CCNet SPECIAL: TUNGUSKA ANNIVERSARY & HISTORICAL
Curious Sun Effects at Night
To the Editor of THE TIMES [3 July 1908]
Sir, - Struck with the unusual brightness of the heavens, the band
of golfers staying here strolled towards the links at 11 o'clock
last evening in order that they might obtain an unterrupted view
of the phenomenon. Locking northwards across the sea they found
that the sky had the appearance of a dying sunset of exquisite
buity. This not only lasted but actually grew both in extent and
intensity till 2.30 this morning, when driving clouds from the
east obliterated the gorgeous colouring. I myself was aroused from
sleep at 1.15 a.m., and so strong was the light at this hour, that
I could read a book by it in my chamber quite comfortably. At 1.45
a.m. the whole sky, N. and N.E., was a delicate salmon pink, and
the birds began their matutinal song. No doubt others will have
noticed this phenomenon, but as Brancaster holds an almost unique
position in facing north to the sea, we who are staying here had
the best possible view of it.
Holcombe Ingleby, Dormy House Club, Brancaster, 1 July (1908)
British Astronomical Association - At the monthly meeting held on
Wednesday evening at Sion College, Victoria embankment, Mr G. J.
Newbegin drew attention to the disturbed state of the solar
atmosphere, showing a drawing and giving a description of a very
large prominence that he had observed and measured in the morning
of that day (1 July), and that showed unusual changes of form.
Allusion was made by Mr E.W. Maunder and Mr H.P. Hollis (both of
the Royal Observatory) of the long-lasting aurora of the previous
evening. [from THE TIMES, 3 July 1908]
In the North West, quite high above the horizon, the peasants saw
a body shining very brightly (too bright for the naked eye) with a
bluish-white light ... The sky was cloudless, except that low down
on the horizon in the direction in which this glowing body was
observed, a small dark cloud was noticed .... It was hot and dry
and when the shining body approached the ground it seemed to be
pulverized, and in its place a huge cloud of black smoke was
formed and a loud crash, not like thunder, but as if from the fall
of large stones or from gunfire, was heard.
All the buildings shook and, at the same time, a forked tongue of
flame broke through the cloud. All the inhabitants of the village
ran out into the street in panic. The old women wept and everyone
thought the end of the world was approaching [from the Irkutsk
newspaper SIBIR, 2 July 1908]
The noise was considerable but no stone fell. All the details of
the fall of a meteorite here should be ascribed to the over-active
imagination of impressionable people [from the Irkutsk newspaper
SIBIR, 4 July 1908]
Before setting out, [Leonid Alexeivich] Kulik wanted to spend
several days recording interviews with Tungus eyewitnesses of the
explosion. Lyuchetkan said that he knew of several such people and
agreed to bring Kulik to them. Some of the Tungus Kulik approached
were reluctant to talk about the event. Others became angry and
refused outright even to mention it. But many were willing to
speak with him.. Kulik was fascinated by the mystical aura that
sometimes seemed to cloud descriptions. An enraged Ogdy had
visited them, the Tungus maintained, and the fire god had put a
curse on the epicenter region. Anyone who dared enter it surely
would be cursed likewise. There even were accounts of herds of
reindeer being sacrificed to appease the angry and vindictive
god." [Roy A Gallant: The Day the Sky Split Apart, 1995]
(1) TUNGUSKA ANNIVERSARY
Duncan Steel <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
(2) TUNGUSKA REMINDER IN TURKMENISTAN: METEORITE IMPACT ON 20 JUNE
Brian Marsden <email@example.com>
(3) ATMOSPHERIC IMPACT TRIGGERS STAR CULT
Gordon Garradd <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(4) IMPACTS OF ASTEROIDS AND COMETS ARE INEVITABLE
The Cosmic Threat to Civilisation is real and should no longer be
played down, writes Benny J Peiser
(5) MORE ON THE AD 536 EVENT
Leroy Ellenberger <email@example.com>
(6) AD 536 AND ITS AFTERMATH: THE YEARS WITHOUT SUMMER
Joel D. Gunn <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(1) TUNGUSKA ANNIVERSARY
From Duncan Steel <email@example.com> wrote:
Today being the 90th anniversary of the Tunguska event, it might be
appropriate to note some papers which have advanced our understanding
of the physical nature of the object. In recent years one particular
paper has been vehemently promoted by various people as being 'proof'
that the impactor was a stony asteroid rather than cometary in nature,
some comments being enough to put even Pope Leo XIII (he who introduced
the notion of papal infallibility) to shame, despite the fact that more
sophisticated and realistic modelling had already been published
providing evidence to the contrary. Of course, we do not know what
'cometary in nature' actually means because we are still hugely
ignorant of the nature of comets. If this were not the case, why are
there several spacecraft missions planned in order to investigate a
suite of cometary nuclei? We have been observing comet Halley for over
two millennia, we sent a fleet of spacecraft to it in 1986, yet still
we don't know the density of its nucleus to better than a factor of two
or three. My opinion is that cometary nuclei are much more
heterogeneous than many researchers would allow, with not only major
fractions of ices and heavy organics, but also substantial fractions of
materials resulting in carbonaceous chondrites when they reach the
Earth, and maybe other chondritic material too. Time will tell.
There are three papers to which I would draw attention here.
(1) V.V. Svetsov, 'Total ablation of the debris from the 1908 Tunguska
explosion', Nature, 383, 697-699 (1996)
...provides an explanation for why no substantial fragments of the
object reached the ground to provide meteorite samples which would have
enabled us to determine its nature a long time ago. Svetsov shows that
the radiation field within the fireball would have vaporized all the
small fragments into which the object would be expected to have
dispersed as it disintegrated. All meteor scientists will know that
fragmentation as an important phenomenon at all meteoroid sizes. The
author of the following paper is one of the world's leading experts
on meteoric phenomena, and he emphasizes this fact.
(2) V.A. Bronshten, 'Fragmentation and crushing of large meteoric bodies
in an atmosphere', Solar System Research, 29, 450-458 (1995).
Abstract: Three theories of large meteoroid fragmentation in an
atmosphere are compared: Grigoryan, Hills-Goda and Chyba-Thomas-Zahnle.
It is shown that the Grigoryan and Hills-Goda theories are virtually
identical, although the first is better justified. The Chyba-Thomas-
Zahnle theory appreciably ranks below the first two theories, since it
does not take into account fragmentation by the splitting mechanism.
Therefore, the destruction heights for bodies of various natures are
sometimes overestimated by 10-12 km. Arbitrary assumptions accepted in
all three theories are discussed: a neglect of evaporation and an
oriented flight of an idealized-shape body. It is shown that an
inclusion of evaporation slightly increases crushing heights (from
fractions of a kilometer to several kilometers). Arguments are
presented in favor of a rapid chaotic rotation of irregular-shaped
bodies coming into the atmosphere. The inclusion of such rotation
retards the disruption of the body as compared to the oriented flight.
(3) J.E. Lyne, M. Tauber & R. Fought, 'An analytical model of the
atmospheric entry of large meteors and its application to the Tunguska
Event', Journal of Geophysical Research, 101, 23207-23212 (1996).
Abstract: The atmospheric entry of a meteor [sic 1] is quite complex,
with the body losing kinetic energy both from atmospheric drag and from
mass loss due to aerodynamic heating. Moreover, high pressures on the
windward side of the body result in enormous compressive stresses which
may exceed the yield strength of the material and cause rapid
fragmentation of the meteor. While ablative mass loss is not important
for extremely large objects, it must be accurately estimated
to correctly predict [sic 2] the trajectories of objects that are several
tens of meters in diameter. The current paper describes [sic 3] a
computer model which performs calculations [sic 3] of shock layer
conditions, accounting for the time varying temperature distribution,
radiative cooling of the shocked gases, and blockage of surface heating
by ablation products. Application of the model to the well-known
Tunguska Event indicates that the responsible bolide was probably a
carbonaceous chondrite, although a stony asteroid or a cometary body
cannot be conclusively ruled out.
[sic 1] A meteor is an atmospheric phenomenon, so that it cannot "enter"
[sic 2] Split infinitive.
[sic 3] Personification twice in one sentence.
Such minor gripes aside, in this paper the authors have clearly advanced
our understanding of the Tunguska event, although it will be interesting
to see what the Russian experts have to say about the paper/model in the
fullness of time.
Note also that Svetsov, and Lyne et al., and various other authors
including Grigoryan, have papers in the recent special Tunguska issue
of Planetary and Space Science (volume 46, April 1998). In particular
see Figure 1 of the paper by Grigoryan, in which he indicates that an
icy body could penetrate to an altitude of 10 km or less. (Although
myself I favour a comet-derived carbonaceous chondrite.)
Having read through all of the above, it is perhaps best to recall the
words of Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington: "It is also a good rule not to
put overmuch confidence in the observational results that are put
forward until they are confirmed by theory." I think that he had his
tongue in his cheek, as when he spoke of a "perfectly spherical elephant,
whose weight may be neglected."
(2) TUNGUSKA REMINDER IN TURKMENISTAN: METEORITE IMPACT ON 20 JUNE
From Brian Marsden <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I don't know whether you heard about this ....
From: SMTP%"email@example.com" 29-JUN-1998 10:55:33.28
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
CC: Subj: a meteorite fallen at Turkmenistan
To: Central Bureau for From: Seitnazar Muhamednazarov,
Astronomical Telegrams, Professor, Director
International Astronomical to the Scientific-Technical
Union Center "Climate" of the
Committee of Turkmenistan
On the territory of the Republic Turkmenistan at the latitude - 42 grad
15' N, longitude 59 grad. 10' East, near the town of Koneurgench (100
km from Toshauz city) a great meteorite fall took place on June, 20
1998 at 17:25 local time. A bright orange bolid was observed moving
from the south-west to north-east; an explosion took place at a height
of 10-15 km, the black smoke hiding the Sun, and thunder was heard 100
km far from the place of the event. The track left was triple.
A meteoritic crater 5-6 m wide and 4 m deep was found; fragments
scattered around may have a total weight of 40 kg. At the bottom of the
crater a cone-shaped meteorite was found. Its estimated parameters are:
length: 80 cm;
mass: 300-500 kg.
The meteorite is of iron-rock type (the rock component is crushed). The
compound is inhomogeneous.
The two other possible fragments of the meteorite are being searched
Director to the Scientific-Technical Center "Climate"
of the National Hydrometeorological Committee of Turkmenistan
(3) ATMOSPHERIC IMPACT TRIGGERS STAR CULT
From Gordon Garradd <firstname.lastname@example.org>
TURKMENS WANT TO NAME METEORITE AFTER LEADER
ASHGABAT, June 28 (Reuters) - Scientists in Turkmenistan have asked
President Saparmurat Niyazov, focus of a flourishing personality cult
in the former Soviet state, to give his name to a large meteorite,
an official newspaper said on Sunday.
The Neitralny Turkmenistan daily, quoting the official Turkmen Press
news agency, said a large conic meteorite weighing some 300 kg (670
lbs) had landed in northern Turkmenistan on June 20.
"Noting the fact that the meteorite fell onto Turkmen land on the eve
of the sixth anniversary of Saparmurat Niyazov's election as president,
scientists have asked the head of state to name the celestial body
Turkmenbashi," it said.
Turkmenbashi (Head of the Turkmen) is the official title of Niyazov,
the Central Asian republic's leader since Soviet times who was elected
president on June 21, 1992. The official media said that more than 90
percent of voters had chosen Niyazov. There were no other candidates
running for president.
Towns, villages, military units, factories and a sea gulf in the desert
state of four million people have already been named after Turkmenbashi,
whose portraits or statues can be seen on nearly every street corner
throughout the country.
The request to confer Niyazov's name on a meteorite appears to be the
first of its kind (sic).
Copyright 1998, Reuters/CNN
(4) IMPACTS OF ASTEROIDS AND COMETS ARE INEVITABLE
The Cosmic Threat to Civilisation is real and should no longer be
played down, writes Benny J Peiser
From: EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT, June 1998
90 years ago, on 30 June 1908, an erratic rock from space
measuring c. 60 meters and travelling at nearly 40,000 miles an
hour entered the earths atmosphere. At about 7:15am local time,
the extraterrestrial visitor exploded some five miles over the
Central Siberian Plateau near the Tunguska river. The cosmic
disaster that followed was awesome. Impacting in the atmosphere,
the explosion yielded the energy of some 40 megatons of TNT.
Within seconds, 2000 square kilometres of forest were flattened,
1000 square kilometres of trees stood in flames.
90 years after the Tunguska-event, on March 12th 1998, the world
awoke to the news that an asteroid, measuring c. 1500 meters in
diameter and called 1997 XF11, was found to be in an orbit that
would bring it uncomfortably close to Earth in about 30 years
time. For 24 hours, millions of people around the world were glued
to their radios and TV sets to listen to a news item which,
everyone had realised, effected the entire human race.
During the long history of our planet, the Earth has been hit by
giant asteroids and comets many thousands of times. Only four
years ago, in July 1994, comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smashed into
Jupiter. Civilisation wouldnt have survived had the 20 odd pieces
of this comet collided with Earth rather than Jupiter. Current
estimates suggest that every 500,000 years or so Near-Earth
Objects (NEOs) the size of 1997 XF11 impacts one of the Earths
oceans or the surface of one of the continents. But NEOs in the
kilometre range collide with our world every 100,000 years, whilst
Tunguska-sized objects hit our planet every one hundred years or
Cosmic disasters have punctuated life on Earth repeatedly. Only
during the last twenty years, we have become aware of our
precarious place in space. We now know that impact catastrophe
have caused the extinction of more than 90% of all species which
ever lived on Earth. Many thousands of times, such
extraterrestrial calamities have devastated and overwhelmed the
Earths environmental. There is growing scientific evidence that
more recent impact events may have lead to widespread
environmental disasters causing the collapse of mankinds first
civilisations some 4000 years ago.
If asteroid 1997 XF 11 were to collide with Earth, it would lead
to the breakdown of societies around the globe. The environmental
effects of such a catastrophe would be horrendous. It would not
mean the end of mankind, but it would wipe out civilisation as we
know it. We would regress to the level of the dark Ages. If it hit
dry land, the subsequent earthquakes all around the world would in
turn set off volcanoes. These would pour their own contribution
into this cloud of ash, smoke, dust and smog. As enormous amounts
of dust were sent into the stratosphere, the sun would be blocked
out for months. The failure of a single years harvest,
world-wide, would mean that millions, perhaps billions, would
starve to death.
Fortunately, on March 13th, US American astronomers gave the
all-clear: Awoken by the announcement, two scientists discovered
astronomical films taken of the same object in 1990 which
indicated that asteroid XF11 would miss us by some 600,000 miles
in the year 2028. Thanks to the fortuitous find, the biggest
cosmic crisis in mankinds short history could be thwarted.
During this period of global uncertainty, the British Government
displayed a creepy silence. While the nation had to rely on the
official media response by the White House in Washington,
Government departments and emergency agencies in the UK were
caught off-guard. From one day to another, emergency planners and
crisis managers were faced with a potential planetary threat they
had hardly heard of let alone dealt with. The reason for the
rather embarrassing paralysis of the British Government is simple
to explain: the United Kingdom does not, at present, have any
relevant expertise or policy with regard to the threat due to
Near-Earth Objects (NEOs). Nor does it fund NEO research, although
Britain has extensive resources which are eminently suitable to
contribute to international NEO research.
During the scare, all the Government was able to do was to bury
their head in the sand. In fact, it took almost two weeks before
the Government issued a statement in response to questions raised
by the Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik. In a rather trivial answer
on March 23rd in the House of Commons, John Battle, the Science &
Technology Minister, claimed that the UK emergency services and
the emergency planning community in the UK were fully prepare for
a (global) impact catastrophe posed by asteroids similar to XF11
and would respond if the need arose. Ignoring the main research
findings of a number of eminent UK scientists, John Battle
concluded by announcing his belief that the probability of a
major impact is extremely low.
Regrettably, this statement is rather meaningless if not
misleading. It seems more than doubtful whether UK emergency
agencies are prepared for the event of a global impact
catastrophe, let alone whether they have ever thought about
contingency plans for such an event. More importantly, though, is
the fact that impact disasters with global environmental effects
occur rather frequently. Some of Britains leading astronomers
believe that Super-Tunguskas, i.e. multi-megaton showers of
cometary debris, occur every 3000 to 5000 years. From a human
perspective, this may sound a rather long time. The problem is, we
dont know when the last major impact disaster occurred. And no
one knows when the next is going to hit us.
As a traditional world leader in science and technology, Britain
has a duty to itself and the rest of the world to support efforts
to prevent such catastrophes. All it needs is for the Government
to start taking the threat seriously. We were fortunate to escape
a collision with asteroid 1997 XF11. But many thousand similar
objects are out there and awaiting discovery. Next time we might
not be so lucky.
The question thus remains: whether there is intelligent life on
Earth? Since science tells us that impacts of asteroids and comets
are inevitable and just a question of time, what are we doing with
our new-found awareness? The dinosaurs became extinct because they
did not have a system of planetary defence. We will deserve to
become extinct, Sir Arthur c Clarke emphasises, if we dont have
Benny J Peiser is a social anthropologist at Liverpool John
Moores University and a member of Spaceguard UK.
Copyright 1998, Emergency Management
(5) MORE ON THE AD 536 EVENT
From Leroy Ellenberger <email@example.com>
To interested readers:
This message from J.D. Gunn at Univ. North Carolina reports on a recent
conference dedicated to the A.D. 536 marker event as a global
phenomenon along with references and a summary of an e-mail list
discussion. The cause for this climate plunge seems to be undetermined
as between volcanic and cosmic.
(6) AD 536 AND ITS AFTERMATH: THE YEARS WITHOUT SUMMER
From Joel D. Gunn <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Lea Abbott has called my attention to the discussion on the Late
Antiquity list serve concerning the A.D. 536 phenomenon. I have read
through the entries and find them very helpful. I will respond to some
of them following. My interest in this issue arises from a large number
of archaeological cultural phase changes that occurred in the 6th c.
A.D. and from an interest in long term global change. In 1996 I
organized a symposium on the topic at the Southeastern Archaeological
A book composed of the papers from this symposium is currently under =
review by the University Press of Florida. The book covers everything
from Cassiodorus and King Arthur to Erutria, China, the Maya Lowlands
and several papers on Southeastern United States. It appears to be a
world wide horizon marker and lends considerable insight to the events
of the mid first millennium A.D. The symposium was reported by one
observer to be the first such presentation at the Southeastern
Archaeological Conference to touch on the topic of King Arthur. The
book focuses primarily on the cross-referencing of history and
archaeology on the eastern coasts of the Atlantic Basin with
archaeology on the western coasts. The Maya, however, have just emerged
as a historical culture because of the recent translation of Maya
A resume of the book:
A.D. 536 AND ITS AFTERMATH-THE YEARS WITHOUT SUMMER
Joel D. Gunn, Department of Anthropology, The University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514
Global Climate Change in the First Millennium A.D.
The authors of this book attempt to discover the global scale cultural
ramifications of the year A.D. 536cal by focusing on its detection in
subregional records whether they be historic, archaeological or
paleoenvironmental. "Records" is interpreted broadly as information
offered by the historical sciences, which include geology, archaeology,
and history. A prologue introduces some of the theoretical and
practical global climate issues that are the present day backdrop of
the study, most importantly the current concern with rapid global
change and uncertainty regarding its outcome. The next two chapters
further address these complex but important issues and set the
paleoclimatic stage for understanding cultural changes emanating from
global scale environmental changes in history and prehistory. Two
multi-chapter sections follow. In turn they search out the historical
and archaeological ramifications of the years without summer and the
centuries that precede and follow them. The book is divided into three
parts. Within parts, chapters are paired in concept sets that address
similar environments or similar regional questions relating to changes
in five topics: place, society, season, power, and empire. Part I sets
the stage for understanding the A.D. 536cal global cooling and the
generally cooler, often unstable, global climate of
the first millennium A.D. The objective of these chapters is to
understand global climate, global temperature, global change, and
atmospheric and oceanic circulation in a framework compatible with the
human scale of interaction and social studies.
Part II presents the convincing, even overwhelming, historical evidence
from literate societies that A.D. 536cal was a watershed moment in the
history of the world. A search for a plausible boundary between
Classical and Modern times has been a subject of debate for much of the
twentieth century. Young argues that A.D. 536cal was the breakline
between classical and modern times. The other five chapters in Part II
profoundly support this contention.
Part III engages the question of how archaeologists with less resolved
time scales can make useful contributions to understanding precisely
timed environmental events. Case studies from six subregions of
southeastern United States are presented. The answer is found more in
the aftermath, the 300 years following, than in the A.D. 536 event
itself. However, rapid culture changes and population movements are
implicated in more than one region. Especially important are
comparisons with historically observed parallel changes, or parallel
events (Gunn 1994) in other parts of the world.
The book's parts are divided into themes, or concept sets. Each
concept set explores in a pair of chapters a geographic and
environmental issue. The concept sets emerged from the regional time
transects scanned by the authors through the centuries of the first
millennium A.D. Studies of subregional variation, both in climate and
cultural impacts, is greatly facilitated by pairing the contributions.
Six chapters of three pairs present studies of the Atlantic slope
(Anderson, Lilly and Webb, Mathis, Walker, Wetmore et al., Woodall).
To gain the perspective of other parts of the world, chapters from
Italy and Burgundy (Young) and Insular Europe (Jones) provide a view of
subregional variation there. Another pair addresses the Maya lowlands
of Mesoamerica (Chase and Chase, Robichaux). Two additional chapters
open issues in Africa (Schmidt) and Asia (Houston).
Each pair of chapters in a concept set emphasizes the best data a =
region offers students of global change, both historical and/or =
archaeological. In Eurasia, Africa and Mesoamerica, historical records
reveal the scope of A.D. 536 cal consequences among empires, dynasties,
and economic and military balances of power. In central Italy, the
personal ambitions of Justinian, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire
clashed with the consequences of the A.D. 536 event. In other areas
such as southern Britain, history and archaeology are combined with
mythology and poetry to fathom the consequences at the time of King
Arthur. This is also true of the Mesoamerican studies of the regional
states of Tikal and Caracol.
The Lilly and Webb chapter is paired with Wetmore et al. as they
address multiple instances of cultures in highly dissected terrain.
They are just across an artificial state border from each other. This
methodology amounts to subdividing a sample to see if results can be
replicated. I should emphasize that the experiments are replicated; I
did not anticipate that the results would be replicated. Contradictory
opinions were tolerated, even encouraged. The only requirement was
that the authors come to thoughtful conclusions.
While the authors were encouraged to avoid esoteric terminology as much
as possible, two archaeological concepts assist the reader in
understanding how archaeologists think and interpret results. The first
is that of landscape and the second is horizon style. The
interpretative context of cultures, both prehistoric and historic is
taken to be a landscape, which is a reconstruction of conditions at
some time in the past. Thus, human experience with climate was enacted
in landscapes of inferred characteristics gained from site excavation,
historical sources, and paleoenvironmental data. The reconstructed
"landscape" is understood in a broad sense to reflect not only terrain
but also geophysical, hydrological and cognitive aspects.
The horizon style is a familiar concept to archaeologists. Horizon =
styles usually involve an artifact type that is quickly widespread
across regions and soon disappears leaving marks of similar time
between those possessing it. Though not in the usual sense, the A.D.
536 cal event provides a type of horizon style of worldwide scope.
The globe circling case studies of this volume illustrate cultural and
personal reactions to the events surrounding A.D. 536cal and subsequent
centuries. The authors address issues of both contemporary and
scholarly interest. In the contemporary domain, the growing attention
that rapid, global-scale climate change and its impacts on societies
are justly demanding attention. The question raised among
archaeologists is what they might contribute to understanding such
Students of the earth system cannot be certain at this time that global
warming will not precipitate climatic transformations as vast of
magnitude and broad of expanse as those experienced in the sixth
century A.D. Archaeologists clearly have the potential to investigate
social phenomena at substantial time depths and in ways inaccessible to
others. Who else studies social phenomena associated with the end of
the ice age over 10 millennia ago? The fates of Paleolithic cave
painters in Europe and Paleoindian elephant hunters in the Americas has
been an enduring fascination for over 200 years. Publication on the
topic began in 1797 with John Frere. One of the driving issues of the
volume, the question that glues together history and archaeology and
makes a horizon style/snap-to-grid methodology important is the
question of archaeological data and global events.
Archaeologists have utilized near-event scale phenomena since the 1930s
when the concept of horizon styles was offered as a dating technique
(Trigger 1989:192). Horizon styles are constituted of rapidly
spreading, short lived cultural traits. When the spread of these
traits can be traced across more than one region, they provide a means
of cross-dating other cultural phenomena in the affected regions.
References and Related Reading
Baillie, M. G. L. (1994) Dendrochronology Raises Questions about the
Nature of the AD 536 Dust-veil Event. The Holocene 4:212-217.
Baillie, M. G. L. (1995) Patrick, Comets, and Christianity. Emania
Berry, Walter E. (1987) Southern Burgundy in Late Antiquity and the
Middle Ages. In Regional Dynamics: Burgundian Landscapes in Historical
Perspective, edited by C. Crumley and M. Marquardt, pp. 447-609, =
Academic Press, Orlando.
Birdsell, Joseph B. (1973) A Basic Demographic Unit. Current
Broecker, Wallace S. (1995) Chaotic Climate. Scientific American
Bryson, Reid A. (1988) Civilization and Rapid Climate Change.
Environmental Conservation 15:7-15.
Bryson, Reid A. (1994) Orbital History, Volcanism, and Major Climate
Changes: On Integrating Climate Change and Culture Change. Human
Bryson, Reid A. and Thomas J. Murray (1977) Climates Of Hunger: Mankind
And The World's Changing Weather. The University of Wisconsin Press.
Bryson, R. A. and B. M. Goodman (1980) Volcanic Activity and Climatic
Changes. Science 207:1041-1044.
Denton, George and Wibjorn Karl (1973) Holocene Climatic
Variations-Their Pattern and Possible Cause. Quaternary Research
Fialko, Vilma, William J. Folan, Joel D. Gunn, and Ma. del Rosario
Domenguez Carrasco (1998) Investigations in the Intersite Areas
Between Yaxha-Nakum-Tikal. Paper presented at the 63rd Annual Meeting
of the Society for American Archaeology, Seattle.
Folan, William J., Joel Gunn, Jack D. Eaton, and Robert W. Patch (1983)
Paleoclimatological Patterning in Southern Mesoamerica. Journal of
Field Archaeology 10:453-468.
Gill, R. B. (1994) The Great Maya Droughts. Unpublished Dissertation,
The University of Texas at Austin.
Gribbin, John, and Mary Gribbin (1997) Fire on Earth. St.. Martin's
Griffin, New York
Gunn, Joel (1994) Global Climate and Regional Biocultural Diversity.
In Historical Ecology, edited by Carole L. Crumley, pp 67-97. School
of American Research, Santa Fe.
Gunn, Joel D. (1997) A Framework for the Middle-Late Holocene
Transition: Astronomical and Geophysical Conditions. Southeastern
Gunn, Joel D., and R. E. W. Adams (1981) Climatic Change, Culture, and
Civilization in North America. World Archaeology 13:85-100.
Gunn, J., W. Folan, and H. Robichaux (1994) Un Analisis Informativo
sobre La Descarga del Sistema del Rio Candelaria en Campeche, Mexico:
Reflexiones acerca de Los Paleoclimas que Afectaron a Los Antiguos =
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Responses to some of the Late Antiquity list serve comments:
Morton Axboe 1jun98. In Baillie's Emania article in the references
above has some information of the impact on Christianity. Also
Elizabeth Jones' article in the book has discussions of possible
impacts on Christians. One of the things that kindled my interest in
the question is why Gregory of Tours spent the first years of his
tenure rebuilding burned churches. Does anyone know about this?
Dennis C. Clark 3jun98. A book by Gribbon and Gribbon called Fire on
Earth was published in 1997 that discusses a lot of what is known about
meteor impacts though not much on A.D. 536. Very good materials for
analogy such as the Tunguska event for example. The gentleman from
Ireland is Baillie cited above.
Matthias Bode 3jun98. Someone has been reporting a investigations of a
possible impact in the British Isles. This is not confirmed so just
something to watch. There has been some discussion in the geophysical
literature recently of meteor impacts on one side of the world causing
earthquakes on the other because the earth's spherical shape acts like
a lense to focus the energy on the opposite side. The accounts of
earthquakes in Constantinople seem unusual to me but I would be
interested to hear from someone who has a depth of knowledge on
earthquakes in the area at that time.
Lorenzo Smerillo 4jun98. Elizabeth Jone's chapter in my book suggests =
that the date of King Arthur's death was moved to a later time in
legend because of the gravity of the events surrounding A.D. 536 in the
culture. Also, the creation date of the Book of Kells seems to have
been moved back to that time in legend. Perhaps you are looking at a
similar cultural process with Gregory the Great.
Matthias Bode 4jun98. According to the author of the Chines chapter in
my book they do report an unusual astronomical event in A.D. 535.
Although it could be related to the dust veil of A.D. 536-537, it is
not clear at all what is concerned. Baillie discusses atmospheric
phenomena in legend that resemble the Tungusca event such as bright
light at night in his Emania article. He also discusses the confusion
related to the Greenland ice cores.
Timothy L. Bratton 8jun98. Stothers 1984 Nature article documents an
extended event that reduced incoming solar radiation to 10 percent of
normal. Someone is looking into what are called "slow smokers" for a
second symposium I am organizing for the SEAC meeting this fall in
Columbia South Carolina. However, unless this can be documented, it
would have to be a truly grand event of volcanism or many volcanoes.
Chichon is a possible candidate according to a book by Richardson Gill
that will probably be published by University of New Mexico Press this
Still, I think that an atmospheric encounter with dust filtering down
from low orbit as following the 65 million year ago event is a good
candidate; we have to await evidence.
K. Dimitris 8jun98. Hmm, too bad about the date uncertainty of
Philostorgious. See discussion of earthquakes above.
Pamela G. Sayre 8jun98. I would like to know the date that the
Euphrates froze. The Nile is reported in Lamb (1977) to have frozen in
829. This is a good indicator of a global cold excursion at that time.
Perhaps this freezing of the Euphrates could serve a similar purpose.
Phil Burns 9jun98. Good resume of Baillie's work mentioned above.
Forest fires: I have been wondering for some time if the droughts that
would follow a cooling event would result in widespread forest fires,
and where the biomass was great enough, fire storms that would inject
soot into the upper atmosphere. According to the nuclear winter
research soot injected into the upper atmosphere from fire storms would
be the major cause of global cooling from nuclear war. Fire storms
following volcanoes or meteors could amplify the immediate effects of
the event lengthening the usual few months that dust remains in the
atmosphere. There was a near fire storm in British Columbia following
the 1982 El Chichon eruptions from drought in the forests which made me
wonder about this. I have yet to encounter anyone who has done work on
Morten Axboe 10jun98, I would like to know about the freezing of the
Black Sea too.
Timothy L. Bratton 10Jun98. High latitude volcanoes can't have much
effect on the global climate because the dust migrates poleward.
Equatorial volcanoes have much greater effects. El Chichon in 1982
dropped global temperatures like a rock in a month because it circled
the earth with a dust cloud at the equator where most of the solar
radiation comes in (see Rampino and Self in Sci. Amer). If there a
record of Vesuvius emitting ash slowly over a long period of time, this
might be an interesting question.
The description of dry fog for 18 months in widespread locations is =
very strange. Also, A.D. 536, as is discussed by Hugh Robichaux in my
book is the beginning of the Maya Early-Late Classic Hiatus; he makes a
very good argument for vast changes in the Maya lowlands being related
to the event. In Africa, in Erutria, Peter Schmidt finds the sudden and
inexplicable collapse of formidable Erutrian Empire. This phenomenon
was not limited to the northern high latitudes. In my next round of
studies I am going to explore effects south of the equator.
The information in plague and fleas in interesting and needs to be
A comet did pass inside the Earth's orbit in the early eighth century,
a condition that increases debris in the vicinity of the Earth, and
there might be observable climate impacts, but I haven't seen anything
on the early sixth century. Baillie has some material in his Emania
article on multiple meteor phenomena over a couple of decades around
A.D. 536 that needs to be looked into in more detail. This will be
treated in the coming symposium but I do not know what the outcome will
Solar radiation needs to be considered as a background factor.
The century of greatest volcanism in the Holocene was the third
century, i.e., the end of the Roman Golden Age according to Bryson and
Goodman 1980. There isn't much evidence for extensive volcanism in the
Pamela G. Sayre 11jun98. Oh, here is the Euphrates freezing. 608
doesn't ring any bells but it is an interesting piece of information to
Do the earthquake records not go back beyond 543? Or was there more
earthquake activity following A.D. 543?
Timothy L. Bratton 11jun98. Wouldn't a near miss address most of these
concerns and still leave debris floating down from the upper
Pamela G. Sayre 14jun98. 18 hrs? If this is true it will rewrite most =
of the literature on this question since Stothers 1984 article. I
don't have the article handy to check and see if you and he are talking
about the same thing. 18 hours is well within the time range of a
volcanic phenomenon. When Tambora erupted in 1815 the area was dark for
hundreds of miles around at least through the next day.
J.J. van Ginkel 15jun98. So, are we saying that 18 months are still
not involved, the change from years to hours being the topic of
Joel D. Gunn
Department of Anthropology
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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