The Science Behind the Younger Dryas
Building on from my last few posts where I’ve investigated lost civilisations and the legends of Atlantis and Lemuria, today I want to take a look at something else that happened a long time ago (though not in a galaxy far, far away).
I think that by looking back to the past, we can uncover insights about the future. We also get a better understanding of who we are and where we’re from, and we can become more empathetic if we start to realise that our cultures aren’t necessarily so different after all.
Today, we’re going to talk about the Younger Dryas, a subject that most people haven’t even heard of. I hadn’t heard of it myself until a couple of years ago, but then I started to carry out some research and I quickly got sucked in and hooked on the topic.
So what exactly is the Younger Dryas? Read on to find out…
The History of the Younger Dryas
Perhaps a more accurate question would be “what exactly was the Younger Dryas?”. It’s essentially a period in our planet’s history that occurred around 12,900 to 11,700 years BP.
In case you’re wondering, that stands for “Before Present” and refers to the period in our history that occurred before the development of carbon dating techniques. The “present” is considered to be January 1st 1950, meaning that the Younger Dryas period was around 10,750 – 9,750 BC.
During this time, the earth witnessed a sharp decline in temperatures over a remarkably short period of time (decades as opposed to millennia). Given that this had a major impact on many different ecosystems, you can imagine the kind of effect that this sudden change had.
So what exactly happened? Well, we don’t necessarily know, although there are a bunch of different theories out there, some of them more plausible than others.
The Younger Dryas Hypothesis
One of the more interesting theories about what happened to the Younger Dryas is that a large asteroid or comet disintegrated into large fragments, which then showered down over North and South America, Europa and Asia.
There’s a certain amount of evidence to support this, too. For example, we’ve found large concentrations of platinum and nano-diamonds across over fifty different global sites. It’s posited that these are as a result of the impact, and that’s certainly one explanation for something that we otherwise can’t really understand.
Some scientists have argued that the collision of such a comet could also have led to widescale destruction, burning biomasses and essentially triggering a mini ice age. There’s a lot of evidence that this mini ice age happened, and so it’s really the causes which are up for debate. Although it’s not just the causes that people like to talk about.
For example, many followers of the Younger Dryas Hypothesis suggest that these comet fragments also wiped out a previous civilisation. Given my last blog post on lost civilisations and the prevalence of real lost civilisations from all over the planet, this doesn’t seem particularly implausible, although it can be hard to find definitive evidence either way because of how many years ago it took place.
Previous civilisations and extinction
In the same way that it’s believed that a meteor strike brought about the extinction of the dinosaurs, it’s believed by many that the Younger Dryas meteor caused the widespread demise of animal and plant life. Of course, if this was the case, we’d expect to see some sort of evidence, and there are certainly clues out there for those who are looking.
The problem is that they’re just that – clues. Clues can be interpreted differently, and that’s why the Younger Dryas is such a hotly debated topic. Supporters of the comet hypothesis will tell you that it led to the extinction of a whole bunch of North American animals, ranging from camels and mammoths to the giant short-faced bear.
In recent years, the Younger Dryas has undergone renewed scrutiny, in part because of the popularity of a book called Fingerprints of the Gods by Charles Hapgood. In it, Hapgood suggests that a lost civilisation in Antarctica had been forced to relocate to the South Pole and that they’d been buried beneath the polar ice cap. He cited the work of Rand Flem-Ath, who’s researched this area before and suggested that the civilisation beneath the ice could be Atlantis.
What the evidence says
A wide range of different evidence has been cited to point towards the Younger Dryas hypothesis, including a strata of organic-rich soil that’s been discovered at numerous locations in North America. These locations are also said to house an abundance of nanodiamonds, magnetic spherules (whatever they are) and iridium, platinum and more.
This is actually a reasonably convincing argument, because it’s difficult to explain these phenomena away as a byproduct of any other natural process. But there’s evidence against it too, such as the fact that a study found that there was no sign of a population decline around the Younger Dryas, as we might expect to see. In fact, there’s even evidence to suggest overall growth in the global population towards the end of the Younger Dryas.
There’s also evidence to show that the widespread extinctions occurred at different times, which implies that perhaps a meteor impact isn’t really what’s to blame here. For example, it seems as though the extinctions in North America happened 400 years before the extinctions in South America.
There’s also been a lot of research into why certain species went extinct while others didn’t. For example, more larger animals seem to have disappeared than smaller ones. It’s also strange how some large mammals disappeared while others remained behind. This is seen as an argument against the comet impact hypothesis because it should have wiped out all of them.
Perhaps the most damning argument against the comet theory is that, so far at least, nobody has been able to show evidence of extra-terrestrial metals, which would presumably be brought in by such an impact. In fact, it’s really a case that there’s no concrete evidence either way, mostly because of the astronomical periods of time that we’re talking about.
What I think
That’s one of the reasons why it’s such a popular topic for discussion. If you spend a little time digging, you’ll find no shortage of scientific papers arguing for and against the comet hypothesis, with many papers responding to previous papers by people on the other side of the debate. It’s a scientific back and forth, and that’s one of the reasons why I find it so fascinating to research and to write about.
As for me, I still haven’t quite decided what I think, although I do think that there’s a lot to be said about both sides of the argument. There’s an argument that a crater in Greenland is the site of one of the meteor-strikes, but scientists are still divided on what caused it.
One thing that people do point out is that the odds of such an impact are almost miniscule, and so the fact that it’s said to have happened so recently would make it statistically improbable, though not impossible. Strangers things have certainly happened, especially when we look at the context of the entire universe.
Ultimately, it’s one of those mysterious conundrums that we might never get a definite answer to. Even if we do, it might not come in our lifetimes. Still, that doesn’t make it any less interesting to speculate over, which is why I’ve shared this brief introduction to get you started on your journey.
Now that you know a little more about the Younger Dryas, it’s time for you to do some further research of your own. It’s a truly fascinating topic and one that’s had an impact on many of the books that we read, as you’ll already be familiar with if you’ve read some of my previous posts.
If nothing else, I think that the story of the Younger Dryas is a warning to us about the dangers of climate change and the impact it can have. Anthropogenic climate change aside it had a huge impact in the past and can happen again. We could end up undergoing a period of change that’s just as cataclysmic.
Now it’s time for you to take over and to share your thoughts on the Younger Dryas by leaving a comment. What do you think happened during this fascinating point in history? Do you agree with the comet hypothesis? And do you think it could have wiped out earlier civilisations? Be sure to let me know what you think with a comment so that we can keep the discussion going!