Clues to the Great Catastrophe

The Author of Atlantis in the Caribbean Searches for the Truth of the Younger Dryas

The date is September 29, 2014. It is beginning to rain as I cross a sparse, sandy wasteland under threat of commercial development. I am in Lommel, Belgium, close to the border with the Netherlands. With me is a TV camera crew, a local archaeologist, and an elderly gentleman in his eighties. He is wheelchair bound, partially deaf, and can barely speak due to the scars left behind by throat cancer twenty years earlier. Yet Johan (Han) Kloosterman, a Dutch geologist and mineralogist, has no intention of giving up on life any time soon. He is one of the world’s acknowledged experts on what has become known as the Younger Dryas Boundary impact event, which now becomes the most likely mechanism behind the destruction of Atlantis. His sheer determination to continue to learn, and deliver his findings to those who will listen, makes him one of the most inspirational people I am ever likely to meet in my life.

The Younger Dryas impact event is thought to have occurred approximately 12,800 years ago. At that time, scientists now believe, a comet appeared in the night sky, most likely entering the firmament somewhere in the vicinity of the Pleiades constellation.

After passing through the inner solar system this heavenly harbinger most likely entered perihelion, its close approach to the sun. All the indications are that, like Icarus in Greek mythology, it came too close to the solar orb. This caused its breakup into a freight train of fragments, some as much as a kilometer in size. These fiery projectiles, some of them hundreds of times more powerful than the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated, were sent on a collision course with the Earth.

Here, on the surface of the planet, the Upper Paleolithic populations in the American Northwest would have had a rude awakening that day, as multiple fragments of the comet entered into low orbit. Contact with the atmosphere would have caused these intensely bright fireballs to break up still further, many splitting apart and exploding as terrifying air blasts even before they reached the ground.

The result of this torrent of impacts, which carved a path of destruction across the North American continent and beyond as far as the Atlantic Ocean and Eurasian landmass, would have triggered uncontrollable wildfires consuming everything in their path in a mass conflagration. As the fires raged, great volumes of toxic smoke and burned debris would have risen into the upper atmosphere, very rapidly creating a thick black layer, blotting out the sun and moon for an extended period of time. How long exactly, no one knows.

Some large fragments of the comet crashed into the North American ice sheets, instantly vaporizing the water locked within. This resulted in torrential rain full of toxic chemicals that would have continued for weeks on end, flooding many areas of the planet. In addition to this, torrents of water freed up from the ice sheets would have torn through the hills and valleys, consuming everything in their path and changing the face of the landscape forever. The final outpouring of this melt water into the oceans would have raised the sea level almost immediately, drowning low-lying regions of the planet in just a matter of weeks.

The total blackout of the sun and moon, combined with the sudden release of fresh water into the oceans, would have triggered a rapid plunge in global temperatures, which in just a single human generation brought about a new Ice Age that lasted for approximately 1,200 years. This is known to scientists in Europe as the Younger Dryas event, and to those in North America as the Valders Readvance.


The Usselo Horizon

When my book, Atlantis in the Caribbean, was originally published in 2000 under the title Gateway to Atlantis, very little scientific evidence was available on this catastrophic event, which took place in relatively recent human history. Despite this, I used what data I could find to demonstrate that the mechanism responsible for the destruction of Plato’s fabled island empire was the Younger Dryas comet, which I referred to as the Carolina Bays impact. The Carolina Bays is the name given to the countless elliptical craters that litter North America’s eastern Atlantic seaboard, from New Jersey all the way down to Florida. Almost certainly, they were created as a direct result of the catastrophic events of 12,800 years ago.

Included in the evidence I presented was the scientific work of Han Kloosterman. He had determined that the impact left behind a distinctive, carbon-rich layer of burned debris between one-and-a-half and thirteen, centimeters in thickness. To date this has been detected in countries on six continents, including France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, White Russia, India, South Africa, Syria, Egypt, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Australia, Great Britain, and here in Belgium, where just over the border in the Netherlands, at a place named Usselo, the significance of this ominous black layer was first recognized by Kloosterman in the 1980s.

Archaeologists originally attributed the existence of this carbon-rich layer to localized conflagrations caused by lightning strikes, erupting volcanoes, or human deforestation. What they had not anticipated, however, was the sheer extent and uniformity of the layer, something realized only after Han’s findings were announced in 1999.

Today this burned layer (known everywhere as the Usselo horizon, except in the United States, where it is referred to as the black mat) is being examined in countries all over the world. Its existence has now become the unique signature of a comet impact that very nearly destroyed the habitable world. Recently, it has been found to contain telltale microscopic impact debris, such as nanodiamonds, magnetic spherules, and tiny glass-like objects made of silica produced only at temperatures in the range of two thousand degrees centigrade.

Aside from myself, Han’s extraordinary discoveries have come to the attention of other scientists in the field of catastrophism, the study of catastrophes in world history. They include Richard Firestone, a nuclear chemist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who with his own colleagues, including geologist James P. Kennett and geological consultant Allen West, has been independently working on the idea of an impact event having taken place coincident to the Younger Dryas mini–Ice Age. It is the subject of his essential book The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes, published by Inner Traditions in 2006. In his book Firestone provides brand new evidence to suggest that the Carolina Bays are, as I propose in Atlantis in the Caribbean, the result of massive air blasts caused by disintegrating comet fragments impacting with the earth.

Since the publication of Firestone’s book dozens of scientific papers have appeared on the subject of the Younger Dryas impact event. Even though their conclusions are fiercely contested by a group of skeptical scientists who vehemently deny that any such event ever took place, more and more evidence emerges each year to tell us very firmly that something terrible did befall the world around 12,800 years ago.


Finding Atlantis

Atlantis is a subject that has spawned a thousand books and articles. Generally they argue either that it never existed or—if it did exist—that Plato’s island empire is the memory of some lost island civilization that thrived fairly recently in human history. The most popular scholarly approach, promoted even today by one of the world’s largest and most influential TV channels, is that the story of Atlantis is a memory of the destruction of Minoan Crete in the wake of a massive volcanic eruption on the nearby island of Santorini (ancient Thera), sometime around the middle of the second millennium BCE.

Yet to substantiate such claims, some major fudging of the evidence is necessary. This includes the moving of Atlantis from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean; and assuming that when Plato wrote solar years he in fact meant “lunar” months, reducing Atlantis’s date of destruction from the stated 9600 BCE down to a more workable date around 3,500 years ago. Such research, biased toward the belief that civilization began in the Bible lands in the centuries following the Great Flood, circa 2350 BCE, has long stilted our understanding of this age-old enigma of the past.

Many other authors use the evidence of Atlantis presented by Plato to promote personal theories on the island’s geographical location. The mid-Atlantic Rift, the Arctic Circle, Antarctica, the Bolivian Altiplano, Crete, Gibraltar, Spain, Morocco, and even, more recently, Indonesia, have all been proposed as the true location of lost Atlantis. It seems that every few years a new book comes along claiming to have “solved” the mystery of Atlantis. As compelling as these theories might seem many of them conveniently ignore Plato’s clear statement that his lost island empire existed in the “Atlantic Sea,” the whereabouts of which has never been in doubt.


The Cuban Connection

Back in 1998, when Gateway to Atlantis was being written, I wanted to explore the possibility that Antarctica was the true location of Atlantis. New books from the likes of Graham Hancock and Canadian researchers Rose and Rand Flem-Ath had reignited the debate over whether this frozen continent might once have been home to a lost civilization. Yet an unexpected turn of events at the end of that year guided me on to a quite different path of discovery. It was Cuba, the largest of the Caribbean islands, I now surmised, that had been the role model for Plato’s fabled “Atlantic Island,” and not Antarctica. It was a conclusion reached, not only from Cuba’s great similarity to the description Plato gives of Atlantis, but also from the knowledge that the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, so horrifically annihilated by the Spanish in the wake of Columbus’s “discovery” of the New World in 1492, had for countless generations preserved legends of a devastating cataclysm. This was said to have split apart and drowned a former landmass that had once united the thousands of islands and cays that today make up the Bahamian and Caribbean archipelagos.

It was information that had been conveyed to the first Spanish explorers to reach the West Indies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. I wondered whether it was possible that similar stories had been told to more ancient voyagers, most likely Phoenician or Carthaginian traders, who had visited these islands prior to the age of Plato. Did they carry these age-old legends back to the Mediterranean, where they eventually reached the ears of philosophers like Plato? Did these stories speak of the greatest of all the Atlantic islands being destroyed in one terrible “day and night” of “earthquakes and floods”? Did Plato go on to use these stories, which came originally from indigenous peoples on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean, to construct his detailed account of Atlantis?

To me the answer was yes. So I embarked on a major research project to prove that maritime exploration and even highly secretive trade routes extended all the way from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean islands, then known as the Hesperides, prior to the age of Plato. I also sought out a suitable scientific mechanism to explain the stories told by the indigenous peoples of the Bahamas and Caribbean regarding the breaking up of a former landmass that left behind the thousands of islands and cays seen today. This led me eventually to the slowly mounting evidence for the Younger Dryas impact event, which took place close to the time frame offered by Plato for the destruction of Atlantis; that is, 9600 BCE.

It was confirmation of this catastrophic event that I was now witnessing here in Lommel, Belgium, in the company of Han Kloosterman, one of the pioneers in this field. We were here to do some filming for Ancient Aliens, the ever-popular TV show on ancient mysteries that had also come to realize the importance of these catastrophic events on popular myth and legend, including the Bible’s account of the Great Flood.

The Younger Dryas impact would have devastated the Bahamian and Caribbean archipelagos. Any existing populations that inhabited these island groups would have been decimated. Although no obvious trace of their forgotten world remains on land, it could very well exist beneath the shallow waters of the Bahamas. Ever since the 1950s strange architectural features, as well as rock mounds, cave art, and human burials located in submerged caves, have been found off the coasts of several Bahamian islands. Clearly, the archipelago was occupied long before the Lucayans, the first recognized inhabitants of the Bahamas, arrived by boat from Cuba and Hispaniola, circa 600–700 CE.

How long ago the Bahamian archipelago was first settled remains unclear. Yet enough tantalizing evidence exists to demonstrate that a human population existed both in the Caribbean and on the former Bahamian landmass when fragments of the Younger Dryas comet are suspected to have struck the western Atlantic basin some 12,800 years ago. If so, then it is the survivors of this impact event that are to be credited with the inception of the Atlantis myth, their stories being passed down by word of mouth until they were told to the first Phoenician and Carthaginian traders to reach the Bahamian and Caribbean islands in the centuries before Plato wrote his famous dialogues, circa 350 BCE.

This was the bold theory outlined in Gateway to Atlantis. Its writing involved an extraordinary quest of discovery that had led me, early in my investigations, to explore a painted cave located on a remote island off the southwest coast of Cuba. What I discovered here provided the first clues regarding the ultimate fate of Atlantis and the symbolic manner in which knowledge of its destruction had been passed down across countless generations.

The myth of Atlantis is like the conundrum of Schrödinger’s nebulous cat. We can speculate, argue, or present our case, but ultimately there are no real answers—no box we can open or sign we can read that will tell us exactly where Atlantis was located. And perhaps—like the eternal quest for the Holy Grail—we are not supposed to know all the answers. Yet this should not stop our searching for lost Atlantis, and presented in Atlantis in the Caribbean is one of the most comprehensive reviews of all the evidence left to the world since Plato wrote his famous account some 2,350 years ago.

The new discoveries, tell us very clearly that Plato was not wrong. Moreover, that the destruction of Atlantis was brutal in every manner, the evidence of which is being uncovered now in every part of the world. It is even here at Lommel in Belgium, close to my own home in Essex, southeast England. It exists as a constant reminder of the terrible fate that befell the world during an epoch that we can be thankful we never lived through ourselves.


The above is from the preface to Atlantis in the Caribbean: And the Comet that Changed the World by Andrew Collins (© 2016 Bear & Company) and is reprinted here with permission from the publisher. A frequent contributor to Atlantis Rising Magazine, the author has investigated the idea of advanced civilization in prehistory since 1979. He is author of From the Ashes of Angels, Gods of Eden, The Cygnus Mystery, and Gobekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods. For more information, visit

By Andrew Collins