag-times of recovery, which may
reflect the slowing waning of extrinsic forcing factors or
alternatively the incoherence associated with biological reassembly of
stable ecosystems. The intervening periods between the identified mass
extinctions may be less stable and benign than popularly thought, and
in particular the frequency of extraterrestrial impacts leads to
predictions of recurrent disturbance on time-scales significantly
shorter than the intervals separating the largest extinction events.
Even at times of quietude it is far from clear whether biological
communities enjoy stability and interlocked stasis or are dynamically
reconstituted at regular intervals. Finally, can we yet rely on the
present depictions of the rise and falls in the levels of ancient
diversity? Existing data is almost entirely based on Linnean taxa, and
the application of phylogenetic systematics to this problem is still in
its infancy. Not only that, but even more intriguingly the pronounced
divergence in estimates of origination times of groups as diverse as
angiosperms, diatoms and mammals in terms of the fossil record
as against molecular data point to the possibilities of protracted
intervals of geological time with a cryptic diversity. If this is
correct, and there are alternative explanations, then some of the
mystery of adaptive radiations may be dispelled, in as much as the
assembly of key features in the stem groups could be placed in a
gradualistic framework of local adaptive response punctuated by
intervals of opportunity. Copyright 1998, Institute for Scientific
Information Inc.

The Cambridge-Conference List is a scholarly electronic network
moderated by Dr Benny J Peiser at Liverpool John Moores University,
United Kingdom. It is the aim of this network to disseminate
information and research findings related to i) geological and
historical neo-catastrophism, ii) NEO research and the hazards to
civilisation due to comets, asteroids and meteor streams, and iii) the
development of a planetary civilisation capable of protecting itself
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