Subj: Meteor clue to end of Middle East civilisations
Date: 1/22/02 5:20:05 AM Pacific Standard Time

January 22, 2002$sessionid$41ZD1XYAAA5OLQFIQMGCFFWAVCBQUIV0?xml=/news/2001/11/04/wmet04.xml&sSheet=/news/2001/11/04/ixhomef.html%5C

Meteor clue to end of Middle East civilisations

By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent

SCIENTISTS have found the first evidence that a devastating
meteor impact in the Middle East might have triggered the
mysterious collapse of civilisations more than 4,000 years

Studies of satellite images of southern Iraq have revealed 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 flooding.

The catastrophic effect of these could explain the mystery
of why so many early cultures went into sudden decline
around 2300 BC.

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 settlements in the Holy

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

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 confluence 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 photograph showing lots of formations - one of which was
very, very circular."

Detailed analysis of other satellite images taken since the
mid-1980s showed that for many years the crater contained a
small lake.

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 feature of meteor impact

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 meteor 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 area.

The discovery of the crater has sparked great interest among

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