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COMET CATASTOPHE: A SPECULATIVE FEATURE

 by TOM SLATTERY

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COMET-CAUSED COLLAPSE OF THIRD MILLENNIUM BC CIVILIZATIONS?

As the newly discovered Comet Hale-Bopp grew brighter in the early spring of 1997 and eventually made a remarkable nightly appearance lasting about a month, speculation about its calculated previous appearance in 2213 BC and resultant effects on our early ancestors seeing it at dawn of civilization began to be exchanged. But nothing could be found in the scant written records of these early civilizations.

Newsweek, March 24, 1997, page 60, noted a scramble to discover contemporary mention of the comet's last appearance over four millennia ago had turned up nothing in the spotty records of ancient China, the Mohenjo-daro civilization of the north Indian subcontinent, ancient Mesopotamia, and ancient Egypt. A mere mention would certify one or more of the presently shaky archeological chronologies, so experts on ancient civilizations would seem to have been powerfully motivated to scrutinize the scanty surviving records to find even a surviving mythological allusion. And yet, so far they have found nothing.

That is, at very least, curious. The absence of ancient record may strike those familiar with ancient acute fascination for celestial events as indicating something significantly lacking in either ancient records or in archeological discovery of them. What could be wrong?

A disturbing answer is that perhaps there may have been observation. The comet may have been seen. But before careful observations could be recorded - possibly awaiting final official decisions on portents, or maybe simply waiting a normal cyclical resolution to the heavenly phenomenon - a disastrous collision with Earth by a significant comet fragment may have taken place. And this caused sudden catastrophic global climate changes.

Coincident with the previous appearance of Comet Hale-Bopp in 2213 BC, something singularly dreadful seems to have happened on our small fragile blue planet. Not only does it appear that both the ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations totally collapsed for a century or more, there is evidence of a sudden catastrophic-but-temporary climate change at this time. Is there a "bad weather" connection? Should we be concerned with the connection if there is one?

It is unlikely that the date 2213 BC could be wrong, although over the past four millennia it is conceivable that something gravitationally significant may have intersected with the orbit of comet Hale-Bopp and altered it, thus changing the date of its last appearance. But astronomically speaking, 4200 years is fairly insignificant, and objects with that much serious gravity are pretty sparse in space. So the orbit-extrapolated date of 2213 BC would seem reliable.

It would seem that Hale-Bopp made at least a notable if not spectacular appearance in the night sky four millennia ago, and the astronomy-based state religions of numerous centers of early agricultural civilization would have noted and recorded it either in official religious mythology or in observed fact, and somewhere at least fragment should have survived. But there appears to be no recorded mention.

Whatever happened that led to the remarkable omission would seem to have happened swiftly and planet-wide here on Earth. And while records from the ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations mention no comet, they do contain suggestions of a catastrophe that may leave us with some worrisome implications for our near or distant future.

The ancient Egyptian chronology used by Egyptologist Aidan Dodson in his 1995 book Monarchs of the Nile, based on latest research, has the pharaoh Pepi II (prenomen Neferkare) ruling Egypt between 2290 and 2196 BC when Hale-Bopp is calculated to have last appeared in 2213 BC. According to this dating system, comet Hale-Bopp would have made its appearance in the 77th year of good king Pepi's reign.

But there is something puzzling about Pepi II. According to the surviving records, his reign lasted 94 years. Egyptologists have gone into figurative contortions to explain this. The prevailing view is that Pepi's accession came when he was only six, and that he lived to be a hundred. But, as Dodson mentions, some have suggested that Pepi's long reign should be reduced to sixty-four years. The length of the reign, then, is, at very least, in dispute. And given the difficulties in precise dating, 64 years is close enough to to the year 77 of Pepi II's reign, when the comet would have appeared, to raise questions about the causes of its end.

What is not in dispute is what followed the reign of Pepi II. The next pharaoh, Nemtyemsaf II, lasted a year, probably a fraction. Then, in 2195 BC (if we accept the ninety-four-year reign, or 30 years earlier, 2225 BC, or maybe somewhere in between like 2213 BC?), came a period of such political and record-keeping chaos that not only is it called the First Intermediate Period, but the dynasties are uncertain and called "VII" and "VIII," and even the next two dynasties following the First Intermediate are conspicuously puzzled-out and called "Dynasties IX/X" and "Dynasty XIa." The period of confusion between the present disputes for the end Pepi II's reign and the end of Dynasty XIa thus goes from just prior to or just after 2200 BC to 2066 BC, about a century to a century and a half.

Something happened at about the time the comet appeared that threw Egypt into chaos for a number of generations, several lifetimes, long enough for word-of-mouth memory to forget. It appears to have occurred suddenly, caused chaos, and by the time chaos ended generations later, the initiating series of events were no longer part of living memory.

Corroboration comes from Mesopotamia. Something brought down the Akkadian civilization.

Around 2200 BC - give or take at least a decade in the approximate dating and close enough to the comet's last appearance to raise questions - civilization collapsed. Reference to the initial collapse is contained in "The Curse of Naram-Sin," a clay-tablet docu-drama about transgression and heavenly punishment of the last king of Akkad, Naram-Sin. In it, hill people known as the Guti, probably ancestors of the modern Kurds (and possibly the same word if one pronounces "Guti" with a combination of a Boston accent, a soft "G" and a hard "t" to make it "Kurdi") overrun Akkad amid allusions to a sudden climate change. Subsequently people we call the Amorites, whom the Sumerian script calls the MARTU (who spoke a language closer to Hebrew than Akkadian), appeared from the west and overran what would appear to be a futile attempt to restore the Akkadian Empire from the ancient city of Ur. This was followed - in Mesopotamia, as would appear to have simultaneously occurred in Egypt - by a period of chaos lasting a century and a half to two centuries.

Two independent areas of ancient civilization collapsed at about the time comet Hale-Bopp last appeared. That should be troubling. The sudden appearance of a strange celestial object might cause temporary panic in the populations of these two ancient empires. Indeed we see the same phenomenon in the cult-suicide of Applewhite and his followers even in our enlightened scientific age. But temporary panic would hardly seem sufficient to have brought about the kind of serious political and economic collapse that lasted over a century in both ancient areas of civilization.

A group of Yale University archaeologists and scientists investigating the period at an archeological site in Mesopotamia called Tell Leilan has uncovered something that in this context may summon a scary scenario. In an article in Science, 20 August 1993 (page 995) titled "The Genesis and Collapse of Third Millennium North Mesopotamian Civilization," Weiss, et al, found, if I may quote a bit of the abstract: "At 2200 B.C., a marked increase in aridity and wind circulation, subsequent to a volcanic eruption, induced a considerable degradation of land-use conditions. After four centuries of urban life, this abrupt climate change evidently caused the abandonment of Tel Leilan."

Not only did two great ancient civilizations suddenly collapse and enter into chaos for over a century - sinisterly coincident with the previous appearance of comet Hale-Bopp - a cataclysmic event, followed by a serious sudden temporary climate change, appears to have taken place at the onset of the collapse.

Did some large part of comet Hale-Bopp collide with our delicate small blue planet in 2213 BC? Clear in our present memory are those remarkable Earth-based and space telescope photographs of Comet Shoemaker-Levy, broken up into a string of giant objects, serially colliding with the giant planet Jupiter between July 16 and July 22, 1994.

Is it possible that the comet Hale-Bopp we saw for a month in the spring of 1997 is only a part of a once larger comet that appeared in 2213 BC? Might some of the rest of that comet now be part of the matter of our planet Earth after having collided with it in 2213 BC?

What effect would a high-speed impact of a several-mile-diameter giant snowball have with our planet's landmass, in, say far away North America, Siberia, or Australia - in other words far enough from Egypt and Mesopotamia not to have been recorded as the cause of devastating effects? It seems conceivable that the impact could throw up debris similar to that of a volcanic eruption, or alternatively, it would seem that the resultant giant vapor cloud could bring about, first, a solar-energy occlusion, and then a resulting sudden mini-ice-age, and then planetary water-weight shift would precipitate increases in volcanic activity adding magnitude to the temporary climate change.

The coincidence of (1) the comet Hale-Bopp's last appearance in 2213 BC, (2) the total collapse of two significant ancient civilizations for over a century beginning around 2200 BC, and (3) good evidence of a sudden climate-changing catastrophe around 2200 BC seems too much for thoughtful folks to ignore. Something sudden and terrible, associated with the comet Hale-Bopp, would appear to have happened.

Did our ancient ancestors get bopped by a fragment of Hale-Bopp? If so, where did it hit? And: might there be another fragment following Hale-Bopp out there that could intersect with our planet's orbit? Again?

As posted on About Ancient/Classical History, May 21, 2001 - Volume V Issue 21 ISSN: 1521-9232

© 2001 About.com, Inc.

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