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Prehistoric Canadian meteor caused ‘dawn of civilization’ - study

Published time: September 04, 2013 00:12
Reuters / Denis Balibouse

Reuters / Denis Balibouse

For the first time, scientists have found “conclusive evidence” indicating that an asteroid or comet that struck Quebec around 12,900 years ago led to the development of agriculture and the “dawn of civilization.”

Scientists from Dartmouth University and their colleagues believe the impact that took place at the beginning of the Younger Dryas period - 12,900 years ago - caused the abrupt change to a colder, drier climate.

The new research, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(PNAS), presents “conclusive evidence” represented by spherules - droplets of solidified molten rock - that were formed in the course of the collision of an extraterrestrial body with our planet.

The rocks were found by researchers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Tests have reportedly proven that the rocks appear to be identical to those found in southern Quebec, the site of the supposed impact.

What is exciting in our paper is that we have for the first time narrowed down the region where a Younger Dryas impact did take place…even though we have not yet found its crater,” said Mukul Sharma, a professor in Dartmouth’s Department of Earth Sciences and one of the authors of the paper.

As a result of the impact and dramatic climate change - also referred to as the ‘Big Freeze’ - mammals including mastodons, camels, giant sloths, and saber-toothed cats all vanished in North America, forcing human hunters to set aside their spears and instead gather plants and cultivation.

A mammoth reconstruction is exhibited at the Asturias Jurassic Museum (Reuters / Eloy Alonso)

Meanwhile in the Mediterranean, the first farmers started to grow crops - thus the invention of agriculture served as a pivotal step in the development of communities and the division of labor, and led to the establishment of civilization.

The Younger Dryas cooling is a very intriguing event that impacted human history in a profound manner,” Sharma said. “Environmental stresses may also have caused Natufians in the Near East to settle down for the first time and pursue agriculture.”

The environmental changes that marked the begging of the Younger Dryas were not an issue of dispute. However, the new research offers an alternative theory.

The classical theory of the climate change suggests that the rupture of an ice dam in the North American ice sheet led to the surge of melt-water into the Atlantic Ocean. This event in turn influenced the ocean currents, moving the tropical water northward and cooling the globe.

There have been multiple impacts in different parts of the world which have brought about the cooling of temperatures, Sharma said.

Quebec is already the site of the Manicouagan crater, one of the oldest known impact craters and the largest visible one on Earth - roughly 215 million years old.  The region also boasts the four-kilometer-wide Corossol crater. However, the paper states that its mineralogical and geochemical characteristics do not match the material found in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.