- Scientists have found the first evidence that a
meteor impact in the Middle East might have triggered the mysterious
of civilisations more than 4,000 years ago.
- Studies of satellite images of southern Iraq have
a two-mile-wide circular depression which scientists say bears all the
hallmarks of an impact crater. If confirmed, it would point to the Middle
East being struck by a meteor with the violence equivalent to hundreds
of nuclear bombs.
- Today's crater lies on what would have been shallow sea
4,000 years ago, and any impact would have caused devastating fires and
- The catastrophic effect of these could explain the
of why so many early cultures went into sudden decline around 2300
- They include the demise of the Akkad culture of central
Iraq, with its mysterious semi-mythological emperor Sargon; the end of
the fifth dynasty of Egypt's Old Kingdom, following the building of the
Great Pyramids and the sudden disappearance of hundreds of early
in the Holy Land.
- Until now, archaeologists have put forward a host of
separate explanations for these events, from local wars to environmental
changes. Recently, some astronomers have suggested that meteor impacts
could explain such historical mysteries.
- The crater's faint outline was found by Dr Sharad Master,
a geologist at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, on satellite
images of the Al 'Amarah region, about 10 miles north-west of the
of the Tigris and Euphrates and home of the Marsh Arabs.
- "It was a purely accidental discovery," Dr
Master told The Telegraph last week. "I was reading a magazine article
about the canal-building projects of Saddam Hussein, and there was a
showing lots of formations - one of which was very, very
- Detailed analysis of other satellite images taken since
the mid-1980s showed that for many years the crater contained a small
- The draining of the region, as part of Saddam's campaign
against the Marsh Arabs, has since caused the lake to recede, revealing
a ring-like ridge inside the larger bowl-like depression - a classic
of meteor impact craters.
- The crater also appears to be, in geological terms, very
recent. Dr Master said: "The sediments in this region are very young,
so whatever caused the crater-like structure, it must have happened within
the past 6,000 years."
- Reporting his finding in the latest issue of the journal
Meteoritics & Planetary Science, Dr Master suggests that a recent
impact is the most plausible explanation for the structure.
- A survey of the crater itself could reveal tell-tale
melted rock. "If we could find fragments of impact glass, we could
date them using radioactive dating techniques," he said.
- A date of around 2300 BC for the impact may also cast
new light on the legend of Gilgamesh, dating from the same period. The
legend talks of "the Seven Judges of Hell", who raised their
torches, lighting the land with flame, and a storm that turned day into
night, "smashed the land like a cup", and flooded the
- The discovery of the crater has sparked great interest
- Dr Benny Peiser, who lectures on the effects of meteor
impacts at John Moores University, Liverpool, said it was one of the most
significant discoveries in recent years and would corroborate research
he and others have done.
- He said that craters recently found in Argentina date
from around the same period - suggesting that the Earth may have been hit
by a shower of large meteors at about the same time.
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