A comet may have melted one of the world’s oldest civilisations to a crisp at more than 2,200 degrees Celsius

Illustration of a comet crashing into Abu Hureyra 12,800 years agoUCSB

  • Abu Hureyra is one of the oldest civilisations in the world and it may have been wiped out by cosmic collision.
  • A new published in Nature’s Scientific Reports indicates materials found at the site could only be formed at temperatures higher than 2,200 degrees Celsius.
  • This rules out the possibility of a lightning strike or volcano eruption.
  • This is the first site where the effects of a fragmented comet have been linked to a human settlement.
Abu Hureyra, one of the world’s oldest civilisations, might have been crushed by cosmic collision. Home to the earliest known farmers, a comet crashing into that region of northern Syria may have burnt it to a crisp 12,800 years ago.

A new study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports rules out the possibility of volcanism or lightning strikes — claiming that the explosion which wiped out Abu Hureyra burnt hotter than 2200 degrees Celsius.

Location of Abu HureyraNature Scientific Reports

"To help with perspective, such high temperatures would completely melt an automobile in less than a minute," said James Kennett, a former professor of geology at UC Santa Barbara.

The minerals collected at the Abu Hureyra archaeological site were rich in chromium, iron, nickel, sulfides, titanium and platinum — all of which need temperatures higher than 2200 degrees Celsius in order to form in the first place.


Different forms of iron in Abu Hureyra meltglass. The high degree of vesiculation suggests magnetite possibly boiled at ~2623 °C.<span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span>Nature Scientific Reports

"The critical materials are extremely rare under normal temperatures, but are commonly found during impact events," said Kennett.

What happened at Abu Hureyra?
Abu Hureyra was once home to ancient nomadic people who set roots in the region as ‘hunter collectors’. Now, it’s a mound under Lake Assad.

Before the lake formed, archaeologists were able to extract an abundance of evidence to identify how nomadic tribes first started to settle down — including parts of huts and houses. However, after around 1,300 years, the village was abandoned and would stay that way until the next wave of settlers arrived.

"The Abu Hureyra village would have been abruptly destroyed," said James Kennett, lead author of the study.

Why is Abu Hureyra important?
The Younger Dryas impact hypothesis states that a comet struck North America, South America, Europe and western Asia around 12,800 years ago. The multiple impact sites created the Younger Dryas boundary layer (YDS).

SEM images of melted monazite in AH glass. The equilibrium melting point of monazite is ~2072 °C.<span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span>Nature Scientific Reports


"A single major asteroid impact would not have caused such widely scattered materials like those discovered at Abu Hureyra," said Kennett.

Scientists believe that over 50 sites across the planet, spanning over 50 million square kilometres, have deposits corresponding to the YDS. However, this is the first site where scientists have been able to link the effects of a fragmented comet on a human settlement.

See also:
The 10 biggest asteroids that pose a threat to Earth in 2020

An average neutron star is 1.4 times the mass of the Sun — but it’s no bigger than a city in size

An asteroid half the size of Mount Everest is set to fly past Earth in April — but it's not going to end the planet