CCNet DEBATE, 28 October 1998: MYTHS, LEGENDS & HISTORICAL
(1) THE MERLIN 'VISION' AND THE 6th CENTURY 'EVENT'
John Michael <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(2) WORKNOTES ON A MAJOR IMPACT EVENT RECORDED IN AINU FOLKLORE
E.P. Grondine <email@example.com>
(3) THE DAY THE SANDS CAUGHT FIRE
Bob Kobres <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(1) THE MERLIN 'VISION' AND THE 6th CENTURY 'EVENT'
From John Michael <email@example.com>
Reading again through Bob Kobres post of October 5 last, "Searching
for historical impacts", I was moved to reach for my copy of Geoffrey
of Monmouth's "Vita Merlini" the "Life of Merlin"(Basil Clarke edition,
University of Wales Press, 1973).
Though it had been many years since I had picked it up, and was more
familiar with it then fresh in my mind, I recalled the two versions of
the supposed reason why Merlin (Myrddin in the Welsh) was said to have
claimed he fled into the woods following the battle of Arfderydd. The
later Christianised version of this tale attributes Merlin's wanderings
in the wild woods to feelings of guilt, blaming himself for the deaths
of so many in the battle, and as a Christian in penitence for this
dreadful sin. But Basil Clarke expressed the view that:
"This 'saintly resolution' is a hagiographical device which was
probably grafted onto the Arfderydd tale through it's later association
There are three versions of the 'wild man of the woods' tale. In the
Scottish version he is known as Lailoken. In the Irish version Suibhne
Geilt, and in the Welsh version Myrddin. The Scottish version has the
Merlin figure, Lailoken, telling his reasons for fleeing to the woods
in the midst of the battle of Arfderydd to St. Kentigern. As Basil
Clarke relates it:
"In that fight the sky began to split above me, and I heard a
tremendous din, a voice from the sky saying to me 'Lailochen,
Lailochen, because you alone are responsible for the blood of all these
dead men, you alone will bear the punishment for the misdeeds of all.
For you will be given over to the angels of Satan, and until the day of
your death you will have communion with the creatures of the wood.'
But when I directed my gaze towards the voice I heard, I saw a
brightness too great for human senses to endure. I saw, too,
numberless martial battalions in the heaven like flashing lightening,
holding in their hands fiery lances and glittering spears which they
shook most fiercely at me."
The original pagan version so it seems, and there is no room to enter
into the details regarding the versions here, attributes Merlin's
reasons for fleeing to the wild woods as solely due to the 'vision'.
In a lecture delivered in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern European
Languages and Literature at Oxford University on June 2nd. 1976, by
A.O.H. Jarman entitled "Early stages in the development of the Myrddin
legend", he focusses on it as well:
"He also saw a vision, 'numberless martial battalions in the heaven
like flashing lightening, holding in their hands fiery lances and
glittering spears which they shook fiercely' at him. This was
accompanied by a 'brightness too great for human senses to endure'. It
was this that brought about his madness and drove him to the forest."
Here Jarman has a footnote with the original Latin, and I include it
for the record:
"Cum autem ad vocem quam audiui meum direxi intuitum, vidi splendorum
nimium quem natura humana sustinere non potuit. Vidi etiam
innumerabiles phalanges exercitus in aera fulguri similes chorusco,
lanceus igneus, et tela scintillancia in manibus tenentes, que
crudelissime in me vibrabant."
Jarman goes on to point out that this version is mentioned in only one
Welsh source, the "Itinerarium Kambiae" of Giraldus Cambrensis, who:
"..does not refer to any consciousness of guilt on the part of Myrddin;
his emphasis is on the dreadful character of the vision, which he
regards as the cause of Myrddin's lapse."
Interestingly the battle of Arfderydd is recorded in the oldest text of
the "Annales Cambriae" as having occurred in the year AD 573, and
this in turn reminded me of an earlier post to the CCNet by Joel D.
Gunn regarding the AD 536 'event' and the upheaval of the 6th century.
Could this tale of the 'vision' by the Merlin figure be a recollection
of a fragmenting comet/asteroid 'event', with the 'tremendous din'
being of a tunguska-like airburst? It made me wonder about the
mention in that post, which I then looked up in the CCNet archive:
"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."
Perhaps those present at the Southeastern Archaeological Conference
could enlighten us on whether or not this 'vision' of Merlin was
mentioned there, and has it appeared in the discussions on the Late
Antiquity list, as the given date of AD 573 for the battle of Arfderydd
could easily be out by as little as 37 years?
The Morien Institute
(2) WORKNOTES ON A MAJOR IMPACT EVENT RECORDED IN AINU FOLKLORE
From E.P. Grondine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Following Dr. S Yabushita's estimate of 1 major tsunami in Japan
every 10,000 years caused by an impact event (CC Digest, 23 September,
1988), as well as Bryant, Steel, Snow, and Spedicato's work on the
"Great Wall of Water", my curiousity was picqued as to whether some
major impact caused tsunami might be remembered in the myths of Japan.
In as much as they are widely thought to be the most ancient people in
Japan, I decided to look through the myths of the Ainu.
I have to report that my search for memories of impact caused
tsunami events in Ainu myth has resulted in failure. It appears that
the Ainu's ancestors were pretty much blown off the face of the Earth by
an impact event in historically "recent" times, thus ending any earlier
tsunami myth tradition that they may have had:
(From Sakhalin Ainu Folklore, Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Anthropological
Studies, ed. Ward H. Goodenough, American Anthropological Association,
Washington, D.C., 1969)
"Long ago, there was a settlement on the shore. It was a
settlement with very many people.
"And while they lived in this manner, one day there was a strange
sound. And the people went outside to look about, and indeed there was
something which looked like a demon. Its only eye was like a full
moon; it was a demon with a large eye. Thereafter the demon came out
"And it tore apart and swallowed all of the people of the
settlement, and they were gone. Although the settlement was full of
people, it tore apart and swallowed all of the people. While doing so,
it ate all of the people who filled the settlement and then they were
"And at all the houses both inside and outside there were indeed
only dried up bones.
"Now the settlement had become completely empty. And one day,
the god of the sky, Grandfather Sky God, went down to the ground to
"He walked around all of the houses and found that they were empty.
There were houses which were falling down. There were houses
which had fallen.
"At the end of the settlement there was another house which was
falling down. Then he went into the house. As he went in and looked
about, a very small child was crying hard in the corner of the house.
"When he picked it up and looked at it, it was a very good looking
baby boy. Then he thought thus: "At least I want to save the little
boy", he thought thus.
"He picked up the little boy and went to the side of the hearth.
Now the Grandfather made a fire.
"Then he went out of the house. After he went outside he went to
the various houses and looked about: Outside of every house there were
indeed only human bones."
In other words, a Tunguska type blast came pretty well near
extincting some of these folks. The houses were blown down, and
everyone was pretty much killed on their doorstep, as they had gone
outdoors to look at the impactor. There were a few survivors, an old
man and one child (who goes on to become the founder of the Ainu
people), who most likely survived because they were unable to leave the
shelter of their houses.
The tale as it is recorded captures a new national foundation myth
as it was evolving. The child is raised by the grandfather, and then so
that the grandfather may return to space, our hero slays the demon.
"His one eye was as big as a full moon, his upper jaw reaching the sky
and lower jaw reaching the ground." Our hero slays the demon,
Grandfather Sky God returns to space, and our hero continues his
"When I went outside, I looked around and found a huge dirt road
going to the next settlement on the shore. I went along the road"
The size of this road indicates a large former population.
"After travelling, I arrived at dusk at the settlement on the
shore. As usual, I looked around, and it looked like my own settlement.
As I looked in various directions, I saw only empty houses."
Since this settlement is at least two days travel distant from
our hero's home settlement, the area destroyed by the impact most likely
was fairly large.
"And when I looked at the far end of the settlement, there was one
The Ainu built wooden houses, and the grass hut indicates
a quickly and poorly built shelter.
"And at the grass hut a thin stream of smoke was coming out. I
went to the side of the grass hut. Then when I came to the side of the
grass hut, I listened, but heard no human voice.
"Even then, as I looked at the smoke-hole, a little smoke was
coming out. Then I cleared my throat. And inside the house a voice
spoke to me:
"'From where are you, and who are you who walked at this late
hour? Come in, come in by yourself', the voice said to me.
"Therefore I entered. As I went in and looked, I found an
elderly woman with completely white hair alone. Then I went to the
upper side and sat.
"And the grandmother, while crying, collapsed on me, and told me
"'Some huge deity cut (the people) in pieces and swallowed them.
So all of the people who were in my settlement on the shore were cut in
pieces and swallowed, and they are gone."
Grandmother cooks dinner and does other wifely things for our
hero, who then goes on to slay the demon god's wife-demon. After being
thanked by the grandmother, our hero returns to his own settlement and
then goes on to yet a third settlement, where he finds enough people to
re-populate both his own settlement and the "grandmother's" settlement.
Whether a third settlement actually survived or not is questionable, as
it may have been created to avoid an incest taboo:
"While living in this manner [probably best translated as 'While
mortal' - epg] I married a woman and later had a boy and a girl. While
living in this manner I lived with my boy and girl. While living my
life in this manner, I became very old and completely died. I moved my
residence from this world to the country of the gods.
"As I later heard the news from the world of the living Ainu, I
learned that my children were very strong and vigourous, as I used to be
while in the world of the living Ainu; they had become even greater than
I; I thus heard the news from the world of the living Ainu."
FROM MYTH TO HISTORY
The first thing that needs to be done at this point is to address
the OMG factor. Just say: "oh my god! oh my god! oh my god!" three
times or so. There, everyone feeling better?
As for trying to actually place and date the impact event which
led to this myth, I simply state that I am totally unequiped to
undertake the task. Most of the primary western ethnographic materials
on the Ainu were collected by missionaries, and show their religious
bias, and even later ethnographers were unable to face square on the
Ainu's religious beliefs. Most modern ethnographic materials are in
Japanese, of which I know nothing, except for a few words taught me by
my judo teacher when I was 8 years old. As for the modern Japanese
archaeological excavation reports, I know nothing more of them than what
a few pictures in the Japanese children's science magazine Newton have
shown. I wouldn't attempt serious work in this area without having at
least $350,000 cash on hand to buy the expertise in these areas,
expertise which I simply do not possess.
As for any Japanese researcher, my guess is that he or she is
going to have trouble facing Japan's own foundation myths. If western
parallels with the Israelites/Canaanites and Romans/Etruscans are any
guide, the ecological niche which the Ainu occupied before the impact
event was most likely immediately occupied after the blast by emigrating
Ever wonder why the Emperor of Japan is descended from the Sun?
AINU RELIGIOUS WORDS AND OFFERINGS
That said, it is interesting to note that the Ainu refer to all
gods as "kamui". I once saw this word mentioned long ago as an
alternative Indo-European etymology for our own word comet, as an
alternative to the Greek "horse's mane" derivation.
What seems likely to me is that after the pounding they took the
Ainu stopped using other words for gods and just began to use "kamui";
and thus our own comet is most likely derived from something like
"kome" + "t'e", or "comet" +"god".
It is also interesting to note that the Ainu manufactured "inao" as
offerings to all of their gods. Imagine if you will an upright pole, at
the top of which has been fastened ribbon streamers cut from wood, an
assemblage looking much like the tail of a comet. At the heart of these
"inao" is a hollow, at the head, where the streamers are attached to the
pole, and here the Ainu placed a burning ember from a fire: the comet's
nucleus, in a word.
SOME NOTES ON AINU COSMOLOGY
BY THE REVEREND JOHN BATCHELOR, F.R.G.S.,
C.M.S. MISSIONARY TO THE AINU, from
THE AINU AND THEIR FOLKLORE,
The Religious Tract Society, London, 1901
To further complicate the situation, Ainu myths were (are?) not uniform,
and they are seldom separated out into their different streams by the
ethnographers. There are several variant cosmologies, including one
which seems to have preserved memory of other major impact events.
"Yet though their conception of Tartarus seems to differ from
from both the Greek and Christian representations in some respects, it
is found to agree with them in other respects. As regards place, it is
thought by the Ainu to be situated at the very confines of all created
worlds. There are supposed by some to be SIX [my capitals - epg] worlds
beneath this upon which we dwell. The very lowest of these is called
"chirama moshiri", the lowest world. I can find no word better suited
to designate this place than Homer's Tartarus.
"But as regards the nature of this land, it is not supposed by the Ainu
to be a place of darkness. It is said to be a very beautiful country,
and as full of light as this world; and it seems not to be the prison
house or abode of fallen angels or any other living beings, whether they
be gods, men, or demons.
"The thunder god, or more properly the thunder demon, after once waging
war upon this earth, is said to have proceeded to do so in heaven [this
is literally space in Ainu - epg], because this world was unable to
stand such a grievous conflict. The Creator [Batchelor's capitals-epg],
who resides in heaven above, was very much distressed at this, and sent
the demons to fight in "chirama moshiri", Tartarus. Here the thunder
demon was slain, and, as no god or demon can actually die, his spirit
again ascended to its original home, namely, the lower heavens or
"It was stated in the last chapter that the demon of thunder once fought
a very great battle, and that he, , when defeated in "chirama moshiri",
ascended to his original home in the lower skies. That home is thought
to lie at the very confines of the air. Though some Ainu say that there
are SIX [my capitals-epg] skies above us, yet I have been able to get
the names of five only. The lower heavens are called "urara kando", or
'fog skies'; the next "range kando", or 'hanging skies'; then follows
the "nochino kando', or 'star bearing skies'; after these follow
"shinish kando", or 'the high skies of the clouds'; and lastly "shirik
un kando", or 'the skies in the most high'.
"The highest heavens are supposed to be inclosed and guarded by a mighty
metal wall or fence, and the entrance to them has a large iron gate. I
have frequently heard the Ainu speaking of the opening and shutting of
this iron gate of heaven.
"The highest heaven is said to be the special home of the Creator and
the more important order of angels. The second or 'star bearing skies'
comprise the dwelling place of the second order of gods and their
angels. Demons are supposed to reside in the clouds and air immediately
surrounding our earth.
"Just as we find that the Ainu very frequently apply materialistic
expressions to immaterial spirit, so, it is very interesting to remark,
they often import most materialistic ideas into their conception of
heaven; and yet, all things considered, it is so intensely natural that
they should do so that we cannot possibly wonder at them or call them
unreasonable for doing so. The Ainu have had no Christian revelation,
to inform them as to the nature of heaven, and that they or anyone else
should have any connate or intuitive knowledge therof, is, I suppose,
altogether out of the question."
[From this you get some idea of the problem the Reverend and other
missionaries had with accounting for caucasians (white folk) who were
not Christian, and who were not as advanced in their material culture
as their Japanese contemporaries, who were widely held by Europeans to
be inferior to themselves.-epg]
"As heaven, according to their ideas, is surrounded by a metal wall and
has an iron gate, so the Creator is supposed to reside in an iron house.
"The deity who is supposed to hold the most important office next to the
great Creator of all may be said to be the goddess of the sun, for she
is conceived of as being the special ruler of the good things God has
made and fixed in the universe. The Ainu are also believers in a god of
the moon, as might be expected.
"There is not much to be said about the stars, except that they are not
worshipped, though the term for 'god' is sometimes, but not generally,
applied to them. The term 'god' is merely used of them on account of
their usefulness in the system of Nature, particularly out of regard to
their usefulness in giving light.
[The Reverend once again is having his troubles - epg]
"Comets are known by the name of 'broom star', and the Milky Way is
called 'the picture of the crooked river'. This 'crooked river' or
Milky Way is also sometimes called 'the river of the gods', and various
deities are supposed to spend much of their time on this 'river' in
"The appearance of a comet is regarded with fear and consternation, for
it is regarded to be the sure forerunner of some dreadful calamity, as,
for instance, war, disease, famine, or death.
[Little wonder there - epg]
"We are informed by some Ainu that the Creator is supposed to have used
no less than three score of mattocks in the work of knocking this world
"As regards the tools which were used in the formation of Yezo [Island],
it is said that there is a rock upon the sea shore near Mouran called by
the name "mukara-so--i.e. 'axe rock'", which is thought to be the very
axe which one of the deities worked in making this island. It remains
where it was thrown down, for no man has been able to move this mighty
tool. Certainly the rock can by a violent stretch of the imagination be
said to look something like an axe, hence, I suppose, the idea as to how
it came there. But then the exact from of the rock need not trouble one
now, for axes in those days may not have been quite of the same shape as
they are now."
Perhaps the following from Ohnuki-Tierney, op.cit., may clear up the
"Tale 14: Iron forging
"The Ainu at Ma:nuy on the east coast of Sakhalin kept hearing the sound
of pounding from the top of the Totorohohke Mountain (called
Totoroki-toge by the Japanese). One day several elders planned to
investigate. When they reached the top of the mountain, they found
several good-looking men with fox-tails engaged in forging iron. The
elders suddenly made a loud sound, which surprised the men and caused
them to run away, leaving behind all of their tools for forging iron,
and their production consisting of swords, sheaths, and other goods.
"This is how the Ainu learned the technique of forging iron from the fox
Now that we have some insight as to Axe Rock, we return to the Reverend:
"And they tell us that these tools were all thrown away when done with,
and that they gradually decomposed where they lay. When far advanced in
decomposition the constituent parts of some become demons, others bad
water, while some of them grow into trees which originate some kinds of
disease. The chief of these demons so produced is called by the name
"Nitat unarabe--i.e.'aunt of the swamps' or 'marshes'", and she as her
name implies, is supposed to have her home in low and marshy
So then Ainu myths contains references to at least 2 different impact
events. The impact events referred to in this series of creation myths
is quite distinct from that in the hero myth. In these creation myths
the impacts lead to the formation of swamps, most likely through blast,
while in the hero myth the impact blew down the houses and killed nearly
all the people.
So that's it, Benny. I'm sure that all this myth is ultimately going to
lead to nice dissertations for several people, including a careful
reworking of reverend Batchelor's works, notes, and correspondence; as
well as to some other people finding some very nice meteorites. But
whoever they are, barring about $350,000 suddenly coming my way, my
guess is that I will not among them.
Until next time -
Best wishes from Washington
from your very tired correspondent,
(3) THE DAY THE SANDS CAUGHT FIRE
From Bob Kobres <email@example.com>
FYI: Scientific American has made an excellent Wabar-crater article,
The Day the Sands Caught Fire, by Jeffrey C. Wynn and Eugene M.
Shoemaker, available at:
Another Wabar paper (previously reported on the CC-net) by the same authors is at:
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The Second SIS (Society for Interdisciplinary Studies) Cambridge
Conference, entitled "Natural Catastrophes during Bronze Age
Civilisations: Archaeological, Geological, Astronomical and Cultural
Perspectives", was held at Fitzwilliam College between 11-13 July 1997.
The one hundred or so participants, who came from as far afield as
North America, Australasia and Japan, as well as from all corners of
Europe, were a vibrant blend of enthusiastic amateurs and professionals
from all the subject areas under consideration, in keeping with the
traditions of the SIS. The event was dedicated to the SIS
Vice-Chairman, Geoffrey Bennett, who organised the First Cambridge
Conference, but was unable to attend the Second because of terminal
The SIS was formed in 1975 to provide a forum for the discussion of all
aspects of catastrophism and chronology. At that time, the gradualist
paradigm was supremely dominant, as it had been throughout the previous
hundred years, and any attempts to suggest catastrophist explanations
for events in geology, evolution or ancient history were viewed with
great suspicion and generally ignored [12, 28, 30, 41]. That fate
certainly greeted the publication in 1948 of Claude Schaeffers
"Stratigraphie comparée et chronologie de lAsie occidentale" ,
despite the eminence of the author, who at various times occupied
chairs at the École de Louvre and the Collège de France .
Schaeffers main professional achievement was the excavation of a tell
at Ras Shamra in Syria, which he was able to identify as ancient
On the basis of findings here and at other sites throughout the Middle
East, Schaeffer claimed that there had been at least five occasions in
the Bronze Age when catastrophic destructions occurred in widespread
fashion, often with evidence of earthquakes and/or fire.
Two of these were in the Early Bronze Age, the first around 2300 BC,
co-incident with the end of the Old Kingdom in Egypt, involving sites
in Syria (Byblos, Hama and Ugarit), Palestine (Beth Shan) and Anatolia
(Alaça Hüyük, Alishar, Tarsos and Troy), whilst the second occurred
perhaps 200 years later, affecting many of these same locations,
together with others such as Bait Mirsim, Jericho and Tell el-Ajjul in
Palestine and Tell Brak in Mesopotamia. The end of the Middle Bronze
Age was marked by destructions at many sites, including Ugarit in
Syria, Beit Mirsim, Jericho, Bethel, Hazor and Lachish in Palestine,
Alaça Hüyük, Alishar and Boghazköy in Anatolia and Tepe Gawra in
Mesopotamia. This was also the time the Hyksos invaded Egypt. Schaeffer
further claimed that there were two episodes of widespread catastrophic
destruction in the Late Bronze Age, the first around 1365 BC, the time
of the Amarna Period in Egypt, affecting locations in Syria (Alalakh
and Ugarit), Palestine (Beit Mirsim, Beth Shan, Megiddo, Tell Hesi,
Beth Shemesh, Lachish and Ashkelon), Anatolia (Boghasköy, Tarsos and
Troy) and Mesopotamia (Chagar Bazar and Tell Brak), and the other
around 1200 BC, bringing to an end some Bronze Age cultures, with
destructions at most of the same sites in Syria, Palestine and Anatolia
as in the previous wave [8,22,31].
Schaeffer was convinced that these catastrophic destructions were the
result of natural events, rather than human activity. However, he was
undecided as to the precise causes, although undoubtedly favouring the
involvement of earthquakes. He did not consider the possibility of the
involvement of extraterrestrial factors, a point picked up by the
Belgian amateur geologist, René Gallant, in his 1964 book, Bombarded
Gallant (who was to become an SIS member, and who addressed a Society
meeting in London in 1984, shortly before his death ) argued that
the seismic activity and climate changes which, according to the
evidence provided by Schaeffer, occurred at the times of the
destructions, were both likely to have resulted from large meteoritic
impacts. Bombarded Earth, however, received even less attention than
Schaeffers major work had done.
However, if the ideas of Schaeffer and Gallant made very little
impression on the consciousness of others, a very different reaction,
although one which was no more positive, greeted those of another
catastrophist, the Russian-born psychoanalyst, Immanuel Velikovsky.
Largely on the basis of myths from around the world, Velikovsky came to
the conclusion that several of the planets of the Solar System had
threatened the Earth in historical times. In particular, he believed
that Venus had caused major catastrophes by passing close to the Earth
at a time corresponding to the end of the Middle Bronze Age in the
Middle East, and Mars did similarly a few hundred years later. These
ideas were outlined in his 1950 book, Worlds in Collision .
Despite the mythological origin of Velikovskys ideas, he made several
successful scientific predictions in Worlds in Collision and at a
graduate forum at Princeton University, a transcript of this talk
subsequently being included as a supplement to his later book, Earth in
Upheaval . Amongst these predictions were that Jupiter would be
found to emit radio waves and that, contrary to what was generally
believed at the time, the surface of Venus was very hot.
Furthermore, by comparing accounts of catastrophies in different
traditions, Velikovsky came to the conclusion that the currently
accepted chronologies of certain civilisations were incorrect, and
that the supposed Dark Ages between the Bronze Age and the Iron
Age periods in Greece (and similar ones elsewhere) had never existed.
His proposals for a revised chronology for the ancient world were given
in Ages in Chaos and subsequent books [36, 38, 39].
The eminent physicist Albert Einstein, who from 1921- 1924 had been
co-editor with Velikovsky of the Scripta Universitatis atque
Bibliothecae Hierosolymitarum, from which the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem was to grow, found his compilation of evidence for
catastrophic events at the Earths surface convincing, but not his
proposed mechanism of planetary interactions. On the other hand,
because of Velikovskys correct predictions, he considered his ideas to
be worthy of further study. Many other academics took a different view,
however, and in America there was an attempt to suppress publication of
Velikovskys books [13, 40, 42].
For a while there was little knowledge of these events in Britain, but
then, in 1973, archaeologist Euan MacKie wrote in New Scientist that,
no matter whether Velikovsky was right or wrong, he had formulated
hypotheses which should be tested in the normal way . In the same
year, he suggested in Pensée that radiocarbon dating might provide the
evidence for a test of Velikovskys theories of global catastrophes and
chronological revisions .
A year later, on the 5th November 1974, MacKie discussed related
matters with Harold Tresman, Brian Moore and Martin Sieff over a meal
at the Regent Palace Hotel in Picadilly and, as a direct consequence,
the SIS came into being. The inaugural meeting took place at the
Library Association Building, London, in November 1975, with Tresman in
the Chair, and 70 members present . (Happily, three of the four
founding members of SIS, the exception being Sieff, were present at the
Second Cambridge Conference, with MacKie presenting a paper and Moore
chairing a session.)
From 1975 onwards, regular debates have taken place at SIS meetings,
and in the pages of the Societys journal, the SIS Review, later
re-named the Chronology and Catastrophism Review. To avoid possible
misunderstandings, it was made clear right from the start that the
Society had been formed to examine the ideas of Velikovsky and other
catastrophists, not to promote any particular point of view .
Of Velikovskys several claims, the only one which has made significant
progress towards widespread acceptance is his general one that the
history of life has been shaped by major catastrophes to a far greater
extent than his contemporaries realised. Partly that has come about
because of increased knowledge of the threat from asteroids and comets
in Earth-crossing orbits, together with the growing realisation that
many of the craters at the Earths surface, previously thought to be of
volcanic origin, were in fact formed by impacts. Also, many
previously-sceptical scientists started to become receptive to
catastrophist arguments when physicist Luis Alvarez and colleagues
showed, in 1980, that the end of the Cretaceous Period 65 million years
ago, when the dinosaurs and many other groups of animals became
extinct, is marked in rocks around the world by a high concentration of
iridium. This metal is largely absent from the Earths crust, but
present in abundant amounts in extraterrestrial materials, and taken
together the evidence suggested the possibility that the extinctions
could have been linked to the impact of a large asteroid or comet [1,
6, 7, 23, 26, 28, 30, 33, 41].
So far as the historical record is concerned, orthodox opinion has
remained unconvinced about the need to make any major revisions to the
established chronologies of ancient civilisations, but challenges
continue to be made. In 1978, the SIS, in collaboration with the
Extra-Mural Department of Glasgow University, organised its first
residential conference to discuss the issues. It was entitled Ages in
Chaos? and held at the Jordanhill College of Education. The consensus
which emerged at the conference was that there were indeed problems
with the conventional chronologies but, equally, there were major
difficulties with Velikovskys proposed revisions [2, 11, 15]. Since
then, several historians with SIS associations, including Gunnar
Heinsohn , Peter James  and David Rohl , have gone on to
propose revised chronologies different from those of Velikovsky, and
from each other.
Velikovskys belief that the planets Mars and Venus, now in stable
orbits, could have passed sufficiently close to the Earth in historical
times to have caused global catastrophes, cannot be reconciled with the
known laws of physics, so, although planetary catastrophism still
receives enthusiastic support in some quarters, it has been firmly
rejected by professional scientists [27, 28, 33, 41].
The British astronomers, Victor Clube and Bill Napier, have
acknowledged that Velikovsky may have been correct in suggesting
that some myths might have been derived from objects which had been
prominent in the ancient sky, and caused catastrophes on Earth, but
these cosmic bodies must have been comets, not planets. By
extrapolating backwards in time the orbits of Enckes Comet, the Taurid
meteor stream and associated Apollo asteroids, Clube and Napier
concluded that all were products of a huge comet which came into an
Earth-crossing orbit around 20,000 years ago and began to break up,
with particular disintegration events occurring about 7500 and 2700 BC.
Fragments would have struck the Earth at intervals throughout the
Bronze Age, with devastating consequences [6, 7]. Clube put these ideas
before the general public for the first time at an SIS meeting in
London in 1982, and developed them at another in Nottingham the
following year [5, 23]. The model which he and Napier advocate, that
small but frequent impacts occur as a consequence of the break-up of a
giant comet, has been termed coherent catastrophism, in contrast to
stochastic catastrophism, which involves larger individual impacts
occurring in isolated fashion over long intervals of time [33, 40].
In an issue of SIS Review published in 1979, Euan MacKie followed up
his earlier suggestion of using radiocarbon dating to test for possible
correlations between catastrophic events in different locations by
carrying out a survey of published data. He tentatively concluded that
the end of the Old Kingdom in Egypt, which Schaeffer had included as
part of the first wave of Early Bronze Age catastrophes in the Middle
East, could also have been contemporaneous with the end of the
Chalcolithic in the western Mediterranean, the fall of the Harappan
civilisation in India, and the end of the Neolithic in northwestern
Europe . One of the sites associated with the last-mentioned event,
Skara Brae in Orkney , was investigated by Brian Moore and Peter
James, who concluded that the evidence was consistent with a
catastrophic destruction around 2300 BC .
More generally, archaeological, geological and climatic evidence for a
world-wide catastrophic event around 2300 BC was presented in the pages
of the SIS Review by the American engineer, Moe Mandelkehr [20, 21,
22]. At this time, for example, there were global crustal deformations,
sea-level discontinuities, earthquakes, volcanic activity, a
geomagnetic transient and a transient in the atmospheric radiocarbon
The First SIS Cambridge Conference, held between 16-18 July 1993, was
entitled "Evidence that the Earth has Suffered Catastrophes of Cosmic
Origin in Historic Times". At this conference, Bob Porter outlined the
destructions which had occurred at various sites during the Bronze Age,
and concluded that there was strong evidence of a widespread
catastrophe of possible extraterrestrial origin only towards the end of
the Early Bronze Age. Even here, however, there was doubt about the
precise dating of events at the different sites. Catastrophic events at
the end of the Middle Bronze Age, and at other times, remained a
possibility but, if any had occurred, they were on a much smaller scale
than had been envisaged by Velikovsky . A similar conclusion was
also reached by the Old Testament historian, John Bimson . Both
Porter and Bimson considered comets to be a far more plausible cause of
Bronze Age catastrophes than planetary encounters.
All who attended the First Cambridge Conference considered it to be a
great success, characterised by stimulating discussions on a wide range
of topics. However, in retrospect, the SIS Council thought that,
perhaps, the programme had been too wide ranging. Despite the title
there had been papers on, for example, the age of the Earth, the age of
Venus, and the identity of Job, and there had also been one (by Victor
Clube) on catastrophes in the Christian Era, as well as those focusing
on events in earlier times. Hence, when planning the Second Cambridge
Conference, it was decided to narrow the title to include only Bronze
Age catastrophes and, apart from papers concerned with present-day
scientific findings which could throw light on past events, to exclude
from the formal programme topics which were not clearly related to the
subject of the conference.
On the other hand, the meaning of Bronze Age was interpreted loosely,
partly for reasons which, since not all who read these Proceedings are
likely to be particularly knowledgeable about archaeology, may need a
brief explanation. The term refers, of course, to a time characterised
by the use of bronze weapons and tools, but it was not an
all-or-nothing situation: iron was used, albeit rarely, in the Bronze
Age, and bronze continued to be used in the Iron Age.
In any case, metals (of whatever type) were far from common, so the
different levels at particular locations are generally classified on
some other basis, e.g. style of pottery, enabling correlations to be
attempted between different sites, but not without some element of
subjectivity. Also, the introduction of a new metal-working technique
has to start somewhere, and it could take a long time for it to spread
to a far-off region, or to be developed independently. Hence, the
Bronze Age undoubtedly started and finished at different times in
different places. For example, as we have already noted, the Early
Bronze Age in the Middle East overlapped to a considerable extent with
the Neolithic in north-western Europe. Furthermore, it is generally
believed that the Iron Age in some locations did not begin for several
centuries after the end of the Bronze Age, the intervening period being
a Dark Age, thus complicating the picture still further. So, a broad
view was taken by the organisers of the Second Cambridge Conference as
to the period covered by the term Bronze Age and, in consequence, it
should be understood that it was concerned with events between about
3500 BC and 500 BC.
2. The Proceedings
The first paper in the Proceedings is based on the keynote address by
science journalist Robert Matthews. In this, Matthews makes two main
points: (1) that observations made in the distant past may be far more
accurate than we generally assume; and (2) that, because of the dangers
from asteroids and comets, the Earth is not, and never has been, a safe
place to live. He concludes with a quotation from George Santayana:
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.
Then follows a series of papers by astronomers concerned with those
hazards from space. Firstly, Mark Bailey reviews recent advances in our
knowledge of Near-Earth objects, some of which originated in the
cometary regions of the Solar System and some in the main asteroid
belt. Calculations indicate that giant comets are likely to come into
the inner Solar System and break up every 0.1 to 1 million years.
Bailey points out that it is now sometimes difficult to make a clear
distinction between asteroids and comets. Regardless of that, they
undoubtedly pose a threat, and some may have struck the Earth in the
Bill Napier then assembles data from a variety of sources to present a
picture of the current interactions between the Earth and its cosmic
environment. In his view, the Taurid/Encke complex of interplanetary
material has been a regular and occasionally conspicuous hazard over
the past 12,000 years or more. This has resulted in impacts such as
that which devastated the Tunguska region of Siberia in 1908; in an
occasional contamination of the stratosphere by cometary dust, leading
to freezing episodes which may have lasted decades; and in small-body
impacts into an ocean, causing catastrophic flooding of coastal areas.
After these two papers comes one from Duncan Steel which is more
speculative, although based on the same astronomical data and
interpretations. Steel makes the intriguing suggestion that the
construction around 3500 BC of the Great Cursus near Stonehenge,
and that around 3100 BC of the first stage of Stonehenge itself, were
intended as predictors of catastrophes, since these were the
approximate times when the orbit of the giant proto-Encke comet
intersected that of the Earth.
Finally, for this section, Gerrit Verschuur takes both a scientific and
a philosophical view of the Earths place in space. Impacts have been
the rule rather than the exception, and will be in the future. The
problem of humankind is that hope prevents us from seeing that the
cosmic events which have destroyed civilisations in the past will
continue to do so, unless we take preventative action.
The next and largest group of papers are concerned with archaeology,
geology and climatology. To start this section, Bruce Masse attempts to
re-evaluate events on Earth in the light of estimates made by
astronomers of the rates of impact of asteroids and comets.. On the
assumption that 20-30 impacts causing at least local catastrophes are
likely to have occurred in the past 6000 years, he examines literary
traditions, together with archaeological and palaeo-environmental data,
to see if any previously unknown Bronze Age catastrophes can be
identified. The most significant one appears to be a cometary impact in
the ocean around 2800 BC, which released almost a million megatons of
energy, causing devastation on a global scale.
After this come three papers which are concerned, at least in part,
with happenings around the time of Mandelkehrs supposed 2300 BC
catastrophic event, close to the end of the Early Bronze Age in the
Middle East. Firstly, Marie-Agnès Courty presents new archaeological
evidence of a dust layer and burnt surface horizon apparently caused by
an air blast in northern Syria around 2350 BC. A previous hypothesis
involving a local volcanic eruption has now been rejected, with a
cosmic catastrophe appearing more consistent with the evidence, but
whether such an impact event actually took place at the time has still
to be established. Regardless of that, Courty stresses the importance
of high temporal resolution investigations in the assessment of causal
relationships between natural catastrophes and societal collapse.
Evidence for an adverse climate change in Ireland at about the same
time, and on several other occasions, is then given by Mike Baillie.
Narrowest-ring events in Irish oak chronologies corresponding to 2345
BC, 1628 BC and 1159 BC line up with similar events in other tree-ring
chronologies and also large acidities in Greenland ice records. They
also correspond to the approximate ages of the Hekla 4, Santorini and
Hekla 3 volcanic eruptions, respectively. However, the narrowest-ring
events are imposed on pre-existing climatic downturns, which, as with
similar events around 207 BC and 540 AD, suggests a scenario of
stratospheric dust loading and bombardments from space, the latter
triggering or at least augmenting the volcanic eruptions.
Benny Peiser then summarises a survey he has made of around 500 reports
of late 3rd millennium BC civilisation collapse and climate change,
which shows a significant clustering around 2300 BC. Most sites in
Europe, the Middle East, India and China where civilisation collapsed
at this time show clear signs of natural disasters and/or rapid
abandonment, whilst around the world there is strong evidence of
water-level and vegetation changes, glacier and desert expansion,
seismic activity, floods and extinctions of animal species. He
concludes that only extraterrestrial bodies acting on terrestrial
systems could produce the range of glaciological, geological and
archaeological features reported.
The next group of papers is concerned with events which are slightly
more recent, occurring around the time certain Late Bronze Age cultures
came to an end. Firstly, Amos Nur argues that large earthquakes are
likely to have contributed to the physical and political collapse of
Late Bronze Age civilisations around the eastern Mediterranean. It is
known that, every few centuries, massive earthquakes occur in bursts
that sweep across about 1000 km of the eastern Mediterranean over a
time-scale of approximately 50 years. In Nurs scenario, the burst at
the end of the Late Bronze Age probably began between 1225-1175 BC, and
made urban centres vulnerable to opportunist military attacks.
Then, Lars Franzén and Thomas Larsson present evidence from sites in
Tunisia and Sweden showing that a major atmospheric cooling event,
accompanied by excessive precipitation, which led to flooding, occurred
around 1000 BC. Other sources indicate that the event was sudden and
widespread, and the finding of small glassy spherules points to a
possible impact origin. Franzén and Larsson suggest that an asteroid or
comet of diameter in the range 0.5-5 km may have landed in the eastern
Atlantic around 1000 BC, affecting in particular Europe, North Africa
and the Middle East.
After this, Bas van Geel and colleagues show that a sharp rise in the
14C content of the atmosphere towards the end of the Bronze Age in
north-western Europe, around 850 BC, was accompanied by a rapid
transition from a relatively warm and dry climate to one which was
cooler and wetter. They suggest that a reduced sunspot activity at that
time allowed more high-energy galactic cosmic rays to reach the top of
the atmosphere, leading to an increased production of 14C cloudiness
The final paper in the section on archaeology, geology and climatology
is by Euan MacKie, who begins by warning that astronomers will have to
produce clear evidence of comet swarms or the likelihood of large
impacts at specific dates before most archaeologists will be willing to
re-examine their data with this in mind. He then briefly suggests some
examples of instances where such a re-examination might be productive,
including two around the end of the Bronze Age in north-western Europe.
One of these concerns a site ten miles west of Glasgow, where there are
two phases of cup and ring rock carvings, the first perhaps from the
latter part of the 3rd millennium BC, and the other probably from the
6th or 7th century BC. According to Victor Clube and Bill Napier, these
could be representations of comets, but that suggestion is not
currently being taken seriously by archaeologists. The other example
concerns the vitrified forts of Scotland, dating from the period after
800 BC, whose timber-framed construction might have been intended as a
protection against earthquakes.
The Proceedings are then brought to a close by five papers on the
subject of history and culture. In the first paper, Gunnar Heinsohn
considers the origins of kingship, priesthood and blood sacrifice in
the Early Bronze Age. Nicolas-Antoine Boulanger, in the eighteenth
century, believed they were reactions to major catastrophes taking
place at the time, but that view has been disregarded almost ever
since. However, in the light of increased knowledge about cosmic
events, Heinsohn argues that Boulanger was correct after all.
Re-enacting catastrophic events as rituals involving blood sacrifice
would have had a therapeutic effect on traumatised survivors.
Significantly, according to Heinsohn, there was a gradual abandonment
of blood sacrifice in the Iron Age, when cosmic catastrophes were much
rarer events than they had been in the Bronze Age.
Similarly in the next paper, David Pankenier suggests that, contrary to
what has generally been supposed, legends and rituals from Bronze Age
China may reflect actual events. In particular, around the time of the
transition from the Xia to the Shang dynasty in the middle of the
second millennium BC, there is a story of ten suns appearing in the sky
and then, a few years later, of five planets criss-crossing, and stars
falling like rain, after which there was an earthquake and then a
drought. It would not be difficult to see this as an indication of the
appearance of multiple comets in the sky, and impact-induced
catastrophes. The same or a different cometary catastrophe could also
form the basis for the legend of the battles between the wicked Chi You
and the Yellow Emperor, which featured in ritual games.
Finally come three papers which, on the assumption that major
catastrophes were indeed a feature of the Bronze Age and the first
few centuries of the first millennium BC (whatever Age one wishes to
call this latter period at particular locations), consider how
humankind reacted when more peaceful times came along.
Firstly, William Mullen describes how the Milesian School of
pre-Socratic philosophers in the sixth century BC set out to explain
terrifying phenomena such as thunder, lightning, earthquakes and
eclipses in terms of the same processes which it used to explain the
orderly arrangement of the Earth and the heavens, thus moving away from
the old view which associated them with the unpredictable activities of
the Olympian gods. World-destructions could occur, but only in cycles
which stretched over vast periods of time. Mullen suggests that the
hidden agenda may have been a desire to reassure the population that
they were now safe from the cosmic catastrophes which had occurred in
In similar fashion, Irving Wolfe then argues that a cultural crisis
occurred in the sixth century BC, with the appearance of new religions,
new philosophies, new art forms, new types of games and new forms of
social organisation, all of which were very different from what had
existed previously. In many ways, these laid the foundations for the
cultural characteristics of our modern age. According to Wolfe, the
cost has been that, ever since the middle of the first millennium BC,
humankind has been suffering from a collective form of Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder, denying not only past catastrophes, but also the
possibility of future ones.
The denial of past and future cosmic catastrophes was certainly a
feature of the influential philosophy of Aristotle, and has been a
characteristic feature of scientific thought over the past few
centuries. However, in the concluding paper of the Proceedings,
Victor Clube argues that the situation in between was somewhat
different. The relatively tranquil period in the middle of the first
millennium BC did not last for long, and further episodes of cosmic
bombardment conditioned people once again to believe that the world
might come to an end in this way. Clube suggests that this provides
strong support for coherent rather than stochastic catastrophism,
because frequent small-scale events would keep the issues in peoples
minds, which would not be the case if there were vast periods of time
between impacts. According to Chinese astronomical records, there have
been seven peaks of fireball activity in the past 2000 years, at times
which indicate an association with the Taurid/Encke complex. However,
the past two centuries have been a quiet period and, because of the
influence of Lyell and Darwin (who established the gradualistic
paradigm, largely for philosophical reasons), and of Newton (who played
down the threat from space on religious grounds), the future seemed
secure. We now know otherwise but, in contrast to previous generations,
who could only hope and/or pray, we may soon have the capability for
defending ourselves. However, Clube warns that the prospect of
safeguarding the future of civilisation is not being helped by those
who cling to gradualistic, Earth-centred views, or by those who adopt
what he sees as erroneous forms of catastrophism. To produce the best
answer, we must fully understand the problem.
We are grateful to Alasdair Beal, Birgit Liesching, Bill Napier and
David Roth for their help in preparing papers for these Proceedings.
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CCCMENU CCC for 1998