Two University of Oregon researchers are on a multi-institutional 26-member team proposing a startling new theory: that an extraterrestrial impact, possibly a comet, set off a 1,000-year-long cold spell and wiped out or fragmented the prehistoric Clovis culture and a variety of animal genera across North America almost 13,000 years ago.
Driving the theory is a carbon-rich layer of soil that has been found, but not definitively explained, at some 50 Clovis-age sites in North America that date to the onset of a cooling period known as the Younger Dryas Event. The sites include several on the Channel Island off California where UO archaeologists Douglas J. Kennett and Jon M. Erlandson have conducted research.
The theory is being discussed publicly, for the first time, today (11 A.M. EDT) in a news conference at the 2007 Joint Assembly of the American Geophysical Union being held this week in Acapulco, Mexico. Kennett is among the attendees who will be available to discuss the theory with their peers. The British journal Nature addressed the theory in a news-section story in its May 18 issue.
Before today, members of the team including Kennett's father, James P. Kennett of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Richard B. Firestone of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory had been quietly introducing the theory to their professional colleagues.
Douglas Kennett, with Erlandson watching, detailed the theory May 19 to a fully packed UO classroom, where students and faculty members from archaeology, art history, anthropology, biology, geology, geography, political science and psychology, pelted Kennett with questions.
The researchers propose that a known reversal in the world's ocean currents and associated rapid global cooling, which some scientists blame for the extinction of multiple species of animals and the end of the Clovis Period, was itself the result of a bigger event. While generally accepted theory
Contact: Jim Barlow
University of Oregon