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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Dec > Dec 13

Great Beasts Peppered From Space

From: Diana Cammack <cammack.nul>
Date: Wed, 12 Dec 2007 18:55:32 -0000
Archived: Thu, 13 Dec 2007 03:55:21 -0500
Subject: Great Beasts Peppered From Space

Source: BBC - London, UK


Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Great Beasts Peppered From Space
By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News, San Francisco

Startling evidence has been found which shows mammoth and other
great beasts from the last ice age were blasted with material
that came from space.

Eight tusks dating to some 35,000 years ago all show signs of
having being peppered with meteorite fragments.

The ancient remains come from Alaska, but researchers also have
a Siberian bison skull with the same pockmarks.

The scientists released details of the discovery at a meeting of
the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, US.

They painted a picture of a calamitous event over North America
that may have severely knocked back the populations of some

Blast direction

"We think that there was probably an impact which exploded in
the air that sent these particles flying into the animals," said
Richard Firestone from the Lawrence Berkeley National

"In the case of the bison, we know that it survived the impact
because there's new bone growth around these marks."

Large quantities of mammoth tusk material are now in collections

And geoscience consultant Allen West added: "If the particles
had gone through the skin, they may not have made it through to
vital organs; but this material could certainly have blinded the
animals and severely injured them."

The mammoth and bison remains all display small (about 2-3mm in
size) perforations.

Raised, burnt surface rings trace the point of entry of high-
velocity projectiles; and the punctures are on only one side,
consistent with a blast coming from a single direction.

Viewed under an electron microscope, the embedded fragments
appear to have exploded inside the tusk and bone, say the
researchers. Shards have cut little channels.

The sunken pieces are also magnetic, and tests show them to have
a high iron-nickel content, but to be depleted in titanium.

The ratios of different types of atoms in the fragments meant it
was most unlikely they had originated on Earth, the team told
the AGU meeting.

Magnetic hunt

The discovery follows on from the group's previous research
which claimed a more recent space collision - some 13,000 years

The researchers reported the discovery of sediment at more than
20 sites across North America that contained exotic materials:
tiny spheres of glass and carbon, ultra-small specks of diamond
and amounts of the rare element iridium that were too high to be

The scientists also found a black layer which, they argued, was
the charcoal deposited by wildfires that swept the continent
after the space object smashed into the Earth's atmosphere.

"It was just a tiny magnet on a string, but very strong. It
would swing over and stick firmly to these little dots" --Allen

"We had found evidence of particle impacts in chert, or flint,
at a Clovis Indian site in Michigan," Dr Firestone said.

"So, we got the idea that if these impacts were in the chert,
then they might likely also have occurred in large surfaces such
as tusks; and we decided it was worth a shot to go look for

Allen West began the hunt at a mammoth tusk sale in his home
state of Arizona.

He immediately found one tusk with the tell-tale pockmarks and
asked the trading company if he could look through its entire
collection. He sorted literally thousands of items.

"There are many things that can cause spots, such as algae, and
there were a few of those; but I was only interested in the ones
that were magnetic," he recalled. "It was just a tiny magnet on
a string, but very strong. It would swing over and stick firmly
to these little dots."

The search turned up a further seven ivory specimens of
interest, together with the bison skull.

Further clues

But having gone out and tested the hypothesis of tusk impacts,
and having apparently uncovered such items - the team was then
astonished to find the animal remains were about 20,000 years
older than had been anticipated.

The researchers are now considering a number of possibilities -
 one that could even tie the older remains to the younger event.

The embedded particles have a high iron-nickel content

"People who collect these items today in Siberia and Alaska
frequently find the tusks sticking out of the permafrost or
eroding out of a riverbank," explained Mr West.

"Maybe, these were tusks from dead animals that were just
exposed on the surface, so when this thing blew up in the
atmosphere, it would have peppered them. The date could really
be anywhere from 13,000 to 35-40,000 years ago."

The team believes there must still be peppered tusks out there
that can be dated to 13,000 years ago, and the hope is that the
AGU presentation will prompt museums and collectors to look
through their archives.

"There should also be a layer of this same meteoritic material
in the sedimentary record. It's probably very thin. If we can
locate the right place and it hasn't been turbated, we should be
able to find this layer; and it shouldn't be too different from
the impact layer we found for the 13,000-year event," said Dr

Neither proposed impact can yet be tied definitively to any
craters - if there ever were any. The team also needs to explain
how the bison and mammoth remains can show similar damage when
they were widely separated geographically.

Past puzzle

The intriguing question is how space impacts might fit into the
extinction story of the ice age beasts. The mammoth, their
elephant cousins the mastodon, sabre-toothed tigers, some bears,
and many other creatures all disappeared rapidly from the
palaeo-record about 10,000 years ago.

Their loss has traditionally been put down to either climate
change and/or the efficient hunting technologies adopted by
migrating humans.

Could impacts have also weakened these populations?

Ice Age Puzzle

Large beast populations crashed 10,000 years ago
Includes mammoth, mastodon, sabre-toothed tigers, giant sloth
Scientists have several theories to explain the extinctions
Human hunters had adopted a deadly spear-point technology
Climate changes may have hastened animals' demise
Do space impacts also now need to be considered?

It might be just one more element to factor into what is a
really complex picture, commented Dr Ian Barnes from Royal
Holloway University of London, UK.

The British researcher studies the DNA of ancient animals to try
to glean details of how their populations changed over time.

He said there were some interesting markers in the genetics of
different creatures some 30,000 to 45,000 years ago - but it was
extremely hard to draw firm conclusions.

"For us the difficulty is that we see patterns but we don't
understand what the underlying process is; so it becomes
difficult to ascribe causation," he explained.

"Just as in a modern crime scene, it's very difficult to piece
all the evidence together and say precisely what was going on;
which event led to any particular outcome."

But he added: "Certainly, you can't imagine it helped the
animals having a large meteorite hit the Earth's atmosphere and
pellet them with shot."


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