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  • B. Maltha
    CATASTROPHES: THE DILUVIAL EVIDENCE by Trevor Palmer, Nottingham Trent University, UK Paper presented at the SIS Silver Jubilee conference at Easthamstead
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 28, 1999

      by Trevor Palmer, Nottingham Trent University, UK

      Paper presented at the SIS Silver Jubilee conference at Easthamstead
      Park, 19 September 1999


      Flood myths are found throughout the world. As late as the seventeenth
      century, one particular flood myth, that involving Noah, was regarded
      as the literal truth by almost everyone in Europe. In contrast, for
      most of the twentieth century, very few scientists have been prepared
      to even consider the possibility that floods or other catastrophes may
      have occurred on a global scale. Now that we can examine the evidence
      with greater objectivity, it is abundantly clear that, although the
      continents have not been covered by water during the time that
      humankind has lived on the Earth, there have nevertheless been some
      large-scale catastrophic floods. Two periods of particular interest
      from this point of view are the Pleistocene-Holocene transition and the
      beginning of the Late Holocene. Many questions still remain unanswered
      about the events at these times.

      The Ancient World

      According to the book of Genesis, God breathed life into Adam and Eve,
      the first man and woman, on the sixth day of Creation. Just nine
      generations later, corruption had become so widespread that God brought
      about the Flood, when "the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred
      and fifty days", and "all the high hills, that were under the whole
      heaven, were covered." However, Noah, who was an exception to the
      general rule of wickedness, had been warned about the coming deluge.
      This enabled his family to build a large boat, the Ark, on which to
      sail on the waters. Hence they survived the Flood, the only humans to
      do so [1].

      The story of Noah is just one of over 500 flood myths from around the
      world, many of which similarly involve a man and a woman escaping by
      boat. Amongst these is the one told in the Babylonian epic of
      Gilgamesh, where the hero, Uta-Napishtim, was warned by Ea, God of the
      Waters, about the coming deluge. Others include a Greek myth, where the
      survivors were Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha [2].

      As well as legends of a catastrophic flood, there are other widespread
      myths where the Earth suffered near destruction by fire. An example is
      one from Greece in which Phaeton took the Sun-chariot and drove it too
      close to the Earth, scorching the surface, until Zeus cast a
      thunderbolt and caused Phaeton to fall to his death. According to the
      philosopher, Plato (c429-347 B.C.), the basis of the Phaeton myth was
      one of a series of cosmic disturbances which caused periodic
      catastrophes on Earth [3].

      The origins of myth and legend are far from certain, and may not be the
      same in every case. Hence, it remains possible that some stories may,
      to a greater or lesser extent, have a factual basis. Indeed, from
      locations described by Homer, archaeologists such as Heinrich
      Schliemann and Wilhelm D�rpfeld have found extensive evidence of
      pre-classical civilisations [4,5].

      In most ancient traditions, catastrophes were associated with divine
      displeasure. In Genesis, as we have seen, God caused Noah's Flood
      because of the increasingly wicked behaviour of humankind. Similarly,
      in Greek mythology, Zeus regularly killed people with thunderbolts, as
      in the Phaeton myth, whilst Poseidon was inclined to cause great storms
      or floods when annoyed [2,5].

      Such floods had undoubtedly occurred. By the time of Aristotle (384-322
      B.C.), the evidence of marine fossils in outcrops of rock made it clear
      that at least part of what was now land had once been covered by sea.
      In his Meteorologica, Aristotle wrote that there were periodic
      transpositions of land and sea, but generally those occurred too slowly
      and over too long a time interval for anyone to notice them happening.
      Nevertheless, on rare occasions a great winter could occur, bringing
      protracted heavy rainfall and causing devastating floods, such as that
      of Deucalion [6,7].

      Renaissance and Restoration Times

      When Christianity was established in Europe, the Church exercised
      almost complete control over academic thought for many centuries. At
      this time, it would have been heretical to deny the testimony of the
      Bible, that the Earth was only a few thousand years old, having been
      created around 4004 B.C., and that there had been a single major
      cataclysm, the Deluge in the time of Noah. In the early sixteenth
      century it was still generally accepted that all marine fossils found
      inland had been carried there by Noah's Flood, although Leonardo da
      Vinci and others argued that this was impossible, in view of the
      transient nature of the supposed event and the thickness of the fossil
      beds. The land must have risen in places, changing the shoreline in
      significant fashion, just as Aristotle had suggested [7].

      During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, various theories of
      the formation and development of the Earth were put forward by men who
      were known as cosmogonists. In 1669, the Danish naturalist, Nicolaus
      Steno (1638-1686) produced a theory to explain the landscape of Tuscany
      in which the Flood played a prominent but far from unique role. Other
      features included the elevation of land in some locations because of
      precipitation of sediments from the waters, and its lowering elsewhere
      as a consequence of the collapse of caverns under the ground [7,8].

      Later, several English cosmogonists put forward models which tried to
      reconcile observations with the teachings of the Church. The system of
      Thomas Burnet (1635-1715), dating from the 1680s, had some features in
      common with that of Steno, but instead of relying on rain and
      subsidence to cause the Flood, it suggested that the appearance of wide
      cracks in the Earth's surface allowed water to be forced upwards from
      underground stores. As was inevitable in the seventeenth century,
      Burnet started with the assumption that the Biblical record was
      essentially true, and then sought natural explanations for the events
      described. He was not prepared to accept that the waters causing the
      Flood had been created miraculously by God. However, they must have
      come from somewhere, so the interior of the Earth seemed the most
      likely possibility [7-9].

      William Whiston (1666-1753) who succeeded Isaac Newton in the chair of
      mathematics at Cambridge University, agreed partially with Burnet. He
      thought that some of the waters of the Flood might have been released
      from the interior of the Earth, but he considered that the major
      proportion had fallen as rain derived from the vapours in the tail of a
      passing comet. These ideas were presented in a book published in 1696.
      Whiston was aware that comets moved about the Sun in elliptical orbits
      of high eccentricity, because John Flamsteed, the Astronomer Royal, had
      made detailed observations of the comet of 1680. Also, Edmond Halley
      had deduced that the comet of 1682 (which subsequently took his name)
      had the same orbit as those of 1531 and 1607, and predicted, correctly
      as it turned out, that it would return in 1758. He was less accurate in
      his calculations of the periodicity of the 1680 comet, but these led
      Whiston to believe that it could have made an earlier visit in 2342
      B.C., around the time the Flood was thought to have occurred, on the
      basis of internal evidence from the Bible [7,10].

      Whiston was eventually dismissed from his post for, amongst other
      reasons, indicating that global catastrophes, past and future, might be
      caused by natural phenomena. Halley was similarly censured for
      suggesting to the Royal Society of London in 1694 that the story of
      Noah's flood might be an account of a cometary impact [11-13].

      Meanwhile, on the continent of Europe, the German mathematician and
      philosopher, Baron Gottfried von Leibniz (1646-1716), believed that the
      Earth was formed by condensation of cosmic matter, so it would
      initially have been very hot, and hence in a fluid-like state. He
      proposed that, as it cooled, a crust formed which later cracked on
      occasions to release flood water from within the Earth, each time
      depositing a layer of sediment [14].

      The French naturalist, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon
      (1708-1788) suggested that the "days" of creation in Genesis were not
      meant to be taken literally. It made more sense, he thought, to regard
      them as periods of unspecified but great length. Buffon calculated that
      if, as he personally supposed, the Earth had been formed by a collision
      between the Sun and a comet, it could have cooled down sufficiently
      within 35,000 years to allow condensation of atmospheric water vapour
      to form a universal ocean. Further cooling over many thousands of years
      caused cavities to appear in the Earth's surface, through which sea
      water drained until it reached its present level. As volcanoes began to
      erupt, the continents appeared and valleys were gouged out by ocean
      currents [7,14].

      Buffon's contemporary, Benoit de Maillet, believed that erosion of the
      earliest mountains by the action of the ocean over a timescale of
      millions of years was an important factor in producing sediment from
      which new mountains could be made [7,12].

      Theories that a universal ocean once contained in solution all the
      material that later formed the Earth's crust were generally labelled as
      "Neptunist". In contrast, the "Plutonist" theory of James Hutton
      (1726-1797) maintained that some rocks, such as granite, were not
      sedimentary, but had been produced by volcanic action. That view
      eventually prevailed but, to start with, Neptunism was the more popular
      theory. The most influential advocate of Neptunist views was Abraham
      Gottlob Werner (1749-1817), a German geologist. In Werner's theory,
      precipitation of dissolved material took place over long periods of
      time, first forming primitive rocks such as granite, and then, as
      erosion of these began to contribute to the process, deposits such as
      limestones and slates. Later, when mechanical deposition became more
      significant than chemical precipitation, came the laying down of chalk
      and other fossil-rich rocks [9,14,15].

      As field evidence accumulated, various British cosmogonists produced
      theories which attempted to be consistent with the new findings, yet
      retain a place for Noah's flood. By the end of the eighteenth century
      it was clear that, even if the Flood had occurred, it could only have
      been one of many factors responsible for the formation of features at
      the Earth's surface [7].

      In France, Buffon, remained the dominant figure right up to his death
      in 1788. However, a new generation of naturalists was emerging, and
      these sought a fresh approach to science. One of the chief critics of
      Buffon's style was Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) [14,16].

      Nineteenth Century Catastrophists

      Although most pre-nineteenth century cosmogonists, including Buffon,
      used rational methods, their arguments were often speculative and
      philosophical. In contrast, one of Cuvier's guiding principles was to
      avoid unwarranted speculation. After Buffon's death, Cuvier quickly
      established a reputation as a gifted scientist, particularly in the
      field of comparative anatomy. In 1812, he published the results of a
      detailed investigation of the geology of the Paris basin, carried out
      over many years in collaboration with the mining engineer and
      mineralogist, Alexandre Brongniart. It seemed clear to Cuvier that
      there had been several sudden advances and retreats of the sea.
      Alternating layers of saltwater and freshwater deposits rested on a
      thick bed of chalk, whilst overlying the stratified rocks in valley
      bottoms was a layer of loose material which he termed "detrital silt".
      The changes between successive periods of rock formation were linked to
      major catastrophes (which Cuvier called r�volutions) for, on each
      occasion, almost all the animals and plants then living were
      annihilated. In the aftermath, new types emerged, according to the
      evidence of the fossils found in the rocks. The scale was such that the
      processes involved must have affected an area far greater than just the
      Paris basin, perhaps even covering the whole world. As an indication of
      the speed of action of the most recent of the r�volutions, if not the
      others, Cuvier drew attention to the discovery of unputrified carcasses
      of large extinct mammals such as mammoths, in frozen lands to the
      north, reports of which had reached Paris in 1807. Later, in 1829,
      L�once �lie de Beaumont (1798-1874) suggested a possible mechanism for
      the r�volutions, arguing that even if the Earth was cooling slowly and
      gradually as Buffon had proposed, and that the reduction in volume led
      to mountain building, then this latter process was still likely to
      occur in an episodic and catastrophic fashion, with upheavals of
      submerged land [16-18].

      Cuvier took great care to keep his science and religion separate. In
      Britain during the same period, such an attitude would have been most
      unusual, for many professional scientists were clergymen. Indeed, this
      was still a requirement for obtaining a senior post at either Oxford or
      Cambridge Universities. So, for example, at Cambridge, the Rev. Adam
      Sedgwick was Professor of Geology, whilst at Oxford, the Rev. William
      Buckland was Reader in the same subject. Buckland and Sedgwick were
      keen to operate as true scientists, independent of the Church. However,
      as a consequence of their background, they began with an assumption
      that fieldwork would rapidly confirm the essential features of the
      Genesis account [16,18,19].

      Early in his career, Buckland interpreted a widespread layer of loam
      and gravel, corresponding to Cuvier's "detrital silt", as the product
      of the universal deluge in the time of Noah. He was concerned that the
      immense depths of deposits beneath this layer suggested that the Earth
      must be very old, with Creation taking far longer than the six days
      mentioned in the Bible. Nevertheless, the evidence for the deluge
      itself seemed clear enough. Fossils found in mud deposits in caves
      throughout Europe must have been of animals trapped by the rising flood
      water. During his inauguration as Reader in 1819, Buckland argued, "The
      grand fact of a universal deluge at no very remote period is proved on
      grounds so decisive and incontrovertible, that had we never heard of
      such an event from Scripture or any other authority, Geology of itself
      must have called in the assistance of some such catastrophe" [15,18,20].

      The case was presented in detail in his Relics of the Flood, published
      in 1823. Without question, this book avoided speculation, concentrating
      instead on empirical evidence which seemed to show that a single, major
      flood had taken place. At the time, Sedgwick supported Buckland's
      views. However, it soon became apparent that the loam and gravel layer
      was restricted to northern latitudes, so was not universal. Also,
      further investigation showed that the fossils in the various caves did
      not all come from the same period. Buckland announced in 1836 that he
      no longer believed in a single, universal flood. Five years earlier,
      Sedgwick had done the same during an address to the Geological Society
      of London. Admitting that he and his colleagues had been led astray by
      their expectation of finding evidence of Noah's flood, Sedgwick said,
      "There is, I think, one great negative conclusion now incontestably
      established - that the vast masses of diluvial gravel, scattered almost
      over the surface of the earth, do not belong to one violent and
      transitory period" [15,18,20]

      However, although Buckland, Sedgwick and others came to reject the idea
      of a single Flood, they continued to find the evidence strongly
      suggestive of the involvement of cataclysmic forces. It was just that
      these had acted on more than one occasion, just as Cuvier had
      concluded. All the geologists were impressed by the large erratic
      boulders (i.e. ones foreign to the region) found scattered over much of
      Europe and North America, and by the loam and gravel deposits which lay
      as a mantle in northern regions. In an attempt to explain the origin of
      these features, theories of tidal waves were developed from the
      "cooling Earth" scenario of �lie de Beaumont [15,18,20].

      Nevertheless, only a few years later, catastrophic diluvialism was a
      spent force. This was because Charles Lyell (1797-1875) established
      what he termed the "uniformitarian" view that the only significant
      processes bringing about changes to the Earth's surface were ordinary,
      everyday ones, acting gently but persistently over very long periods of
      time. Also, it became accepted, largely because of the work of Louis
      Agassiz (1807-1873), a Swiss naturalist and catastrophist, who moved to
      the United States in 1846, that the erratic boulders and drift deposits
      had been carried by glaciers during an `Ice Age', not by tidal waves

      The concept of Ice Ages became a part of the uniformitarian consensus,
      on the assumption that the environmental changes associated with them
      occurred in a gradual fashion. Lyell's uniformitarianism, which was
      gradualism by another name, ruled without serious challenge for a
      century or more [9,15,18].

      Twentieth Century Catastrophists

      Possible catastrophist scenarios, often speculative in nature,
      continued to be put forward, to little effect. For example, Hugh
      Auchincloss Brown (1879-1975), an engineer who graduated from Columbia
      University, proposed in a private publication of 1948 that the tilt of
      the Earth's axis could change in catastrophic fashion, the disturbances
      being triggered by the weight of polar ice. Ten years later, Charles
      Hapgood, a science historian from Keene State College, New Hampshire,
      began to argue for a similar theory, in which only the crust moved, not
      the whole Earth. However, these ideas, whether they were right or
      wrong, made little impression on orthodox scientific thought [7,22].

      Scenarios based on extraterrestrial impacts fared no better. That was
      hardly surprising, given that the starting point in many cases was the
      assumption that some myths and legends were based on catastrophes of
      cosmic origin, which was not regarded as a serious possibility by
      University-based academics. One of those who interpreted a myth as an
      actual event was the Jesuit scholar, Franz Xavier Kugler (1862-1929).
      Using several ancient sources, Kugler argued in 1927 that Phaeton was a
      very bright object which had appeared in the sky several hundred years
      before the founding of Rome, eventually falling to Earth as a shower of
      large meteorites, causing catastrophic fires and floods, particularly
      in Africa [11,23].

      Another catastrophist of the period was the British journalist, Comyns
      Beaumont, who argued in a 1932 book that comets were planets which had
      been displaced from their natural orbits. According to Beaumont,
      cometary heads tended to disintegrate, forming meteors, which usually
      crashed into the Sun. Some, however, were intercepted by the Earth,
      with catastrophic consequences. Beaumont saw the widespread loam and
      gravel deposits of the northern latitudes as being evidence of an
      impact, associating the event with the Phaeton myth and the floods of
      both Noah and Deucalion. Since Orosius placed the Deucalion Flood 810
      years before the founding of Rome, Beaumont estimated that the impact
      had occurred around 1560 B.C. [24].

      Moving forward two decades, we come to a rather better-known
      catastrophist, Immanuel Velikovsky (1895-1979). In 1950, this
      Russian-born psycho-analyst, then living in America, launched a
      comprehensive assault on the uniformitarian consensus when he proposed
      a highly-controversial scenario in his book, Worlds in Collision. On
      the basis of ancient records and myths from around the world,
      Velikovsky argued that the most recent of a series of global
      catastrophes of extraterrestrial origin was initiated when Venus was
      ejected from the core of Jupiter as a comet (i.e. as a body with a
      substantial tail), and passed very close to the Earth around 1450 B.C.,
      giving rise to the Phaeton myth, and causing catastrophic events such
      as the plagues of Egypt and the flood of Deucalion [25].

      As to catastrophes in earlier times, Velikovsky summarised his ideas
      from an unpublished book in the journal, Kronos, in 1979, suggesting
      that because myths often refer to a Golden Age associated with the
      figure known in Roman mythology as Saturn, the Earth might originally
      have been a satellite of the planet bearing that name. Events related
      to its subsequent escape from Saturn's influence caused the flood of
      Noah [26].

      Partly because of an attempt by some American academics to suppress
      Velikovsky's writings, they stimulated considerable interest in the
      subject of global catastrophes affecting the Earth. Also, many people,
      particularly young ones, were enthused by Velikovsky's exortations not
      to accept orthodox opinions as a matter of course. So, for example, in
      an address given in 1953 to the graduate college forum of Princeton
      University, and included as a supplement to his 1956 book, Earth in
      Upheaval, Velikovsky repeatedly urged members of his audience to "dare"
      to formulate their own views [23,27].

      A variety of writers, including scientists and other mainstream
      scholars, eventually made a serious effort to assess Velikovsky's work.
      In 1973, Glasgow University archaeologist, Euan Mackie, wrote in New
      Scientist that, regardless of whether Velikovsky's scenario seemed
      plausible, he had formulated hypotheses which should be tested in the
      normal way. In the following year, together with Harold Tresman, Brian
      Moore and Martin Sieff, Mackie became a founding member of the Society
      for Interdisciplinary Studies (SIS), an organisation designed to
      provide a forum for this to happen [28,29].

      Twenty five years further on, as the SIS celebrates its silver jubilee,
      various aspects of catastrophism, although not Velikovsky's specific
      theories, have become incorporated into mainstream science. However, at
      the time the SIS was formed, the gradualist paradigm was supremely
      dominant, as it had been throughout the previous hundred years, and any
      attempts to suggest catastrophist mechanisms for events in geology or
      evolution were viewed with great suspicion in orthodox academic circles
      and generally ignored. Exactly the same applied to catastrophist
      explanations for events in ancient history, particularly ones in the
      Middle East. Rightly or wrongly, such arguments were generally seen as
      moves to provide support for a literal interpretation of the Bible

      When the British archaeologist, Sir Leonard Woolley, excavated the
      ancient Sumerian city of Ur, in what is now southern Iraq, between 1928
      and 1934, he found a 3 metre thick layer of alluvial silt on top of the
      levels of the Ubaid Period (conventionally dated to around 4000 B.C.)
      and beneath the first traces of the succeeding Uruk Period. To some,
      including Woolley himself, this seemed like evidence for the flood of
      Noah. However, no other sites were found to show similar alluvial
      deposits during the Ubaid Period. On the other hand, at the nearby city
      of Shuruppak (the modern Fara), there was evidence of a flood during
      the Early Dynastic Period, around 2750 B.C., and an alluvial deposit
      dating from around the same time was found at another Sumerian site,
      the city of Kish. However, no serious investigation took place as to
      whether there had been a widespread flood in Sumer during the Early
      Dynastic Period, as this would have smacked of unfashionable "Biblical
      Archaeology". Instead, it was often suggested that accounts of some
      strictly localised events in the region, caused by the Tigris and/or
      Euphrates bursting their banks, at different times and in different
      places, might have been used mistakenly by later generations as the
      basis for both the Uta-Napishtim and the Noah stories [30,31].

      Ice Ages

      Moving forward to the present day, let us try to disregard the
      prejudices of the past and ask the question: is there any geological
      evidence for a world-wide flood? The answer is a categoric "No!", in
      terms of all the continents being covered by water, as described in
      Genesis. From the time animals began living on the land, the closest we
      have been to that situation was probably during the Late Cretaceous
      Period, when large parts of North America, Africa and Eurasia were
      covered by shallow seas. That was the time when the chalk now familiar
      to us from the cliffs and uplands of southern England and northern
      France was formed from the shells of sea-creatures. The same chalk
      rocks also underlie the entire Paris basin, as described by Cuvier.
      However, the Late Cretaceous was over 65 million years ago, according
      to generally accepted dates, long before human beings were on the scene
      to formulate flood myths [32,33].

      At the end of the Cretaceous Period, sea-levels fell markedly, draining
      the shallow epicontinental seas. That was the time of the famous K-T
      event, when a large asteroid or comet of around 10 kilometres in
      diameter struck Mexico, a million cubic kilometres of lava poured out
      over central India, and many species of animals, including all the
      dinosaurs, became extinct. Apart from another wave of extinctions
      during the Eocene-Oligocene transition around 35 million years ago,
      when sea levels were again very low, it is generally thought that the
      next major crisis was a series of Ice Ages which spanned the
      Pleistocene Epoch, beginning around 2 million years ago and ending
      around 11,500 years ago. This was the period which produced the loam
      and gravel layer much investigated by nineteenth century
      catastrophists, as we have already noted [18,33,34].

      In the prevailing gradualist scenario, the advance and retreat of the
      glaciers was thought, from ideas suggested by the Scottish "independent
      thinker", James Croll, and developed by the Serbian physicist, Milutin
      Milankovitch, to be related to a slow tumble of the Earth about its
      axis of rotation [15,18].

      In contrast, various writers have suggested that the impact of a large
      asteroid could initiate or terminate an Ice Age, depending on the
      circumstances [18,35-38].

      An Ice Age could also be caused by a sustained period of smaller
      impacts, together with atmospheric dusting, perhaps linked to the
      disintegration of a giant comet, as in the hypothesis put forward by
      the British astronomers, Victor Clube and Bill Napier. Clube and Napier
      believe that Comet Encke, the asteroid Oljato and the Taurid meteors
      are the remnants of a giant comet, and extrapolations backwards from
      present orbits indicate that the break-up may have occurred about 9,500
      years ago. However, the giant comet may have influenced the Earth for
      thousands of years prior to this, causing an atmospheric dust-cloud
      which had largely cleared by the time that Encke split from Oljato.
      Indeed, ice core studies have indicated that there was a great deal of
      dust deposited during the last 10,000 years of the Pleistocene.
      Furthermore, this has the same chemical content as dust recovered from
      peat moss in the Tunguska region, where another fragment of the same
      cometary system may have struck in 1908. However, much more evidence
      will need to be produced if the Clube/Napier explanation for Ice Ages
      is to become established [13,18,39].

      On the other hand, no rival theory can provide, in itself, a
      satisfactory explanation. Even if the Milankovitch theory, favoured by
      gradualists, could explain the fluctuations of the ice sheets during
      the Pleistocene, it says nothing about why we must go back 250 million
      years to the Permian Period to find the next most recent Ice Age.
      Moreover, a recent detailed study of prehistoric climate changes at
      Devil's Hole, Nevada, has shown that not even in the Pleistocene Epoch
      does the Milankovitch theory provide a good explanation for the
      sequence of events, at least at this particular location. A similar
      problem applies to theories involving isolated extraterrestrial
      impacts, since the best evidence for a major impact event is at the end
      of the Cretaceous Period, 65 million years ago, when no Ice Age
      occurred [12,15,18].

      Vulcanism is another factor which may have contributed to atmospheric
      cooling in the Pleistocene, because it undoubtedly occurred in
      extensive fashion at the time. Furthermore, it is generally accepted
      that the Toba super-eruption in the East Indies took place close to the
      onset of the most recent of the Pleistocene Ice Ages, the W�rm, 75,000
      years ago. On the other hand, the extensive vulcanism of the Late
      Cretaceous did not lead to an Ice Age. Plate tectonics seems to provide
      at least a partial explanation for the Permian and the previous
      (Ordovician) glaciation, for continents apparently drifted over the
      poles at these (and only these) times during the Palaeozoic and
      Mesozoic Eras. Land at or near a pole would have provided a platform
      for snow to settle on, reducing temperatures by reflecting the Sun's
      rays back into space. It would also have facilitated the spreading of
      ice-sheets, for these form and spread more easily over land than over
      sea. However, Antarctica moved into a position over the South Pole
      during the Eocene Epoch, long before the start of the first Pleistocene
      Ice Age, and it is still there today, after the termination of the last
      of them [18,33,40].

      Thus it seems likely that a proper explanation for Ice Ages must
      involve the interplay of several factors from a list including asteroid
      impacts, vulcanism, atmospheric dust, continental drift and
      Milankovitch cycles. They were clearly complex events [18].

      Moreover, regardless of the causes of Ice Ages, even the effects seem
      much less straightforward than generally supposed. For example, the
      glaciations of the northern hemisphere were not simply times when the
      polar ice cap expanded in fairly regular fashion: Siberia and Alaska,
      areas now noted for their long, cold, winters, remained largely
      ice-free when much of northern Europe, Greenland and Canada was covered
      by an ice sheet to a depth of 2-3 km. Also, as noted by Cuvier,
      unputrefied carcasses of mammoths, dating from the Late Pleistocene,
      have been found in Siberia, even in regions within the Arctic circle,
      where no large wild animals live today. In those times, in contrast,
      sufficient vegetation must have been available, at least during the
      summer months, to provide sustenance for herds of grazing animals. When
      the mammoths died, temperatures must have been falling rapidly, even
      though the final Ice Age of the Pleistocene, and the epoch itself, was
      drawing to a close. It is difficult to come up with an explanation
      which is entirely satisfactory. Even if the mammoths died during a late
      cooling episode, it still has to be considered strange that, as
      temperatures subsequently rose very significantly elsewhere, they and
      the land which previously supported them remained in a permanently
      frozen state [18,22,41].

      Elsewhere, when the ice-sheets melted at the end of the Pleistocene,
      the release of the stored-up water led to a rise in sea-level of over
      100 metres. For many years, it was generally assumed that this had been
      a gradual, even-paced process. However, it now seems that the
      deglaciation, and associated changes in the oceans, took place in rapid
      fashion [18,42,43].

      Some have even challenged the generally-held view that worldwide
      temperatures had been falling from the Middle Miocene, about 18 million
      years ago, all the way through to the onset of the Pleistocene
      glaciations. They have suggested that the freezing and thawing episodes
      which occurred around 12,000 years ago were not a continuation of
      previous trends, nor did they take place over a long timescale. So, for
      example, the retired British geologists, Derek Allan and Bernard
      Delair, argued in their 1995 book, When the Earth Nearly Died, that
      catastrophic events, including an increase in the axial tilt of the
      Earth, occurred around 11,500 years ago. The catastrophes were caused
      by the close passage of a sizeable cosmic body (which gave rise to the
      Phaeton legend) and the actual impact of a number of smaller
      companions. According to Allan and Delair, these could all have been
      products of the Vela supernova explosion, which at the time was thought
      to have occurred in a part of the Galaxy close to our Solar System
      between 14,300 and 11,000 years ago, although it now seems that it
      might have happened much more recently than that, around 700 years ago

      Whatever their origin, the extraterrestrial bodies generally struck the
      Earth whilst travelling in a northeast to southwesterly direction from
      Alaska to South America. As evidence, Allan and Delair drew attention
      to the presence of innumerable oval lakes with a NE/SW orientation
      along the supposed path [18,41].

      In the view of Allan and Delair, these events also caused extensive
      vulcanism, together with hurricanes and massive floods. As a
      consequence of the increased tilt of the Earth, there would have been a
      change towards colder climates at high latitudes, exacerbated by the
      dust cloud resulting from impacts and volcanoes. So, the polar ice caps
      would have expanded, and flood water which could not immediately drain
      back to the sea might have been trapped as ice. In this view,
      therefore, as with that of the catastrophist diluvialists of the early
      nineteenth century, the "erratic" boulders and the loam and gravel
      deposits of northern regions owed more to transport by flood water than
      by glaciers. To Allan and Delair, this scenario is more plausible than
      the conventional paradigm in its explanation of the frozen mammoths of
      Siberia, the even more extraordinary "muck" deposits of Alaska, which
      contain animal remains, molluscs, vegetation, ice and volcanic ash in a
      frozen, tangled mass, and the similar mixed deposits stuffed into caves
      at more southerly latitudes [18,27,41].

      Velikovsky's Saturn hypothesis, which has been developed by Dwardu
      Cardona, David Talbott and Ev Cochrane, amongst others, would also seem
      to require a short, catastrophic transition between the Golden Age and
      present-day conditions, with no obvious space for glaciations of long
      duration [45-47].

      Yet another viewpoint on what happened during the Late Pleistocene was
      provided by the American science historian, Charles Hapgood. As we saw
      earlier, Hapgood argued that the entire crust of the Earth must, on
      occasions, have suffered slippage relative to the core. That would, of
      course, have brought some new areas into polar regions, with others
      being moved away from them. Moreover, if a crustal dislocation brought
      land over a pole, where previously there had been just frozen water,
      then the ice-cap would expand, and vice versa [18,22,48-50].

      Geologists have generally been of the opinion that the forces required
      to bring about a crustal dislocation would be so great as to rule out
      the possibility of such an event. However, Hapgood countered that there
      were, nevertheless, good reasons for thinking that such slippages had
      actually occurred. On the assumption that the magnetic poles never
      stray far from the axis of rotation, he argued that palaeomagnetic
      evidence showed that the location of the geographical polar regions had
      changed over 200 times during the course of the Earth's history, some
      of these changes being far too dramatic to be explained by the normal
      processes of continental drift. So, around 80,000 years ago, an area of
      the Yukon district of Canada lay over the North Pole, to be replaced
      within a few thousand years by a region of the North Atlantic between
      Greenland and Norway. By around 50,000 years ago, the pole was located
      in the vicinity of Hudson Bay, Canada, before moving to its present
      position between 17,000 and 12,000 years ago. Similar events took place
      in the southern hemisphere, the South Pole moving to its present
      position on the main Antarctic continent from an area between Wilkes
      Land and Western Australia [22].

      According to this hypothesis, therefore, Canada and the USA moved away
      from the North Pole at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch, whilst Siberia
      moved closer to the polar region. This would explain why the northern
      ice cap receded at this time, as the pole was no longer sited within a
      continent, and why frozen mammoths have been found in Siberia. At the
      opposite end of the Earth, Antarctica moved over the South Pole, so the
      southern ice cap would then have expanded [22].

      However, results of recent studies of ancient climates, based on oxygen
      isotope determinations, appear to support the more conventional view of
      the Pleistocene Ice Ages, rather than the "single-recent-catastrophe"
      hypothesis or the "crustal-displacement" theory. Water contains two
      isotopes of oxygen, the lighter one (oxygen-16) evaporating more easily
      than the heavier one (oxygen-18). When temperatures are low and
      ice-sheets are spreading, trapping, as frozen snow, water taken by
      evaporation from the oceans, the oxygen-16/oxygen-18 ratio of the water
      remaining in the oceans will be relatively low. Conversely, when
      temperatures are high, and more water is being returned to the oceans
      from ice-sheets than is being removed by evaporation, the
      oxygen-16/oxygen-18 ratio will be relatively high. The same ratios
      would be found in the shells of creatures living in the seas at the
      time, so the measurement of oxygen isotope ratios in marine fossils
      gives an indication of the ocean temperature when they were living.
      Similar conclusions can also be drawn from oxygen isotope ratios in the
      individual layers of the northern and southern ice-sheets, for it is
      thought that each layer was formed from the compressed snows of a
      single year.

      Oxygen isotope ratios in the shells of microfossils in deep-sea cores
      from the North Atlantic have demonstrated temperature fluctuations
      throughout the Pleistocene, with even the highest average temperatures
      of these times being far lower than the typical temperatures of the
      Miocene. A correlation has also been demonstrated between climatic
      events in the North Atlantic and ones from China. Comparisons of
      Antarctic and Greenland climates over the past 100,000 years suggest
      that the same glacial-interglacial sequences took place in both polar
      regions, and these were consistent with temperature changes in the
      oceans. Although there were some variations in timing between different
      locations, possibly due to the effects of ocean currents, there were no
      times when climatic trends in Greenland and Antarctica were moving
      consistently in opposite directions, which might have been expected if
      the crustal-displacement theory was correct. Furthermore, ice cores
      from different parts of Antarctica all show a generally upward drift in
      temperatures between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago, the period during
      which, according to Hapgood, the continent moved over the south pole,
      so all three sites should have become significantly colder, not warmer

      Therefore, despite some anomalous features, which have still to be
      explained, and concerns about the nature of some of the evidence, this,
      in the main, continues to indicate that a number of major cooling
      episodes, affecting climate in all parts of the world, occurred at
      intervals throughout the Pleistocene Epoch [18,53].

      Extinctions of animal species indeed occurred throughout the
      Pleistocene, but were particularly marked at or near its conclusion,
      during the transition to the Holocene. As a whole, the Late Pleistocene
      extinctions were minor compared to some earlier mass extinctions, such
      as those at the ends of the Permian and Cretaceous Periods, but large
      land animals were profoundly affected. North America lost three
      quarters of its large animals, 33 genera of them, between 12,000 and
      10,000 years ago. In South America, 46 genera disappeared at around the
      same time, and extinctions of large animals also occurred in other
      places, including Siberia, as we have already noted [18,54,55].

      All of this is generally agreed, the major ongoing argument being about
      the reasons for the extinctions. Whatever causal mechanisms may have
      been involved, major environmental changes undoubtedly took place over
      the period in question. The Late Pleistocene extinctions in North
      America were synchronous with the retreat of the ice sheet north of the
      Great Lakes, and with the replacement of spruce woodland and tundra by
      pine and deciduous species. Similar associations of extinctions with
      climatic changes are found throughout the world. Even in Australia,
      where the extinctions occurred earlier than elsewhere, between 26,000
      and 15,000 years ago, the death of the giant marsupials was synchronous
      with a long period of heat and drought [54-56].

      However, another factor which cannot be ignored is the emergence of
      humankind, and its spread into new areas. Although there are hints that
      there may have been isolated settlements in the New World at an earlier
      time, it seems clear that the main wave of settlers crossed from Asia
      into Alaska by means of a land bridge less than 30,000 years ago, when
      sea-levels were low as a result of water being trapped as ice, and
      spread over the northern and southern continents, reaching the southern
      tip of Chile about 10,000 years ago. The Clovis stone-age culture of
      southwestern USA was well-established around 11,000 years ago, some
      sites showing strong evidence of the systematic butchering of large
      animals. Similarly, humans may have reached Australia shortly before
      the times of the extinctions there, although that is less certain

      Arguments are still going on about the relative merits of climatic
      change and hunting as explanations for the late Pleistocene
      extinctions. However, it is reasonable to conclude that both must have
      played a part [54,55].

      Holocene Catastrophes

      Inevitably, catastrophic floods occurred as the ice melted and the
      Holocene Epoch began. So, for example, the retreat of the glaciers
      removed the barrier which previously held back a large volume of water
      in western Montana, causing devastating flooding of a wide area of the
      Columbia Plateau beneath the glacial lake, and gouging out deep
      channels in the scablands of eastern Washington. This happened not
      once, but several times, as conditions fluctuated. When, in the 1920s,
      the Chicago geologist, Harlen Bretz, first suggested that the channels
      of the Washington scablands had been created by catastrophic floods, he
      was attacked by his professional colleagues for challenging the
      assumptions of the gradualist orthodoxy. For example, James Gilluly
      maintained that the channels could have been by produced by floods of a
      similar magnitude to ones which still occured in the region. That,
      however. is no longer seen to be the case, given the short time-scale,
      and also (a fact not known at the time), a source for the catastrophic
      flood-water in glacial Lake Missoula. It is now believed that
      channelled scablands were also produced by waters released in similar
      catastrophic fashion from other glacial lakes in the western United
      States, such as Lake Bonneville, Utah. As the American ice continued to
      melt, a super-lake, Algonquin, was formed in the northeast. This
      consisted of the present Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron, but
      occupied a much greater area [57,58].

      Low-lying regions throughout the world were flooded as sea-levels rose.
      Sometimes there was a long delay between cause and effect, increasing
      the catastrophic nature of the latter. So, for example, although it had
      generally been assumed that the Black Sea expanded in area and volume
      in a gradual fashion after the end of the Pleistocene, with excess
      water flowing in from the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean Sea and
      the Bosporus as the ice melted, it now seems that the Black Sea was
      sealed off from the Mediterranean by a natural dam in the Bosporus
      region which eventually burst around 5600 B.C.. Water then rushed into
      the Black Sea, flooding over 150,000 square kilometres of its low-lying
      coastal regions within a period of a year or so. Evidence for this was
      presented by geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman, of Columbia
      University, in their 1999 book, Noah's Flood. Previously, the Black Sea
      had been an oxygen-rich, freshwater lake, but the incoming salt-water
      sank to the bottom, causing anoxic conditions in the depths, a
      situation which still exists today. Radio-carbon dating studies on
      cores taken from the bed of the Black Sea at various locations have
      shown that oxygen-dependent shellfish living in deep water all became
      extinct around 5600 B.C., whilst salt-water molluscs made their first
      appearance in the Black Sea at exactly the same time. Ryan and Pitman
      argued that recollections of this catastrophic flooding, passed on by
      people whao managed to escape and migrate towards Mesopotamia, gave
      rise to the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh and, in turn, to the Genesis
      story of Noah and his family. That remains controversial, but the
      evidence for the event itself is strong [59,60].

      During the 1980s, archaeological, environmental and geological evidence
      for a world-wide catastrophic event around 2300 B.C. was presented in
      the pages of the SIS Review by an American engineer, Moe Mandelkehr. At
      the Second SIS Cambridge Conference in 1997, social historian, Benny
      Peiser, of Liverpool John Moores University, summarised the results of
      a survey he had made of some 500 reports of civilisation collapse and
      climate change at around the time of Mandelkehr's postulated
      catastrophe, most of which supported his case. According to the
      evidence presented, there was a change to generally drier conditions
      around 2300 B.C., with a lowering of the water-level in lakes and
      oceans, and reduced river discharge. On the other hand, it appears that
      there were flood disasters in China, northern India, Greece, Australia
      and the USA at about this time [61,62].

      Mandelkehr believes that the catastrophic events around 2300 B.C. were
      caused by an encounter between the Earth and a cluster of cosmic
      bodies, the breakdown products of a giant comet, as in the Clube-Napier
      hypothesis. Others have also cited evidence for the impact of one or
      more extraterrestrial objects at this time. Proof is still some way
      off, but it seems likely that there was a single causal mechanism for
      the various geological and environmental changes which took place, and
      an encounter with a disintegrating comet is certainly a plausible
      explanation. At the Second SIS Cambridge Conference, Bill Napier
      pointed out that the impact into an ocean of even a relatively small
      cosmic body, around 200 metres in diameter, would result in devastating
      floods in coastal regions, through the action of tidal waves [39,63-65].

      Geological evidence for a global catastrophe around 1450 B.C., as
      proposed by Velikovsky, is less convincing than for one around 2300
      B.C.. Much of the evidence for catastrophes which Velikovsky presented
      in Earth in Upheaval, such as the Alaskan "muck" deposits, was actually
      associated with the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. Although
      Velikovsky suggested otherwise, the end of the Pleistocene is generally
      thought to have ended 8,000 years before the time of the supposed Venus
      catastrophe. It seems that there may have been localised catastrophes
      around 1450 B.C., but nothing more than that [27,66].


      Whilst there is no geological evidence at any time for a worldwide
      flood on the scale described in Genesis, there are abundant indications
      of widespread floods and other catastrophes during the period humans
      have been living on the Earth, in particular during the
      Pleistocene-Holocene transition around 11,500 years ago, and near the
      beginning of the Late Holocene, around 2300 B.C.. There are a large
      number of unanswered questions about events at both of these times.
      Hopefully we shall not have to wait until the golden jubilee of the SIS
      in 2024 before we get satisfactory answers to them.


      Professor Trevor Palmer is Head of the Department of Life Sciences
      and Dean of the Faculty of Science and Mathematics at Nottingham
      Trent University. He is the Chairman of the Society for
      Interdisciplinary Studies and the author of CONTROVERSY -
      York/London, 1998)


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      Copyright 1999, Trevor Palmer
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