A study submitted in Scientific Reports suggests that the debris stream from a short-period comet may have destroyed the archaeological site of Tell Abu Hureyra.
Tell Abu Hureyra is an archaeological site located in the Euphrates valley in modern-day Syria. The site consists of two ancient villages, one that dates from the Epipaleolithic era when the inhabitants were sedentary hunter-gatherers, the later village from the Neolithic period composed of farmers.
The site was excavated by archaeologists in 1972 and 1973 as part of a rescue operation before the region was flooded because of the construction of Tabqa Dam that formed Lake Assad. During excavations, archaeologists discovered a mysterious layer of exposed charcoal-rich surfaces containing glass spheres formed from melting soil.
The Epipaleolithic, or Natufian, settlement was established around 13,500 years ago and comprised of circular subterranean pit dwellings cut into the soft sandstone. After 1,300 years of occupation, the inhabitants were assumed to have abandoned the site because of the Younger Dryas, a period that temporarily reversed the gradual climatic warming after the Last Glacial Maximum that resulted in an abrupt return to glacial climate conditions lasting over 1,000 years.
It has been proposed in previous studies that the Younger Dryas was caused by a cosmic impact that occurred around 12,800 years ago, resulting in multi-continental airbursts from a short-period comet. To support this theory, various sites across North America, Europe and Tell Abu Hureyra have been found to contain large amounts of magnetic spherules, meltglass, nanodiamonds, charcoal, glasslike carbon, iridium and platinum which are all indicators of extremely high temperatures possibly caused by cosmic events.
The new study in Scientific Reports led by Andrew Moore from the Rochester Institute of Technology has been re-examining materials from the excavations conducted in the 1970’s.
The researchers have replicated the materials from Tell Abu Hureyra by heating samples such as meltglass, to extreme temperatures and analysed the results using reflected-light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) with energy-dispersive spectroscopy (EDS), electron microprobe, reflectance, and transmission Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR).
They compared the Tel Abu Hureyra material with materials melted at other prehistoric impact sites on Earth and found many similarities. The analysis of the glass also matched a 2012 study that also proposes an airburst destroyed Tel Abu Hureyra.
Moore told LiveScience “It is impossible to explain these melted minerals on meltglass by any natural process other than a cosmic impact event.” Moore added “People who were in or near the village of Abu Hureyra at the time the airburst exploded would have seen an immense flash in the sky, equivalent to a nuclear explosion, A few seconds later, they would have been incinerated by the blast emanating from the airburst. The heatwave destroyed the village and everything in it, leaving a layer of burned material across the surface.”
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