Please welcome Kevin Curran as our Author of the Month. In this article, he discusses past comet fragment impacts and the long-term cultural ramifications of such cataclysms. We should take heed, Kevin believes, of the warnings our ancestors passed down to us about these disasters.
In 2007, a team of twenty-four scientists presented evidence that massive comet fragments exploded over North America 12,850 years ago, killing millions of creatures and people. If this event happened in the not so distant past, why didn’t our ancestors share this horrifying experience with their children and stress the importance of telling the story to future generations? Fall of a Thousand Suns: How Near Misses and Comet Impacts affected the Religious Beliefs of our Ancestors proves that they did. There are descriptions of the cataclysmic event in dozens of religious texts and myths around the world.
Lacking science, each culture described the comet impact as best they could: as a lion sent by the Sun that “roared” and scorched the land, a giant fiery snake that flew through the air and killed people, a sun that fell on distant lands, or an angel that fell from the heavens to Earth. With the help of religious scholars, anthropologists, and astrophysicists from JPL and NASA, the author of Fall of a Thousands Suns spent years investigating what our ancestors knew about comets and their godlike destructive power.
Frighteningly, as the author dug deeper, he discovered that some religious texts, myths, and sciences pointed to a more recent near-miss by a comet, a snake-like comet that spanned the entire night sky, small asteroid impacts that leveled cities, and yet another massive comet that hit our planet and killed millions. This more recent impact appears to have created megatsunamis hundreds of feet high that decimated coastal civilizations. That story too was passed down orally, until it was eventually recorded in popular religious texts known to every Jew, Christian and Muslim alive today.
Don’t we owe it to our ancestors, who struggled to survive in the wake of these celestial cataclysms, a progressive world where we use science and comparative religion to search for past truth? Fall of a Thousand Suns attempts to do just that. After reading it, you won’t look at comets, meteor showers or religion in the same way.
Let’s Take Step Back
It’s a lot to digest. So let’s take a step back.
In 2007, two dozen scientists led by Los Alamos geologist Allen West presented evidence of a comet impact to a few dozen sunburned colleagues attending a conference in Mexico.
Fall of a Thousand Suns: How Near Misses and Comet Impacts affected the Religious Beliefs of our Ancestors touches on the scientific evidence that supports the scientists’ claim, but doesn’t get into the minutiae. It would be a book of its own, and probably a pretty dry one. Chapter 4: The High Concentration of Helium-3 (“BuckeyBalls”) in Sediment from 10,850 BCE. Ouch. In short, they studied dozens of soil samples from the United States, Canada and Europe. Trapped in the soil was clear evidence of a comet impact near the Great Lakes in North America around 10,850 BCE. So…what did this monster look like as it approached and finally slammed into our planet at tens of thousands of miles an hour?
West and his team suggested that our ancestors watched comet fragments grow larger and brighter for weeks. When they finally collided with Earth, the explosions were hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Animals and humans near ground zero were incinerated. Millions more were killed by trillions of pieces of microscopic iron that flew in all directions at nearly 3,000 miles an hour, tearing through flesh and piercing vital organs. Fireballs arced thousands of miles into space. When countless pieces of debris descended back to Earth, they sparked wildfires on four continents. The ash and debris blackened the skies, killing plants. Death rippled up the food chain. Without plants to feed on the herbivores died first, followed by the carnivores. Due to the impact, the Ice Sheet in North America broke apart, sending trillions of gallons of cold water into the North Atlantic and effectively shutting down the “conveyor belt” that carries warm air up to the northern hemisphere. Average temperatures in Europe and North America plummetted 18° F (10° C) in less than a decade. Death was followed by more death for years, but nobody forgot what started this nightmarish chain of events – a “star” falling from the sky and hitting the ground.
To the survivors it would have been brutally obvious that when these “wandering stars” descended to Earth, they had unfathomable “god-like” destructive power. Our ancestors were every bit as smart as us. They would have told their children and stressed the importance of sharing the story with future generations. After writing was invented, the stories were recorded on stone or parchment. We haven’t lost our ancestors’ knowledge, and justified fear, of these celestial “beings” or “monsters” that fell from the sky. We’ve simply foolishly dismissed their ancient end of the world stories as religious fiction or moral cautionary tales. They tried their best, without science, to describe what they witnessed.
One thing is clear. If we continue to ignore the first-hand accounts of our ancestors, then one day we’ll turn on FOX News, CNN, BBC, NHK, or the Ryan Seacrest News Network and see satellite pictures of our soon-to-be murderer.
Beliefs in the End of the World
Several cultures and religions believed the world ended multiple times with “fire from the sky”. In light of several religions believing in multiple cataclysms, not simply one in recent human history, Plato’s words in Timaeus (360 BCE) are haunting, even though scholars are uncertain whether they’re a completely fictionalized narrative or based partially on truth. In Timaeus, a Greek legislator named Solon – a real man who lived during the seventh century BCE – traveled to Egypt in order to determine what Egyptian priests knew about ancient history. While in the city of Sais, an Egyptian priest told Solon,
“There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Phaëton, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father’s chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the Earth and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around Earth and a great conflagration of things upon Earth, which recurs after long intervals…And whatever happened either in your country or in ours, or in any other region of which we are informed, if there were any actions noble or great or in any other way remarkable, they have all been written down by us of old and are preserved in our temples. Whereas just when you and other nations are beginning to be provided with letters and the other requisites of civilized life, after the usual interval, the stream from heaven, like a pestilence, comes pouring down and leaves only those of you who are destitute of letters and education, and so you have to begin all over again like children and know nothing of what happened in ancient times, either among us or among yourselves.”
At least Plato identified one possible real-world cataclysm that, even in 350 BCE, was dismissed as a myth (Phaëton). After the publication of Timaeus, some Greeks undoubtedly reexamined other myths and religious texts, which hinted at real cataclysms in the past including the war between the Titans and Olympians to end the Golden Age, the destruction of the world by Zeus at the end of the Silver Age, the end of the Bronze and Iron Ages, some of Herakles twelve labors, and the fall of Hephaestus to Earth.
Unfortunately for Greeks living in the fourth century BCE, they didn’t understand the nature or power of comets. So they couldn’t identify comets as the direct cause of the destruction described in their ancient myths and religious stories. Still, Plato’s words prove that everyone was made aware, or at least forced to consider the possibility, that “after the usual interval, the stream from heaven…comes pouring down” to kill nearly everyone.
The Greeks had all the puzzle pieces. They just couldn’t put the puzzle together.
Protecting Our Future
Sadly modern-day scientists still largely ignore or dismiss religious texts, myths, and oral traditions that describe fire falling from the sky, and seemingly impossible megatsunamis and epic floods. These texts and myths obviously deserve another look. Today, scientists are at least conscious that a large comet or asteroid could devastate life regionally or worldwide, depending on its size, but only a few countries are spending taxpayer money on research to defend us. Leading the way is the U.S. Federal Government who, in 2012, spent $20 million on programs that discover, calculate, and track asteroids and comets. Seems like a good chunk of money until you consider the fact that, in 2011 and 2012, Disney spent ten times that amount on the movie John Carter – an epic disaster in its own right.
Money is an invention. Death from the heavens is real.
We are living in a unique period in human history. There comes a time when exceptionally intelligent species, no matter which of the hundreds of trillions of solar systems in the universe they call home, escape the atmosphere of their planet for the first time. We did so in the mid-twentieth century. Many still among the living witnessed it firsthand.
Earth has proven to be a beautiful, resilient planet, but in space things collide with terrifying speed and force. Currently, mainstream scientists do not believe that impacts occur as frequently as Fall of a Thousand Suns: How Near Misses and Comet Impacts affected the Religious Beliefs of our Ancestors suggests, but how can they be so sure, if less than 0.00000001% of the comets thought to exist have been discovered? On top of that, there are only 186 confirmed impacts on Earth – only one of which is known to have occurred in water. Mars and the Moon are pockmarked with hundreds of thousands of craters, and our ancestors are telling us in no uncertain terms that comet-gods descended to Earth, fire fell from the heavens, and killed the majority of the population. It wasn’t even an isolated incident. Multiple impact events, separated by thousands of years, are described in ancient texts around the world. Some texts even have an “end of the world” prophecy that includes an “entity” or “star” falling from the sky to Earth.
Shouldn’t we be listening to our ancestors, who are clearly warning us of the danger? Once the survival of our species is ensured then we can, and should, explore the universe. After our first encounter with intelligent extraterrestrial life – and the universe is certainly teeming with it – we’ll find the best moment to ask if they ever had religion or money, and get their opinion on our species’ decision to fund John Carter instead of programs that detect, deflect, or destroy comets and asteroids with Earth-crossing orbits.
For nearly two decades, Kevin Curran has produced and/or shot television for broadcasters including National Geographic, HBO, Discovery, CBS, Fox and BBC. He currently resides in Los Angeles, California. In 2007, a chance documentary interview with Richard Firestone (part of Allen West’s team of scientists) led Curran down a rabbit-hole that resulted in years of comet research and ultimately the publication of Fall of a Thousand Suns: How Near Misses and Comet Impacts affected the Religious Beliefs of our Ancestors.
Curran’s search to determine how our ancestors perceived comets led him to their obsessive observation of the night sky, snake gods, Satan’s fall from Heaven, Egyptian and Mayan pyramids, Islam’s holiest monument, the story of Medusa and Perseus, Greenland’s ice cores, and so much more. He believes that our ancestors have valuable lessons to teach us about ancient cataclysms and their cause, but if we continue to dismiss their stories as fiction, it’s only a matter of time until their nightmarish struggles to survive becomes all-too-real once again. He hopes that Fall of a Thousand Suns will inspire readers to turn off the premiere of Cajun Hoarder Swamp Truckers on History Channel, research some actual history, and continue to explore this strange and fascinating subject.