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J.B. Hare

{Introduction © J.B. Hare, 2001, All Rights Reserved}

This companion book to Donnelly's Atlantis, the Antediluvian World, published one year later, is less well known today. Ragnarok is out of print except through specialty print-on-demand publishers, while Atlantis, the Antediluvian World is in print and fairly easy to obtain. Ragnarok, The Age of Fire and Gravel, proposes that a comet impacted the Earth several tens of thousands of years ago; the impact produced the 'Drift' layers of gravel which have been attributed to the Ice ages; this event destroyed a civilization which had high technology, a civilization which vanished completely except for some myths; the disaster was accompanied by catastrophic fire followed by years-long cloud cover and extreme cold. Humanity survived only by hiding in deep caves; when they re-emerged they had to restart civilization from scratch. Donnelly provides extensive geological, archeological, astronomical and mythological evidence for this theory. The book is not academic and often sensationalistic, but his populist style does not seem to detract from the argument.

Today, mass extinction from cometary impact is considered mainstream science, supported by a huge body of physical evidence. In Donnelly's time it was unknown that cometary or asteroid impacts had even occurred on this planet. There was very little knowledge of the structure or nature of comets. Today, we have sent probes into Halleys' comet, landed a probe on an asteroid, and witnessed the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy on Jupiter. We also have extensive data about impact craters on the Earth, Moon, Mars and other planets and moons. The impact event which wiped out the dinosaurs has been validated by a layer of iridium, an otherwise rare element, which appears in the strata in the layer just above the dinosaurs, and a recently discovered impact crater in the Yucatan. There have also been other mass extinctions in the geological past, for instance the Permian extinction before the age of the dinosaurs which also wiped out nearly all life on earth. This growing knowledge of the risk of impact events to our civilization was popularized recently in a pair of big-budget disaster movies: Deep Impact and Armageddon. However, the theory that such an event occurred in the recent geological or even historical past is still considered speculative.

Immanuel Velikovsky (Worlds in Collision, London 1950) proposed that a mass broke loose from Jupiter and became Venus after a near-encounter with Earth in classical antiquity, and used it as a mechanism to justify a literal interpretation of Biblical episodes. In the stifling atmosphere of the 1950s there was a severe backlash by the scientific establishment, which made a rational debate over the merits of his theories impossible. It seems to this writer that Velikovsky's use of Biblical texts was a step backwards from Donnelly, as Donnelly did not insist on a literal, particularly chronological interpretation of the material; Ragnarok constructs a radical rearrangement of Genesis and the Book of Job, and places the events they describe in the prehistoric past. Velikovsky dismisses Donnelly in one paragraph in a footnote.

In addition, Velikovsky's astromechanics still seem unbelievable, in particular, the proposal that the 'Earth stood still' as described in the Book of Joshua, due to tidal effects of the near encounter. The late Carl Sagan, to his credit, analyzed this hypothesis, and concluded that while this is feasible, the ambient temperature would have been raised by 100 to 240 degrees Kelvin worldwide, depending on the latitude, which obviously would have led to the extinction of life on earth.

More recently the book When the Earth Nearly Died When the Earth Nearly Died by D.S. Allan and J.B. Delair [1995] (reissued as Cataclysm: Compelling Evidence of a Cosmic Catastrophe in 9500 B.C.), brought together a mass of evidence that a catastrophic impact of extrasolar material occurred in 9,500 B.C. They believe that this body was ejected by the Vela supernova. They present a compelling amount of physical and other evidence of multiple impacts, giant tidal surges, massive rearrangements of the surface of the Earth, overnight mountain-building, as well as a polar shift. However, this begs the question as to how humanity could have lived through a catastrophe of this dimension, even if advanced technology was on hand. If this sort of event occured today we would be hard-pressed to survive it. Allan and Delair's book, however, is academic to a fault, and much better put together and docmented than Velikovsky. I heartily recommend it as a worthy successor to Ragnarok.

The truth of this hypothesis has yet to be determined. However, if even a 'moderate' impact event occurred in 9,500 B.C. and destroyed an unknown prehistoric civilization it would explain a great deal--for instance the radical fluctuations in climate and sealevel at that time; the Piri Reis map as well as other anomolous maps, not to mention many otherwise mystifying myths such as the Icelandic Voluspa and the Zoroastrian Vendidad. Other texts worth examining can be found elsewhere at this site including the Ancient Near East myths of war in heaven, and Native American stories of emergence from the underworld.

While Donnelly quoted from Zoroastrian scriptures as supporting evidence, there is one item that he missed which has taken on additional relevance in the light of advances in genetics and our knowledge of the effect of cometary and asteroid impacts. Here is a short extract from the Zoroastrian Vendidad, in which the Deity, Ahura Mazda, commands a man, Yima, to build a shelter:

And Ahura Mazda spake unto Yima, saying:

'O fair Yima, son of Vīvanghat! Upon the material world the fatal winters are going to fall, that shall bring the fierce, foul frost; upon the material world the fatal winters are going to fall, that shall make snow-flakes fall thick, even an aredvî deep on the highest tops of mountains.

And all the three sorts of beasts shall perish, those that live in the wilderness, and those that live on the tops of the mountains, and those that live in the bosom of the dale, under the shelter of stables....

Therefore make thee a Vara {an enclosure}, long as a riding-ground on every side of the square, and thither bring the seeds of sheep and oxen, of men, of dogs, of birds, and of red blazing fires.

Therefore make thee a Vara, long as a riding-ground on every side of the square, to be an abode for men; a Vara, long as a riding-ground on every side of the square, to be a fold for flocks.

There thou shalt make waters flow in a bed a hâthra long; there thou shalt settle birds, by the ever-green banks that bear never-failing food. There thou shalt establish dwelling places, consisting of a house with a balcony, a courtyard, and a gallery.

Thither thou shalt bring the seeds of men and women, of the greatest, best, and finest kinds on this earth; thither thou shalt bring the seeds of every kind of cattle, of the greatest, best, and finest kinds on this earth.

Thither thou shalt bring the seeds of every kind of tree, of the greatest, best, and finest kinds on this earth; thither thou shalt bring the seeds of every kind of fruit, the fullest of food and sweetest of odour. All those seeds shalt thou bring, two of every kind, to be kept inexhaustible there, so long as those men shall stay in the Vara.

While at first this appears to be similar to the story of Noah, it has two aspects which until recently would have been baffling.

First of all, the nature of the disaster, which sounds a lot like the prolonged 'nuclear winter' following an impact event, possibly lasting years or decades. If this cold period was simply a very deep winter why go to all this trouble? The text mentions the phrase 'the fatal winters' twice, which implies a duration of at least several years, which is not normal weather even at the worst of times.

Secondly, the inventory which Yima is commanded to store in the shelter: the seeds of humans, animals and plants. While storing seeds of plants might be a reasonable extension of the Noah myth, who (prior to the recent advances in biology) would think of storing seeds of humans and animals? Or even that fauna have 'seeds'? And how would this genetic material be reanimated after emerging from the shelter, which the Vendidad does not explain? Note also the (hydroponic?) gardens and provision for livestock in the shelter; it sounds a lot like a Biodome-style environment, which would be needed to survive the extensive period after an impact event. This sounds strangely like a specification for a shelter that a civilization with a level of technology close to ours (or slightly more advanced) would build to survive an impact event.

As always, the reader is invited to make up their own mind.

Title Page


List Of Illustrations

Part I. The Drift.--Chapter I. The Characteristics Of the Drift

Chapter II. The Origin Of The Drift Not Known Chapter III. The Action Of Waves Chapter IV. Was It Caused By Icebergs? Chapter V. Was It Caused By Glaciers? Chapter VI. Was It Caused By Continental Ice-Sheets? Chapter VII. The Drift A Gigantic Catastrophe Chapter VIII. Great Heat A Prerequisite

Part II. The Comet.--Chapter I. A Comet Caused the Drift

Chapter II. What Is A Comet? Chapter III. Could A Comet Strike The Earth? Chapter IV. The Consequences To The Earth

Part III. The Legends.--Chapter I. The Nature Of Myths

Chapter II. Did Man Exist Before The Drift? Chapter III. Legends Of The Coming Of The Comet Chapter IV. Ragnarok Chapter V. The Conflagration Of Phaëton Chapter VI. Other Legends Of The Conflagration Chapter VII. Legends Of The Cave-Life Chapter VIII. Legends Of The Age Of Darkness Chapter IX. The Triumph Of The Sun Chapter X. The Fall Of The Clay And Gravel Chapter XI. The Arabian Myths Chapter XII. The Book Of Job Chapter XIII. Genesis Read By The Light Of The Comet

Part IV. Conclusions.--Chapter I. Was Pre-Glacial Man Civilized?

Chapter II. The Scene Of Man's Survival Chapter III. The Bridge Chapter IV. Objections Considered Chapter V. Biela's Comet Chapter VI. The Universal Belief Of Mankind Chapter VII. The Earth Struck By Comets Many Times Chapter VIII. The After-Word