Comet Research Group Publishes New Article Reviving Catastrophist Claims about Frozen Mammoths in Alaskan Muck
Ever since Edmond Halley first proposed that a comet caused Noah’s Flood, there has been a group of people who have advocated that the former world age came to an abrupt end through this mechanism. Ignatius Donnelly advocated for this catastrophic conclusion to the Ice Age world of Atlantis, and today Graham Hancock and those in his orbit have picked up the claim. The most recent set of claims orbits around the work of the Comet Research Group and its team of scientists, who have published academic articles outlining the evidence for a comet impact at the end of the last Ice Age, and who have received intense criticism from other scientists who heavily dispute the evidence.
As most of you know, I am not terribly interested in the question of whether a comet struck the Earth around 10,500 BCE except insofar as it touches on questions of whether a lost civilization comparable to or more advanced than a Bronze Age culture existed at the time, as fringe historians maintain.
Nevertheless, I was surprised to have receive a number of notices that Scientific Reports, the open-access journal from the people behind Nature, recently published the newest tract from the Comet Research Group, which touches on many of our favorite claims about the end of the Ice Age. I heard from someone allied with the Comet Research Group, from skeptics, and from interested laymen alike. I had no idea so many people read Scientific Reports!
The new article is entitled “Impact-Related Microspherules in Late Pleistocene Alaskan and Yukon ‘Muck’ Deposits Signify Recurrent Episodes of Catastrophic Emplacement,” and it comes to us from the team of Jonathan T. Hagstrum, Richard B. Firestone, Allen West, James C. Weaver, and Ted E. Bunch, all official members of the Comet Research Group. The article appeared in Scientific Reports vol. 7 and was published online on November 30.
What makes the Hagstrum et al. piece so interesting is that it basically recycles old claims about a distinct Alaskan and Yukon “muck” in which we supposedly see evidence that woolly mammoths were blasted to death by a cosmic impact all at once and in massive numbers. You will recall that it was only a few months ago that Graham Hancock announced his renewed interest in this “muck” and the claim that the mammoth bones within represent a massive, extinction-level killing event. This interest in the muck descends from the work of Frank Hibben, who, as best anyone can tell, falsely claimed to have seen thousands of tons of defrosted and rotting Ice Age mammal meat extracted from the permafrost and to have tasted some mammoth. Hibben, and then Immanuel Velikovsky after him, alleged that the meat came from a catastrophic event that had wiped out the mammoths practically overnight.
Hagstrum et al. similarly have adopted the position that “uniformitarian” science cannot explain the existence of Ice Age animal corpses in the layers of Alaskan and Yukon permafrost: “Uniformitarian explanations can often appear inadequate, however, in providing a clear picture of how, for instance, animals found as frozen carcasses were quickly killed, often dismembered, and buried without normal predation, scavenging, or decomposition prior to freezing.”
When past catastrophists attempted to explain their ideas, they imagined a single massive impact that killed the mammoths and other megafauna so fast that they were flash-frozen into the rapidly cooling earth. This is what gave rise to the legend of the mammoth so quickly frozen that fresh buttercups were still sitting on its teeth, ready to be chewed. It was all hot air, of course, but influential blather. Our authors, though, recognize that there are major problems with the catastrophist narrative. So, to get around the fact that the mammoths didn’t all die in an afternoon and that the deposits of animal bodies happened over a much longer period of time, they propose a truly bizarre claim I didn’t see coming. After analyzing sediments taken from within the skull fragments of Ice Age megafauna from the Yukon, they found evidence of “impact-related microspherules and elevated platinum concentrations.”
Our results point to repeated airbursts, including ground/ice impacts, and their associated blast winds as major factors in the emplacement of Alaskan and Yukon mucks and their included megafaunal and botanical remains. In addition, we consider an astronomical scenario in which Late-Pleistocene episodes of terrestrial bombardment were caused by cyclic intersections with cometary debris during formation of the Taurid Complex
In short, the animals were still killed by cosmic blasts—extending in this version to the Taurid meteors, not just a comet—and now there are many meteor or comet strikes, over and over again, in significant numbers and each capable of killing all the animals in its path.
I have to say that this solution just feels wrong from the get-go. I’m not saying that I have the geological knowledge to know whether it is scientifically wrong, but it feels like the Comet Research Group are adding more and more complications to their idea in order to explain away disconfirming evidence. It feels a little like geocentric cosmologists adding epicycles upon epicycles to preserve the geocentric model. To make the theory work, the Earth would have had to face repeated, massive cosmic collisions, each killing off large number of animals and dosing them with the same mixture of microspherules and platinum. And yet the original idea was the there was a big comet strike that spread these microspherules all over the Earth. But if we are now arguing for many strikes, logically speaking, how do we distinguish between many small strikes that spread these types of debris and one big one? How small can they be and still deposit such layers? For example, what if there were hundreds of small, relatively unimportant strikes, too small to make a major contribution to changing geology? It’s quite confusing to me, especially when we start adding so many new complications.
Hagstrum et al. rely on the same evidence as creationists and Velikovskians before them—namely “freeze-dried” mammoth remains and frozen plants, arguing that they froze so quickly that regular natural processes cannot account for their preservation. But unlike earlier catastrophists, they do not believe in pole shifts or something like a comet-induced nuclear winter. Instead, they believe that the blast winds created by the impact of a cosmic body acted similar to a nuclear explosion, killing animals and tearing their bodies to pieces, with the parts sinking into the moist ground, which promptly froze. They don’t insist on this point, though, noting that the blast winds might merely have overturned and jumbled fields full of animals dead from other causes, “excavating” the ground with their strength and moving recent corpses into holes where they could freeze.
I’m not entirely sure how to evaluate the paper since it isn’t my area at all. I am concerned that the argument that the Alaskan and Yukon megafauna were deposited by blast winds is rather superficial. I am no physicist, but everything I have read about blast winds suggests that they would have intense power only for a few miles around the impact site, dissipating proportionate to the distance from the center. For example, this 1997 analysis concluded that intense blast waves stretched just 3 km from the impact site of Meteor Crater, with hurricane force winds extending perhaps 40 km. Consequently, this would imply that Hagstrum et al. would envision their comet and/or meteors hitting close to where the mammoths died, and I am unaware of any evidence of this.
I fully admit that the science here is beyond my expertise, but I find it interesting that the same old claims about catastrophic events in Alaska keep finding new expression. Graham Hancock has already expressed his interest in using this material to support his idea that Atlantis fell to a comet, but even if we take the argument presented by Hagstrum et al. at face value, it seems to tell us that there was no lost civilization. All those megafauna managed to be preserved well enough that their flesh survived for tens of thousands of years, and yet ever atom of Atlantis—a global power—somehow vanished, while the mammoths they rode to work did not. That’s just bizarre.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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