A Nuclear Catastrophe in Paleoindian Times?
Introduction. We introduce here a remarkable theory of terrestrial catastrophism that seems to be supported by evidence that is equally remarkable. One of the authors of this theory (RBF) is identified as a nuclear scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Nuclear Laboratory. The second author (WT) is a consultant. The authors' credentials seem so good that we must take a close look at their extraordinary claims concerning a natural phenomenon that they believe reset radiocarbon clocks in north-central North America and---potentially---elsewhere on the planet. We will be most interested in the reception accorded these claims by the scientific community.
The claims. In the authors' words:
Our research indicates that the entire Great Lakes region (and beyond) was subjected to particle bombardment and a catastrophic nuclear irradiation that produced secondary thermal neutrons from cosmic ray interactions. The neutrons produced unusually large quantities of ^239 Pu and substantially altered the natural uranium abundances (^235 U/^238 U) in artifacts and in other exposed materials including cherts, sediments, and the entire landscape. These neutrons necessarily transmuted residual nitrogen (^ N) in the dated charcoals to radiocarbon, thus explaining anomalous dates.
Some North American dates may in consequence be as much as 10,000 years too young. So, we are not dealing with a trivial phenomenon!
Supporting evidence. Four main categories of supporting evidence are claimed and presented in varying degrees of detail.
#Anomalously young radiocarbon dates in north-central North America. Example: the Gainey site in Michigan. [Other map sites include Thedford & Zander, Ont.; Potts, NY; Shoop, Penn.; Alton, Ind.; Taylor, Il.; Butler & Leavitt, Mich.; and far to the north Grant Lake, Nunavut; and in the far southwest Baker, N.M. - TWC]
#Physical evidence of particle bombardment. Example: chert artifacts with high densities of particle-entrance wounds.
#Anomalous uranium and plutonium abundance ratios in the affected area.
#Tree-ring and marine sediment data.
The authors claim that the burst of radiation from a nearby supernova, circa 12,500 years ago, not only reset radiocarbon clocks but also heated the planet's atmosphere, melted ice sheets, and led to biological extinctions.
If verified, the claimed phenomenon would also "reset" archeological models of the settlement of North and South America. To illustrate, we may have to add as many as 10,000 years to site dates in much of North America!
(Firestone, Richard B., and Topping, William; "Terrestrial Evidence of a Nuclear Catastrophe in Paleoindian Times," *The Mammoth Trumpet*, 16:9, March 2001. Cr. C. Davant III. This off-mainstream journal is published by the Center for the Study of the First Americans, 355 Weniger Hall, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331-6510.)
Comment. Thus we add another potential cause of an often-hypothesized 12,500-BP catastrophe that is said to have changed the world's history. Competing theories involve asteroid impact, volcanism, a Venusian side-swipe, etc.
Science Frontiers, No. 135, May-Jun, 2001, pp. 1 & 2