A prehistoric cosmic airburst preceded the advent of agriculture in the Levant | Science & Technology

Agriculture in Syria started with a bang 12,800 years ago as a fragmented comet slammed into the Earth’s atmosphere. The explosion and subsequent environmental changes forced hunter-gatherers in the prehistoric settlement of Abu Hureyra to adopt agricultural practices to boost their chances for survival.

That’s the assertion made by an international group of scientists in one of four related research papers, all appearing in the journal Science Open: Airbursts and Cratering Impacts. The papers are the latest results in the investigation of the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis, the idea that an anomalous cooling of the Earth almost 13 millennia ago was the result of a cosmic impact.

“In this general region, there was a change from more humid conditions that were forested and with diverse sources of food for hunter-gatherers, to drier, cooler conditions when they could no longer subsist only as hunter-gatherers,” said Earth scientist James Kennett, a professor emeritus of UC Santa Barbara . The settlement at Abu Hureyra is famous among archaeologists for its evidence of the earliest known transition from foraging to farming. “The villagers started to cultivate barley, wheat and legumes,” he noted. “This is what the evidence clearly shows.”

These days, Abu Hureyra and its rich archaeological record lie under Lake Assad, a reservoir created by construction of the Taqba Dam on the Euphrates River in the 1970s. But before this flood, archaeologists managed to extract loads of material to study. “The village occupants,” the researchers state in the paper, “left an abundant and continuous record of seeds, legumes and other foods.” By studying these layers of remains, the scientists were able to discern the types of plants that were being collected in the warmer, humid days before the climate changed and in the cooler, drier days after the onset of what we know now as the Younger Dryas cool period.

Before the impact, the researchers found, the inhabitants’ prehistoric…

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