Did an asteroid destroy Atlantis?

By R. Cedric Leonard

      An artistic depiction of an asteroid approaching earth from the depths of space. It is now believed that such an occurence killed off the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. Did a similar event (maybe involving a comet, asteroid, or a meteoroid) occur only 12,000 years ago, resulting in the catastrophic Pleistocene Extinction as well as the destruction of Atlantis?

Ever since 1980, when scientists concluded that an asteroid impact ended the Mesozoic Era, I have wondered if a similar incident could have ended the Pleistocene Epoch--and was responsible for the sinking of Atlantis. I have not doubted for an instant that Atlantis disappeared during a worldwide disturbance. Now that we are aware that many such impacts have taken place in the past, this possibility deserves serious consideration.

A violent axial shift of our planet has never been out of the picture as far as I am concerned, and an off-center build up of Antarctic ice is always a possible trigger for such an event. (Brown, 1967; Hapgood, 1958, et al.) But now that we know that the dinosaurs were exterminated worldwide by a celestial visitor, why not consider a similar possibility for the extinction of the Pleistocene animals?

In the late 1950s, while serving in the U.S. Navy, I had read the controversial works of Col. J. S. Churchward (1931). The good Colonel was anything but careful in regard to his sources, but I was too untrained to notice. In support of his sinking continent theory he quoted a source (a totally unverifiable one) which he called the Lhasa Record (presumably a Tibetan writing) which began as follows:

"When the star of Bal fell on the place where now is only the sky and the sea, the seven cities with their golden gates and transparent temples, quivered and shook like the leaves in a storm; and, behold, a flood of fire and smoke arose from the palaces."

Needless to say, even though the impact theme was never developed in his works, it set my young mind to pondering. It is entirely possible that the mythological "wars" between the gods found in the writings of Hesiod and in the Hindu epic literature are allegorical accounts of the forces of nature, and that the "celestial weapons" unleashed are in reality natural (although extremely violent) phenomena.

Plato, in his Timaeus, mentions the mythic story of Phaethon, who drove the chariot of the Sun (Helios) too close to the earth, setting everything on fire, and who was in turn "destroyed by a thunderbolt." This myth, according to Plato, actually signifies a "declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth."

Only recently two scientists at Berkeley National Laboratory published a paper detailing evidence of intense neutron bombardment of North America roughly 12,500 years ago. (Firestone & Topping, 2001)* It appears that Firestone in particular favors an impact by a comet. Since a crater was not in evidence that far north, they theorized that the comet impacted the earth at a point where the ice pack was roughly two miles thick. The "crater" was imprinted in the ice which subsequently melted, thus the "crater" has vanished.

A crater has been discovered near the south end of Lake Huron (lat. 43°14.21'N, long. 82°19.88'W) by the Geological Survey of Canada (Forsyth, et al., 1990), its principle ring having a diameter of 50 km, with indications of a conformable arcuate structure extending to 100 km in diameter. The only problem with this is, the time of impact has been estimated as Late Paleozoic rather than Late Pleistocene—much too early.

Looking at these aspects for the moment, it is indeed interesting that a member of that same team, archeologist Dr. William H. Topping, has since published a paper favoring an intense "solar flare" occuring circa. 12,500 B.P. creating a brief (24-hour) neutron bombardment of North America which not only resulted in various catastrophes, but may have even reset the Carbon-14 clock to indicate younger Paleo-Indian dates--especially northward toward the area of the Great Lakes. (Topping, 2007) If it should turn out that a solar flare was the responsible culprit, the Phaethon-Helios myth may not be far afield.

A recent study led by a University of California (Santa Barbara) researcher (James Kennett, 2012) yields evidence supporting the theory of an extraterrestrial impact. The theory would help explain the extremely cold period known as the Younger Dryas which occurred 12,000-13,000 years ago. The principle evidence is in the form of specimens of "melt-glass" (siliceous scoria-like objects, or SLO's) found in abundance on the continents bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The teams' findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Any and all of these scenarios could be interpreted to mean that something terrible and fiery roared out of the heavens, wreaking great destruction upon the earth: distant echoes, in mythic form, in mankinds memory of a catastrophic, world-ending event. In the ancient world of myth, forces of nature often appeared in the guise of gods and goddesses, and real astronomical events were sometimes depicted as battles between them.

Intrigued at the time, I wondered if such accounts could be references to some actual event which had wrought disaster upon the earth and its occupants. But with the passage of time, I relegated the idea to the back burner—until the discovery that an asteroid had ended the age of the dinosaurs. Now I can't help but wonder how many geological epochs may have been terminated by cosmic impact events!

When the internet opened up new possibilities to research, I thought I might have struck paydirt in the website of the Morien-Institute, which dealt with such possibilities. But I was disappointed when it came to Atlantis and the end of the Pleistocene. The references are helpful, but very little actual data is presented on their Atlantis page.

However, the website did lead me to the work of two astronomers, Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe of the University of Wales at Cardiff. In an Internet Essay they affirm that a large comet could have terminated the Ice Age some 12,000-13,000 years ago (Hoyle & Wickramasinghe, 1999), thus leading to the Pleistocene extinction.

In the meantime a book had come into my hands which dealt with this very same subject: a book written by Otto Heinrich Muck, a German engineer, who called his book Alles über Atlantis ("All About Atlantis"), published in the German language in 1976. (An English translation entitled "The Secret of Atlantis" was published in 1978.) The author is neither a geologist nor an archeologist, but like most engineers he is in possession of a keen mind.

Muck pinpoints the area of impact in the North Atlantic Ocean off the Carolina coast, and discusses two large depressions in the basaltic ocean floor which occupy an area of roughly 77,000 square miles. He asks, "What could possibly have caused these two gigantic impact holes."

He suggests the depressions could be regarded as two deep wounds inflicted on the Earth's crust by the impact of cosmic intruders of massive size. Muck, with his engineering frame of mind, spends several chapters of this work on minute details, comparing data from several scientific disciplines. We need not go into all of that here. I merely want to make the student of Atlantis research aware of this possibility, and to present enough reference material to allow one to research it further.

In regard to the two crater-like depressions in the North Atlantic Ocean floor, Muck writes:

"The two impact craters are adjacent and are similar in size and shape. Both are roughly oval, and in both, the major axes of the ellipses run from northwest to southeast. This would suggest that the objects that struck like cosmic shells and gouged out these deep sea-holes came either from the southeast or the northwest."

An American anthropologist, Dr. Alan H. Kelso de Montigny, after studying depth charts showing another massive depression in the eastern Caribbean seafloor, concluded that an asteroid must have struck that area around 10,000 or so years ago. The site is not a great distance from the sea-holes noted by Muck, although this hole is much smaller and shallower than the other two. The importance of this is that there is at least a suggestion of a cosmic impact with our planet within the time-frame of the demise of Atlantis.

The theory is that either an asteroid or a comet entered Earth's atmosphere at an obique angle from the northwest, exploded into three large fragments from atmospheric friction (smaller pieces of all sizes also raining down), finally striking the waters of the North Atlantic and the Caribbean, creating three gigantic craters in the ocean floor. The two largest impacts would have occurred just to the west of Atlantis.

What evidence can be mustered to bolster our confidence in such a theory? Wouldn't the spraying of the earth's surface with the smaller meteoroids breaking away from the main core of an exploding, high-speed asteroid literally riddle the surrounding land surface with smaller craters? And is such a "moonscape" crater-field in evidence?

The area which would have been targeted is now flat and marshy farmland covered with forests, lakes, fields and crops. It looks nothing like the expected "moonscape". In fact, superficially, it looks totally normal; and for years no one suspected that evidence of such an event might be lying in plain sight, yet for a time undiscovered. But that was before aerial photos were taken of the area.

In 1931 the states of North and South Carolina cooperated with a mandate issued by the Roosevelt administration in carrying out a massive photographic survey from the air. A company specializing in aerial photography was chosen and commissioned to carry out the task. When the photos were enlarged and examined in a stereo-comparator they revealed an unexpected surprise.

The pictures showed large numbers of circular and oval-shaped crater-looking features, sometimes overlapping as on the moon. The features were clearly large (often several miles wide), mudfilled craters which had been eroded with time. The camera had clearly recorded the physical evidence of what became known as the Carolina Meteorite.

A small portion of the Carolina crater-field, more commonly known as the Carolina Bays. This photograph provides examples of cleared bays, partially forested bays (particularly the large bay in the northwest quadrant), as well as overlapping bays (northeast quadrant of the photograph). It also illustrates the extent to which rims of certain craters were large enough to affect patterns of cultivation (the shapes of the fields). The largest "bay" shown in this photograph is about 1.4 miles long. Notice also the numerous small craters. (Courtesy United States Department of Agriculture, ASCS, Lumberton, N.C.).

The "Carolina Bays" consist of a large number of circular and oval-shaped depressions concentrated in the coastal plains of the southeastern United States, but occurring less frequently as far north as southern New Jersey and as far south as northern Florida. They appear to be filled-in, flat-bottomed craters, with their rims highest in the southeast. Estimates of their number range in the neighborhood of a half-million overall.

Single counties are often riddled with thousands upon thousands of these features. Dr. Tom Ross of Pembroke State University is presently in the process of counting the Bays in Robeson County from Soil and Conservation Service soil maps. So far Dr. Ross has tabulated over 8,800 bays in Robeson County alone. (Ross, 1994)

Lively, and sometimes heated, debates have taken place over what might have been the cause of the crater-field of the coastal states. According to Muck (1976) the area is only the western edge (less than one-fourth) of an elongated ellipse extending out into the Atlantic Ocean. The total area of impact he estimates covers at least 63,500 square miles (estimates have expanded over the years), although only the relatively small land portion has remained intact.

The western portion of what engineer Otto Muck believes to be an "ellipse" of meteor craters (over a half-million in all) situated near the eastern shores of the Carolina states. The deepsea depressions are roughly 500 miles out to sea in a southeast direction from the shaded area.

The main body of the celestial intruder split into two (or maybe three) large fragments as it traveled on southeast. These large core fragments created the two large depressions in the north Atlantic, and possibly the slightly smaller one in the Caribbean. Shortly after the aerial photographs were published the theory was presented that the Carolina crater-field was caused by a shower of meteorites, giving rise to talk about a prehistoric Carolina Meteorite.

Two University of Oklahoma geologists, Drs. F. A. Melton and William Schriever, immediately began an investigation of the physical evidence. Although there was no mention of Atlantis in their theory, they suggested that the pattern of the Carolina craters indicated that in our prehistory a large head of a comet had entered our atmosphere and impacted our planet.

Their proposal was that the numerous rimmed basins were formed by the resultant meteor shower. This hypothesis was supported by the fact that there were highly magnetic areas concentrated in the southeastern portions of each of the bays (Melton & Schriever, 1933). The hypothesis attracted worldwide attention, and geologists in related fields wasted no time in either supporting or refuting the new hypothesis. An article in a popular magazine appeared almost immediately:

"The comet plunged down with a hiss that shook the mountains, with a crackle that opened the sky. Beneath the down plunging piston of star, compressed air gathered. Its might equaled and then exceeded that of the great star itself. It burst the comet nucleus. It pushed outward a scorching wind that must have shoved the waters upon the European shores, and on land leveled three hundred foot pines, spreading them radially outward like matches in a box. The comet struck, sending debris skyward, curtaining the east, darkening the west. Writhing clouds of steam swirled with writhing clouds of earth. For ten minutes there was a continuous bombardment, and the earth heaved and shook. For 500 miles around the focal spot of 190,000 square miles, the furnace snuffed out every form of life." (Murrow, 1933)

A fantasic sounding story—and in the 1930s scientists were only beginning to come to terms with such things as asteroid impact craters! Geologists of that day still believed that the Great Meteor Crater in the Arizona desert was the only evidence of a large astral object ever having hit the earth. Today we know better. More than 300 large craters world-wide are presently cataloged, with additional impact features being discovered with each passing year.

Nevertheless, almost immediately numerous hypotheses were formulated, some of them bordering on the ridiculous. The debate divided scientists basically into two camps: those who propose various normal terrestrial mechanisms in the formation of the bays, and those who favor the hypothesis of an impact of a comet, asteroid, or some other astral body with our planet.

In 1934, C. Wythe Cooke proposed that the Carolina Bays were aligned due to the consistency in the direction of the wind while they were being formed. He believed the elliptical sand ridges that accompany the bays were thus bars and beaches that were built up in shallow lagoons when sea levels were higher.

Dr. William F. Prouty (1952), former head of the University of North Carolina geology department, had written several scientific works on the subject, and was one of the strongest supporters of the extraterrestrial impact theory, which has never been refuted by direct evidence. Recently several scientific papers have been published giving evidence supporting Prouty's hypothesis.

For instance, Dr. E. P. Izokh of the United Institute of Geology points out certain similarities between the Pleistocene disaster and the earlier dinosaur catastrophe at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundry, both of which were accompanied by impact craters and fall of tektites. Dr. Izokh demonstrates in his paper that the Pleistocene-Holocene event was likely caused by the collision of the Earth with an eruptive comet. (Izokh, 1997)

An eclectic team of scientists, Dr. Peter Shultz (planetary geologist), Dr. James Kennett (marine biologist), Dr. Luann Becker (geochemist), Dr. Richard Firestone (geologist), and archeologists Drs. William Topping and Vance Haynes, have gathered preliminary evidence that a one mile-wide celestial object struck the earth in the region of North America some 12,000-13,000 years ago. Their early findings have been bolstered by the discovery of millions of nano diamonds (found only in comets) and a moderate elevation of iridium in the geological stratum of that period. (Firestone, West, et al., 2013)

According to them, this was not a mere "single event" occurence. The initial impact was followed by environmental catastrophes (enormous fires, volcanic eruptions, massive weather changes) lasting for years, which may have been precipitated by the fragmentation of the main body. ("Mammoth Mystery" TV presentation on National Geographic Explorer, 10 October 2007.) Ice core samples taken by the Greenland Ice Sheet Project (GISP) indicate that a significant volcanic event also occurred about this same time.

According to this presentation, the Pleistocene animals and Clovis people all disappear from the earth in a "geological instant". The scientists admit that the dating of fossils entails some margin of error, so this event is chronologically compatible with the date given by Plato for the inundation of Atlantis and the end of Atlantean civilization.

Notice also the papers by scientists Richard Firestone, William Topping and Allen West listed below. Today's experts in geology believe that although Prouty's physical model of how the bays were formed is possibly flawed, it is certainly becoming more likely that his basic contention (i.e., extraterrestrial impact) has been correct all along.

Lake Waccamaw, nearly six miles long, is the second largest of the Carolina land-craters, and the largest that still contains water. Toward the southeastern edge of the lake is a sand rim, which would indicate an impact from the northwest--the same is true for virtually all of the estimated half-million craters so-far known.

University of Georgia researchers conclude: "Our interpretation of the geologic history of the Lake Waccamaw area, the sediment record, and the relevant data of others is that Lake Waccamaw is a relatively young lake, probably around 15,000 years old or less." (Unofficial site of the University of Georgia)

An official University of Georgia website states simply: "One theory of the origin of Carolina bays suggests that a meteor hit Earth thousands of years ago, breaking into pieces that made dents as they skipped across the planet's surface." (Source: the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, 2001)

George Howard, one-time U.S. government ecology and land usage consultant, writes: "It is perfectly reasonable to conclude that if such a cataclysm occurred during a known time of known human habitation on the North American Atlantic Coastal Plain (approximately 10,000-15,000 BP) legends would be told to relate the horror to future generations." (Howard, 1997)

There are, in fact, numerous examples of such repercussions. For instance: "The local Indians are known as the 'People of the Falling Star,' and they believed the lake was created by a falling star, perhaps a great meteorite." (Waccamaw-Siouan Indian legend, Wild Shores, Exploring the Wilderness Areas of Eastern North Carolina. p.150)

What is one to think of this kind of legend? As an anthropologist I must give some degree of credence to the idea that some core event must have given rise to certain elements contained in the above legend. And there are plenty more of these which must be considered.

Not being a geologist, I have no way of knowing which proposal is the most in accordance with the geological details, but the "exploding asteroid" sounds the most reasonable to me. Something disturbed this planet circa 12,000 years ago which caused the instantaneous freezing of millions of Pleistocene animals which had only hours before been grazing in relatively moderate climates. This strongly indicates an axial shift of this planet, whatever the ultimate cause. And this all happened just about the time Plato gives for the cataclysm which sank Atlantis and destroyed its civilization.

*Drs. Richard Firestone and William Topping of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, along with Arizona geologist Allen West, are compiling evidence that a supernova may have been resposible for the Pleistocene extinction. "Our research indicates that a 10-kilometer-wide comet, which may have been composed from the remnants of a supernova explosion, could have hit North America 13,000 years ago," says Firestone. Firestone and West (2005) believe that debris from a supernova explosion coalesced into low-density, comet-like objects that wreaked havoc on the solar system roughly 13,000 years ago, unleashing a cataclysmic event that killed off the vast majority of North American mammals including the woolley mammoth. Allegorical accounts of such events could have led to the creation of myths of wars between the gods. [Back]

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Churchward, James S., "The Lost Continent of Mu," Ives-Washburn, New York, 1931.
Firestone, Richard & Topping, William, "Terrestrial Evidence of Nuclear Catastrophe in Paleoindian Times," Mammoth Trumpet, Vol. 49, March 2001.
Firestone, Richard & West, Allen, "Supernova Explosion May Have Caused Mammoth Extinction," Lawrence Berkeley Labs, U.S. Department of Energy, 23 September 2005.
Firestone, West, et al., "Evidence for an extraterrestrial impact" etc., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 104, No. 41, 2013.
Forsyth, D.A., Pílkington, M., Grieve, R.A.F., & Abbinett, D., "Major circular structure beneath southern Lake Huron" etc., Geology, v. 18, no. 8, Geological Society of America, August 1990.
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Melton, F.A., and W. Schriever, "The Carolina 'bays'...are they meteorite scars?" Journal of Geology, No. 41, 1933a; also continuation in Scientific American, No. 149, 1933b.
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Murrow, Edna, "The Comet That Hit The Carolinas," Harpers Magazine, 1933.
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Ross, Thomas A., "One Land, Three Peoples: A Geography of Robeson County, North Carolina" (2nd edition), Southern Pines, NC, Karo Hollow Press, 1994.
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Version 1.9: Updated: 1 Apr 2013