Solar Catastrophe

Solar Catastrophe

Did An Outburst from the Sun End the Last Ice Age
and Destroy a Forgotten Civilization?

By Robert M. Schoch, Ph.D.


The conventional status quo view is that true civilization and high culture dates back to the period of approximately 3500 BC to 3000 BC in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus region. In the early 1990s, my work on the Great Sphinx of Egypt broke this barrier when I demonstrated, using geological data, that the great statue’s origins go back thousands of years earlier than previously believed. Egyptologists had dated the Sphinx to the Fourth Dynasty, circa 2500 BC. Initially I “conservatively” (although not so conservative according to my critics) suggested that the core body of the Sphinx dates back to 5000 BC or a bit earlier. Over the years, as I continued my studies and collected more data, I slowly revised my estimate, considering progressively earlier possible dates for the statue. I am now more comfortable considering the notion that possibly the Sphinx’s earliest origins go back 10,000 years or more, perhaps even to the period of circa 10,000 BC to 9,000 BC; that is, the end of the last Ice Age.

For many years one of the harshest criticisms of the re-dating of the Great Sphinx was that it apparently stood in grand isolation at such a remote period in time. The people who carved it must have been extremely sophisticated culturally and technologically. They were civilized. But where was corroborative evidence of such sophistication, of true civilization, at such an early time? Recently such evidence has been found not in Egypt, but in southeastern Turkey at a site known as Göbekli Tepe. Here immense finely carved, T-shaped, limestone pillars, many in the range of two to five and one-half meters tall and weighing up to an estimated ten to fifteen tons, form Stonehenge-like circles. Various pillars at Göbekli Tepe are decorated with bas-reliefs of animals, including foxes, boars, snakes, aurochs (wild cattle), birds, and arthropods (a scorpion, ants, and/or spiders). The level of sophistication seen at Göbekli Tepe clearly, in my opinion, indicates that a true civilization existed here. What is really amazing, and confirms my work on the re-dating of the Great Sphinx, is the age of Göbekli Tepe. Based on radiocarbon techniques and geological studies, the site dates back an astounding 12,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Four of the circles at Göbekli Tepe were aligned to the region of the sky containing Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades on the morning of the Vernal Equinox. Due to precession of the equinoxes, such orientations change over time, with the entire cycle taking close to 26,000 years. The builders of Göbekli Tepe took such changes into account, reorienting their structures between the years 10,000 BC to 8000 BC, indicative of an added level of sophistication: a scientific orientation. Then suddenly circa 8000 BC, the people of Göbekli Tepe disappeared, but first they intentionally buried the site! Why? Were they attempting to protect the site, either so that they might some day return, or so that it would be preserved for future generations?

With my re-dating of the Great Sphinx and the early date of Göbekli Tepe, we now have clear evidence of sophisticated culture and civilization circa 10,000 BC to 8000 BC. But then this forgotten civilization disappears! There is a decline and hiatus for thousands of years, until the rise once again of civilization in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and elsewhere circa 3500 BC to 3000 BC. What happened?

In order to explain the demise of this forgotten civilization, represented by the original Sphinx and Göbekli Tepe, we need to turn to geology. The early forgotten civilization collapsed during the end of the last Ice Age when Earth experienced dramatic cataclysmic changes. Something very sudden and very unusual took place, unlike anything we have experienced since. The peoples and cultures of that remote time were utterly devastated. Knowledge was lost, order devolved to chaos, and a dark age lasting thousands of years ensued.

The end of the last Ice Age was not simply a matter of the climate warming and glaciers melting. Earth experienced a series of climatic fluctuations. It had been extremely cold, with continental glaciers extending much further than they do today, but the climate started to warm. However, temperatures reverted back, and there was a short cold spell, known as the Younger Dryas, before the final warming and the official end of the last Ice Age. Studying Greenland ice core data, scientists have determined that the Younger Dryas began and ended very abruptly. Its start dates to circa 10,900 BC, and its ending (the final warming) began circa 9700 BC and may have occurred within an incredible three years; given our inability to resolve the finest details of something that happened so long ago, it may have literally happened overnight.

How do we explain this pattern of abrupt climatic shifts? I once hypothesized that comets were responsible. A comet hitting the land or a shallow ocean, or exploding above the land’s surface, scattering dust and debris into the atmosphere, would cause global cooling. Although the initial strike would happen in a flash, it would take some years for the cooling to reach its full extent. This pattern fits well with the cooling at 10,900 B.C. and recently evidence, albeit still controversial, of a comet explosion over North America at this time was found.

What about the warming event of 9700 BC? In years past, I speculated that comets hitting deep oceans were responsible. A comet might break the thin oceanic crust, releasing heat from the hot magma beneath. Vaporized and displaced water would rain down on Earth, and tsunamis would wash across coastal areas, warming the planet. But even with a comet, or a series of comets, bombarding the oceans, could the warming happen as quickly as the Greenland ice cores indicate? I think not. But if not comets, what?

I believe the answer is right before our eyes: our Sun!

Despite popular misconceptions, the Sun is not a stable, unchanging, eternal ball of fire in the sky. Indeed, from an astrophysical and geological perspective, the Sun is quite the opposite. It is unstable, continually seething and churning, in disequilibrium, discharging not only visible light, but also a large energy array across the electromagnetic spectrum and belting out charged particles as well. While the Sun may have little hiccups from time to time, it can also suffer from major bouts of coughing, spewing massive “solar storms” Earth’s way. Such storms, thousands of times more powerful than anything recorded in modern times, have left their marks in prehistoric records.

When discussing solar outbursts, we need to consider plasma. Sometimes referred to as the fourth state of matter, plasma consists of electrically charged particles. Familiar plasma phenomena on Earth today include lightning and auroras, the northern and southern lights, as well as large-scale, upper atmospheric phenomena known as sprites. In the past, much more powerful plasma events sometimes took place, due to major solar outbursts (including what are known as coronal mass ejections). Los Alamos plasma physicist Dr. Anthony L. Peratt and his associates have established that ancient petroglyphs (carvings on rocks) found worldwide record an intense plasma event (or events) in prehistory. Peratt determined that powerful plasma phenomena observed in the skies would take on characteristic shapes resembling humanoid figures, humans with bird heads, sets of rings or donut shapes, and writhing snakes or serpents—shapes reflected in countless ancient petroglyphs. The Easter Island rongorongo script, recorded on antique wooden tablets, is composed of shapes similar to the petroglyphs. As I discussed in a previous article in Atlantis Rising (No. 82, July-August 2010), studying the Rongorongo Glyphs in detail (inspired by my wife, Catherine Ulissey, who first noticed the connection), I concluded that the Easter-Island tablets record a major plasma event in the skies thousands of years ago. This, I believe, was the event that brought a final close to the last Ice Age.

Solar outbursts creating powerful plasma phenomena would cause strong electrical discharges to hit Earth, burning and incinerating materials on our planet’s surface, melting glaciers, and causing water to evaporate and then precipitate as torrential rains. Is this the origin of the stories around the world about rains and floods, such as Noah’s flood? Could such rains have been responsible for the water erosion on the body of the Sphinx? At higher latitudes the melting of ice sheets kilometers thick would release pressure on the crust and cause increased catastrophic earthquake and volcanic activity resonating around the globe. The solar outbursts would also disturb Earth’s natural magnetic shield; particles from outer space could flood into our atmosphere, the ozone layer, which protects us from deadly ultraviolet radiation, could be diminished or destroyed and radiation levels on the surface of Earth could potentially reach deadly levels. People cowered for their lives. The best way to escape would be to go underground.

Of all above-ground structures, megalithic stone monuments would stand up best against the onslaught from the skies. Is this why the ancients often carved into solid rock, creating underground shelters and cities? Is this why, around the world, they built monuments using megalithic techniques? Some of the surviving ancient structures may date back to this remote period, while other structures, though built later, were intended to withstand the onslaught if the Sun should erupt again. Collective memories of the catastrophe, even if increasingly vague, even, perhaps, relegated to the subconscious, would last a very long time.

The solar outbursts and plasma events, beginning circa 9,700 BC, (the end of the last Ice Age) eradicated advanced civilizations and high cultures of the time, and the radiation emanating from the plasma may have affected mental and psychical abilities. Perhaps this is the basis for the universal myth of a Golden Age, a time when beings on Earth had mental abilities far surpassing those of later times. The 9,700 BC event may be the original basis for the Atlantis legends; the timeframe fits well with Plato’s account. Humankind was thrown into a dark age for thousands of years, only to reemerge with vague and scattered memories. Today we are just beginning to rediscover what happened during that distant period, and only beginning to comprehend what the people of that remote time may have understood.

A truism of historical geology is that if something happened in the past, a similar phenomenon might happen again. So, should we anticipate future major solar outbursts? After analyzing the data, the answer in my opinion is a definitive yes! Back in 1962, astrophysicist Thomas Gold suggested that a major plasma event might hit Earth approximately every ten thousand years. It has been 11,700 years since the last one, so by this reckoning the next one could arrive at any moment! Indeed, arguably we already have signs that our Sun is once again going into a period of instability during which major solar outbursts may occur.

In modern times, the last few hundred years, the most extreme solar event took place in the middle of the nineteenth century. During late August and early September of 1859, a massive solar outburst pummeled Earth (known as the Carrington Event, named after Richard Carrington who observed an initial solar flare). An enormous amount of energy was released, not only as visible light (solar flares) but also as intense X-rays and gamma rays that, traveling at the speed of light, hit Earth eight-and-a-half minutes later. Accompanying coronal mass ejections (giant bubbles or clouds of electrically charged gas and plasma) were shot toward our planet, reaching us over the next several days. Incredible auroral displays (northern and southern lights) at unusually low latitudes were seen. More importantly, and tellingly, the telegraph systems of the time were widely affected. The 200,000 kilometers of telegraph lines then in use suffered major disruptions and failures, becoming unusable as unwanted electric currents flowed through the wires. There were instances where sparks flew from telegraph-receiving instruments; some operators were nearly electrocuted; several telegraph stations reportedly burned down.

The Carrington Event is not just a historical oddity but is of extreme importance to both our understanding of the dynamics of solar outbursts and our ability to predict the ramifications of future solar events. In 1859, civilization suffered little more than a bit of inconvenience and damage to its telegraph system. Such would not be the case if a Carrington-level event occurred today!

For instance, we now know that, in addition to the other effects, protons ejected by the Sun were accelerated by the solar flares and coronal mass ejections to incredibly high energies. These protons penetrated into our atmosphere, creating what is known as a solar proton event. Energetic protons hitting the nuclei of nitrogen and oxygen atoms created a shower of neutrons that rained down onto the surface of Earth. In 1859, there was no technology to detect the solar proton event or the neutrons and their associated elevated levels of radiation. Today, among other effects, would be the failure of many electronic devices, including computers, cell phones, and communication networks. The accompanying coronal mass ejection would cause widespread blackouts as electrical grid systems become overloaded with excess electricity.

I need to be clear that as potentially catastrophic to modern society as a repeat of the 1859 Carrington Event might be, it would be miniscule compared to the solar outbursts that ended the last Ice Age and devastated the forgotten civilization of that time.

There are strong indications that our unstable Sun is going through changes that could result in more major solar outbursts in the near future, perhaps even at the level of the outbursts that ended the last Ice Age. Writing in the prestigious journal Nature (28 October 2004), S. K. Solanki, of Max Planck’s Institut für Sonnensystemforschung (Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, and colleagues, state, “According to our reconstruction, the level of solar activity during the past 70 years is exceptional and the previous period of equally high activity occurred more than 8,000 years ago.”

James A. Marusek, a physicist and engineer, retired from the U.S. Department of the Navy, argues that the Sun is currently undergoing a physical-state change. The inherently unstable Sun is readjusting and re-equilibrating, as it must do periodically through geological time. We may already have had a precursor of what is to come in the very near future, namely the Carrington Event.

A study published in the highly acclaimed scientific journal Space Weather (23 February 2012) by senior scientist Pete Riley, of Predictive Science in San Diego, has concluded that there is an approximately one in eight (12%) chance of a Carrington-level Event occurring within the next decade. This is much higher than most scientists ever imagined. From reading the original paper and looking at the data, it can be concluded that Riley may have even underestimated the probability.

There is no doubt in my mind that we should learn from the past and take the threat of another major solar outburst seriously!


Robert M. Schoch, a full-time faculty member at Boston University, earned his Ph.D. in geology and geophysics at Yale University. He discusses the themes outlined in this article and much more—from Easter Island to Egypt to Turkey; from galactic super-waves to the Mayan calendar; from ancient wisdom to new science that overturns standard paradigms—in his latest book, Forgotten Civilization: The Role of Solar Outbursts in Our Past and Future (Inner Traditions, 2012). Website:

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