Catastrophic History

glacial

The strict gradualist model of geology is challenged by the evidence of catastrophic events. These catastrophic events would have major influence over our usual assumptions of the archeological record – the emergence of agriculture and first rise of cities is assumed to be around eight to ten-thousand years ago but could date back further if we consider that the archeological consensus is tied to a gradualist paradigm that is challenged by catastrophic changes.

Uniformitarianism holds slow, incremental changes and anything seen as catastrophic (as indicative of major geological or evolutionary change) is rejected right out, but the field evidence is filled with catastrophic events (for example, asteroid impacts or the Missoula floods in the Pacific Northwest). Evocation of rapid, catastrophic change was considered crackpot geology by the uniformitarian model until the evidence accumulated to the point where today catastrophe theories can no longer be ignored. Such events are a part of the history of Earth. For example, if we consider the major geological epoch from the Plasticine to the Holocene what emerges is a consideration of catastrophe as a major player in the Earth record. Within this context what we should realize is that between ten to twelve-thousand years ago the planet underwent a profound change – the shift out of the Ice Age.

Catastrophic history basically suggests that what would otherwise take thousands upon thousands of years can be compressed into small time frames triggered by catastrophic events. This must be considered in relation to archeology.

The skeletal evidence suggests that modern human beings have occupied Earth for around 180-200 thousand years, and yet academic archaeology holds the conservative claim that civilization is only about 5000 years old. Most of the human story on Earth is therefore ‘missing.’ Theories of ancient habitations that stretch back longer than the archeological consensus are being vindicated with sites like Gobeliki Tepe, which toss a giant stick into the proverbial spoke of conservative academia with its 10,000-year carbon dating. How many dates connected to other ancient sites around the world ought to now be reconsidered? Moreover, if one considers the logistical planning and effort it would have taken to construct such a site it becomes very unlikely that sites like Gobeliki Tepe just popped out of the muck of the Stone Age – as if one day humans are in the caves and the next day they are moving megaliths around and aligning them with stars constellations. Such ancient sites suggests that humans have been constructing cities for a lot longer than has been the assumption and this could very well push the catastrophes at the end of the Ice Age within living record of the ancient builders.

The naysayers to the theories that ancient civilizations are a lot older than we assume fail to consider how extensively the remodeling of the surface of the planet has been. Even since the end of the last Ice Age the planet has changed profoundly: the Late Wisconsin, the final major glacial phase that began around 26,000 years ago, may have grown very rapidly and caused sea levels to drop about 400 feet. During the Ice Age, if you look at the climate of the Earth, the most stable place to build cities or human habitation would have been the coastlines and along river valleys, all of which are now hundreds of feet below sea level. Such induced changes in sea level prompt researchers like Randall Carlson to suggest that marine archeology is the future of archeology. The transition out of the Ice Age was profoundly catastrophic and we are just now coming to terms with how violent a rapid sea level rise would have been. Moreover, the melting of the North American ice sheet would have initiated floods of apocalyptic proportions, traces of which can be observed in geological record in the Scablands. Catastrophic floods can do more geomorphical work in a few weeks that would otherwise take thousands of years.

The fact that there may be little evidence of such habitation dating back 10-12 thousand years ago does not equate with the notion that there were no such sites. Hence speculation resides somewhere between the archeological evidence and geological catastrophe. Studies of human history (which is a study of a history of productions of space) must consider the geomorphologic events as major players in its record. What catastrophism suggests is that the history of archaeology may be shot-through with geohistorical dynamics and because of such events we’ve only ever touched the surface.

– JM

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2 thoughts on “Catastrophic History

  1. You make an excellent point that much future archeology will be marine archeology. The fact that during the recent ice age much water was in the ice cap, not in the oceans, and that the coasts were much lower logically means that the warmer, moister shorelines – now flooded – would have been ideal places for villages that pre-date 10,000 years.

    A lot of people don’t realize how quickly the melting glaciers inundated the shores. At the end of the last Ice Age, melt water from glaciers two kilometres thick formed enormous pools behind a series of ice dams near Hudson Bay. One such pool was Lake Agassiz, the largest lake ever known. It is gone now, but it once covered much of central Canada and a vast part of the northern American plains. Before the largest of the dams broke, 8,200 years ago, Agassiz held more water than all the lakes in the world today. The ice dam spectacularly failed and its water drained into the ocean within days. Meanwhile, a smaller, but similar lake, Lake Missoula, was 700 metres deep when its ice dam broke. Although smaller than Agassiz, it nevertheless held more water than lakes Erie and Ontario combined and covered vast sections of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. In just 48 hours, Lake Missoula drained through the Columbia River Gorge with waters rushing 150 kilometres per hour.

    When the waters of Lakes Agassiz and Missoula reached the oceans, the seas rose 10 feet, or 3 metres, flooding the world’s coasts. In perhaps a month, an area the size of Great Britain was inundated on the Arabian peninsula. The rising water created the Persian Gulf. The coast of Africa was flooded. And the Black Sea rose, drowning a settlement recently discovered by Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who also discovered the sunken Titanic.i Most of the world’s people lived along coastal plains which disappeared in mere days. Every part of the Earth was affected. The shorelines of the world were redrawn.

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