Earth, Air, Fire and Water: The Archaeology of Bronze Age Cosmic Catastrophes

Abstract of talk by W. Bruce Masse

U. S. Department of the Air Force, Environmental Programs Flight, 56th CES/CEV Bldg. 302, 14002 W Marauder St, Luke AFB, AZ 85309-1125, and Affiliate Graduate Faculty, University of Hawaii, USA. e-mail: wbmasse[at]
Presented at the SIS Conference: Natural Catastrophes during Bronze Age Civilisations (11th-13th July 1997)

Planetary scientists and astrophysicists recently have begun to model the potential hazards on Earth from impact by asteroids and comets. These models suggest that 20-30 at least locally catastrophic impacts likely occurred in various portions of the world during the past 6,000 years, during which time occurred the major developments of modern human civilization. This paper uses these cosmic impact models, coupled with data from archaeology, paleoenvironmental studies, and the systematic analysis of cosmogonic mythology and other literary traditions, in order to identify previously unknown catastrophic Bronze Age cosmic catastrophes, the most significant being a globally catastrophic oceanic comet impact estimated at between 105 and 106 megatons that occurred in 2807 BCE. These data suggest that the threat of cosmic impact is very real, and that such impacts have played a critical role in the development of human civilization.

W. BRUCE MASSE is an environmental archaeologist with the U.S. Air Force and is affiliate graduate faculty at the University of Hawaii. He received his degrees in Anthropology from Stanford University (B.A.), the University of Arizona (M.A.), and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (Ph.D.). His doctoral thesis on the archaeology and ecology of fishing in the Belau Islands of Micronesia was honored as runnerup for Outstanding Dissertation of the Year by the Society for American Archaeology. He has conducted extensive field research in Micronesia, Hawaii, and the American Southwest, and has published on a wide variety of topics including prehistoric irrigation and dry farming systems, zooarchaeology, settlement patterns, chronometrics, archaeoastronomy, cosmography, and public archaeology.