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Theories of Mass Extinction

Essay by   •  November 4, 2010  •  Essay  •  568 Words (3 Pages)  •  1,281 Views

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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 ago.

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 Land.

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 mysteries.

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 craters.

The crater also appears to

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