Sophia Centre Review

September 2020

Featured Article

Did a Comet Collision Trigger the Farming Revolution

By Dr. Nicholas Campion

Comet collisions constitute a rare but world-changing example of the effect of astronomy on life on Earth. Everyone knows the theory that a comet (or asteroid – both have their advocates) hit the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago and triggered the demise of the giant dinosaurs. Now, new research concludes that a similar, although smaller, event prompted the beginning of the farming revolution in the Middle East around 13,000 years ago. This was a period of sudden cooling, following the warmer temperatures which coincided with the end of the last Ice Age, which we call the Younger Dryas. Geological evidence gathered from Venezuela, Argentina and sites in the USA and UK point to a comet collision as the likely cause. Tom Whipple, writing in The Times, conjured up the scene. ‘It must have seemed like a judgement from the gods. From out of the middle eastern sky came the streak of flame and a terrible explosion’.

But what effect did this extraordinary event have on civilisation? According to a recent study in the online journal Scientific Reports, the cooling of the climate which followed the collision prompted the beginning of the farming revolution. And, without farming, and the ability to feed surplus populations, the civilisation we have today would never have developed. We would still all be living the life of hunter-gatherers. The evidence for the farming revolution comes from studies dating back to the 1970s at Abu Hureyra in northern Syria. We have known for some time that the inhabitants lived on the boundary between foraging for food and growing their own crops. Now we think that it was climate change that prompted local people to plant seeds instead of just eating them. Before the comet hit, Abu Hureyra had probably a few hundred inhabitants. Tom Whipple continues the story. If the theory is correct, he writes, ‘The first residents of Abu Hureyra were extremely unlucky. As bits of comet battered the earth, one exploded close enough to obliterate them’. But some survived, and now we can tell a different story of resilience, ingenuity, survival and a transformation in world history. And, eventually, of course, the population not only recovered but grew until we reached our present levels.

By Dr Nicholas Campion

Edited by Kathleen White

Links and References

Tom Whipple, ‘Comet turned foragers into first farmers, say scientists’, The Times, 16 March 2020, p. 21.

Andrew M.Y. Moore, James P. Kennett, William M. Napier, Ted E. Bunch, James C. Weaver, Malcolm LeCompte, A. Victor Adedeji, Paul Hackley, Gunther Keletschka, Robert E. Hermes, James H. Wittke, Joshua J. Razink, Michael W. Gaultois and Allen West, ‘Evidence of Cosmic Impact at Abu Hureyra, Syria at the Younger Dryas Onset (~12.8 ka): High-temperature melting at >2200 °C’, Scientific Reports 10 (2020): Article number 4185, at

Comet Research Group, at

The IMAGE of comet can be downloaded from NASA website at

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