Jul 01, 2024 I Bibhu Dev Misra

Did Meteor Airbursts cause the Late Bronze Age collapse?

The sudden and catastrophic collapse of the Bronze Age civilizations was one of the most dreadful events in history. Towards the beginning of the 12th century BCE, cities across the eastern Mediterranean region – in Cyprus, Crete, Greece, Anatolia, Egypt, Syria, Levant, etc. – went up in flames, never to rise again, and the cultural expressions and religious institutions of the Bronze Age were lost forever. Historian Robert Drews, Professor of Classical Studies, Emeritus, at Vanderbilt University, wrote in the book, The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 BC, that, 

“Within a period of forty to fifty years at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the twelfth century almost every significant city in the eastern Mediterranean world was destroyed, many of them never to be occupied again…Throughout the eastern Mediterranean, the twelfth century BC ushered in a dark age, which in Greece and Anatolia was not to lift for more than four hundred years. Altogether, the end of the Bronze Age was arguably the worst disaster in ancient history...”[1]

The intensity and geographic scale of this devastation are quite mind-boggling. When the archaeologists of the mid-19th century started exploring the ancient Bronze Age sites in the eastern Mediterranean, they found that the cities and palaces – which were constructed of megalithic blocks of stone - had been entirely leveled and almost everywhere they detected a layer of ash containing charred wood. At Hattusa, the capital of the mighty Hittite Empire, the excavators found a layer of “slag, formed when mud-bricks melted from the intense heat of the conflagration,”[2] while at Mycenae, the “masonry structures within the fortification walls (of the citadel) melted in a fire of great intensity.”[3]

The area of the Great Temple with storerooms surrounding the temple proper, Hattusa, Turkey. Credit: Carole Raddato, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia commons

Everywhere there were signs of a massive, violent conflagration that had brought on the utter demise of these longstanding centers of culture. Many of these sites – such as Hattusa or Mycenae - remained unoccupied, forgotten, and lost from the pages of history for thousands of years, until they were dug up by archaeologists in the 19th century. At some of the sites, archaeologists have detected signs of rebuilding after the initial wave of devastation in the early 12th century BCE. However, even the rebuilt cities did not last long and were destroyed and abandoned shortly. Apparently, whatever had brought on this widespread disaster lingered on for some time during the 400 years of the Dark Ages that followed.

Archaeological site of Mycenae, Greece. Credit: Annatsach, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

However, not all cultures in the region were utterly decimated in the 12th century itself. In some cases, the collapse was long drawn out. In Egypt, the rule of Ramses III – the last of the great pharaohs - ended in 1155 BCE with his murder, following which there was a “mega drought” lasting 150 years or more, which caused a severe economic crisis.[4] The end of the 20th Dynasty in 1069 BCE marked the end of Egypt as an independent power. The period from 1070 BCE – 664 BCE is called the “Third Intermediate Period” of Egypt, when the Libyans and the Kushites claimed the throne, at a time of political turmoil, social disintegration, droughts and famine. 

Another ancient empire that survived the initial wave of destruction in the 12th century was Assyria, even as most cities in the Levant and Southern Mesopotamia went up in flames. However, upon the death of Ashur-bel-kala in 1056 BCE, even Assyria went into a comparative decline for the next hundred or so years. The empire shrank significantly, and by 1020 BCE, Assyria appears to have controlled only areas close to Assyria itself.

The ruins of the Bronze Age city of Ugarit in Ras Shamra, Syria. Credit: Loris Romito, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The effect of this catastrophic civilizational collapse on the people of the eastern Mediterranean was traumatic, to say the least. There was large-scale depopulation, and the people lived in small, isolated, settlements. Some squatters occupied the ruins of the big cities and lived in small huts. Famine gripped the lands, and people migrated in search of food. The ancient trading networks came to a grinding halt. A Dark Age gripped the lands for nearly 400 years, during which time the entire cultural edifice of the Bronze Age was lost forever. 

When the Iron Age began at around 750 BCE, the construction of megalithic cities and palaces had ceased. The pottery had simple geometric patterns. Iron replaced bronze as the metal of choice for manufacturing tools and weapons. Chariots were no longer used in warfare. The Linear B writing of the Mycenaean period was forgotten, and the Greeks had to re-learn the alphabet from the Phoenicians in the 8th century BCE. It was almost as if an “epoch” of humanity was over and the old had given way to the new.

Modern historians think of the Greek Dark Ages as a time of “transition” from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. Robert Drews used the term “dawn time” to refer to this period of catastrophe and transformation. He wrote that,

“The end of the eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age, in the twelfth century BC, was one of history’s most frightful turning points. For those who experienced it, it was a calamity. In long retrospect, however, the episode marked a beginning rather than an end, the “dawn time” in which people in Israel, Greece, and even Rome sought their origins. ...The metallurgical progress - from bronze to iron - was only the most tangible of the innovations. More significant by far were the development and spread of alphabetic writing, the growth of nationalism, of republican political forms, of monotheism, and eventually of rationalism.”[5]

The philosophers of ancient Greece generally thought of the Dark Ages as a time when a “Shift in the Ages” took place from the “Age of the Heroes” to the “Iron Age”. Many Greek writers dated the famous battle of Troy described in the Iliad, to around the same time that the Late Bronze Age collapse had occurred: Ephorus had dated it to 1135 BCE, Sosibius to 1172 BCE, and Eratosthenes to 1184 BCE. 

As it turns out, the ruins of the city of Troy were discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1870, in the course of his excavations on the mound of Hisarlik, which overlooks the plain along the Turkish Aegean coast. The excavations at the site have revealed multiple occupation layers dating back to 3600 BCE. 

The ruins of the gates and terraces at Troy, dating to the Late Bronze Age. Credit: Bgabel, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What is interesting is that, Troy was destroyed at around 1180 BCE – coinciding with the onset of the Late Bronze Age collapse - following which the city was rebuilt but was destroyed again in 1050 BCE, possibly due to an earthquake. Troy was again rebuilt by the survivors, but suffered yet another destruction by a fire in 950 BCE. This tells us that the entire Mediterranean region was visited by an extended period of catastrophes during the Dark Ages. Robert Drews makes a similar observation: 

"Altogether, then, the Catastrophe seems to have begun with sporadic destructions in the 1st quarter of the thirteenth century, gathered momentum in the 1190s, and rages in fully fury in the 1180s. By about 1175 the worst was apparently over, although dreadful things continued to happen throughout the twelfth century."

The question is, what could have caused this widespread and long drawn-out calamity in the Mediterranean region that obliterated the Bronze Age cultures that had flourished in the region for nearly three millennia? 

The Sea Peoples

Some historians believe that the so-called “Sea Peoples”- a loose, seafaring, confederation of uncertain origin – are to blame for these upheavals. The principal evidence for the invasions of the Sea Peoples comes to us from the inscriptions and pictorial reliefs on the walls of the mortuary temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu. 

They tell us that, during the eighth year of the pharaoh’s reign, a coalition of foreign states that originally lived “on the islands in the middle of the (Aegean) sea” attacked Egypt. The attackers are said to have defeated a number of countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Hatti (Hattusa), Alashiya (Cyprus) and Arzawa (a small city in Western Anatolia). Ramesses III claims to have slaughtered the Sea Peoples in a naval battle, and took many of them as captives.[6]

Scholars now believe that the Sea Peoples were a military alliance of “western Anatolian petty states”, since the names of some of the individual tribes that made up the Sea Peoples (which have been mentioned in the Egyptian inscriptions) are, to a large extent, identical to the neighbors of the Hittites in the west and the southeast.

A map of the Late Bronze Age collapse in the Eastern Mediterranean shows the cities which collapsed, and those which survived the initial destruction. Credit: Lommes, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

But, if we think about it, the Sea Peoples were not such a powerful adversary, since they were easily annihilated by Ramses III, and therefore - while they might have defeated a few Hittite cities - they were unlikely to have reduced those cities to utter rubble. Besides, the Late Bronze Age collapse took place over a vast swathe of land in the eastern Mediterranean and the Sea Peoples certainly didn’t go anywhere after the thrashing they received in Egypt. Moreover, the catastrophic events in the Mediterranean region had persisted for some time during the Dark Ages. It was not just a collapse of cities that we are dealing with here. Famines had overtaken the lands, trade networks were disrupted, people forgot how to read and write, and all the cultural expressions of the Bronze Age were lost.

Clearly, this was not the work of some invaders of uncertain origin, but of Mother Nature. A major environmental cataclysm must have brought this on.

Some historians have pointed to the eruption of the Hekla volcano in Iceland as a potential trigger. The eruption of Hekla has been dated to around 1021 BCE (±130), and it caused worldwide temperatures to drop for nearly 18 years, as recorded in Irish bog oaks.[7] Since the explosion occurred nearly two hundred years after the beginning of the Late Bronze Age collapse it cannot be a regarded as a cause, although it certainly contributed to the woes already inflicting the people. 

Hekla volcano, beyond a snowy field of volcanic ash, Iceland. Credit: cogdogblog, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Meteor Airbursts? 

A possible cause for the Late Bronze Age collapse could be a series of meteor airbursts above the eastern Mediterranean region. When meteors explode in the air, they do not leave any impact craters, but their effects on human civilization can be utterly devastating. Shock waves from meteor airbursts can flatten cities and the intense temperatures from the explosions can cause violent conflagrations capable of melting mud-bricks and stone walls – which is what has been seen at many Late Bronze Age sites. 

A well-known example of a meteor airburst is the Tunguska event of June 30, 1908, when a large meteor - about 120 feet across weighing 100 million kilograms - exploded over Eastern Siberia with the force of 1000 Hiroshima nuclear bombs, and flattened over 2000 square kilometers of forest. Strong seismic waves and near-hurricane gusts of wind were felt 600 kilometers from the site. Locally, hundreds of reindeer were killed, but there was no evidence that any person was killed in the blast, due to the remoteness of the location. The same explosion over a densely populated city would have had tragic consequences on human life. 

In the eastern Mediterranean, a devastating meteor airburst had occurred a few centuries prior to the Late Bronze Age collapse. In 2021, a team of scientists discovered that the Bronze Age city of Tall el-Hammam in Jordan had been completely flattened by a Tunguska-sized meteor airburst at around 1650 BCE. The high temperatures from the airburst melted pottery shards and clay bricks and produced diamond-like carbon, while the incredible pressures shocked quartz crystals. Their findings were published in the journal Nature.[8]

Tall el-Hammam excavations. Credit: UC Santa Barbara

Some researchers believe that Tall el-Hammam could be the biblical city of Sodom mentioned in Genesis, which, in addition to Gomorrah, had been destroyed by God, since its inhabitants had become wicked. As per Genesis, fire and sulfur had rained down on the cities, which leveled the buildings, killed all the inhabitants and destroyed the vegetation in the fields.[9]

James Kennett, emeritus professor of Earth Science at UC Santa Barbara, who was leading the research team, said that “All the observations stated in Genesis are consistent with a cosmic airburst…but there's no scientific proof that this destroyed city is indeed the Sodom of the Old Testament.”[10]

While the biblical identity of Tall el-Hammam will continue to be debated, it is becoming evident that meteor airbursts can have devastating consequences on human civilization, and many such events have occurred in the past. But, did anything of this sort occur during the time of the Late Bronze collapse?

The Kaali Crater 

A recent scientific paper published in the International Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics (2020), claims that the Kaali Crater in Estonia - which is named after a small village called Kaali located close to the impact site - was caused by a meteorite impact between 1183 - 1162 BCE. The force of the impact set up a Baltic-wide mega-tsunami at 1171 BCE, and caused a violent seismotectonic effect in Sweden. 

The author of the paper, Nils-Axel Morner, a retired geologist of Stockholm University wrote,

“At about 1200 cal. yr. BC something quite unique occurred in the Baltic region: a meteorite impacted the ground on Saaremaa Island in Estonia giving rise to the Kaali Crater and 8 minor impact marks. At the same time along the Swedish east coast, we record high-magnitude paleoseismic activity, ground shaking with power of fracturing the bedrock, intensive methane venting tectonics, and the occurrence of a mega-tsunami with a run-up on the order of 15 m. In this paper, we propose that all the events occurred at the same time, and that the geodynamic events along the Swedish east coast were all triggered by the Kaali impact.”[11]

The main Kaali Crater has a diameter of around 110 m and a depth of 25 m, including its debris rim. Today, the crater has a lake in it, fed by groundwater and precipitation. There are eight minor craters within 1 km of the main crater, with diameters ranging from 12 – 40 m. It is believed that these craters were created when a large meteor, weighing anywhere between 400 – 1000 tons entered the earth’s atmosphere and fragmented into multiple pieces, which struck the Saaremaa Island in Estonia with a velocity of about 10 - 20 km. per second.

The Kaali crater on Saaremaa Island, Estonia, viewed from near the debris rim. Credit: Mannobult CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The Kaali Crater is located on Saaremaa Island off the coast of Estonia. Source: Google Maps

There have been ongoing debates about the age of the Kaali Crater, with the span of uncertainty ranging between 1700 BCE – 1000 BCE. New mathematical models used by Brendan Duffy for the computation of the boundary age for the onset of sedimentation within the crater provide dates ranging from 1183 BCE - 1162 BCE. This is in close agreement with the 1171 BCE date for the Baltic-wide mega-tsunami that has been recorded at 11 sites in Sweden. 

Nils-Axel Morner has proposed that a large meteor fragment must have fallen into the Baltic Sea, somewhere between Estonia and Sweden, and caused the mega-tsunami. Around the same time, there was an abnormal peak of seismotectonic events at 13 sites in Sweden resulting in bedrock deformation, large-scale liquefaction, and explosive methane venting tectonics. 

The timing of the impact i.e. between 1183 - 1162 BCE coincides with the catastrophe that struck the eastern Mediterranean at the beginning of the 12th century BCE. Since multiple fragments of the meteorite struck the land in Estonia, and a large fragment probably fell into the Baltic Sea, all of them may have originated from a large, disintegrating, comet. 

It is quite possible that some large chunks of cometary debris exploded over the eastern Mediterranean region, flattening the Bronze Age cities, and causing the mud-bricks and stone masonry to melt. Cosmic airbursts and impact events can also destroy the vegetation in the fields and induce widespread aridity, thereby causing famines. Since volcanism can also be triggered by meteor impacts, the Hekla eruption could have been a result of these bombardments. 

The reason why the Sea Peoples were invading other cultures of that time was possibly because they were one of the first victims of the meteor airbursts; and having lost their homes and food sources, they were searching around for a new place to settle. 

There are indications that meteor impacts continued to occur during the Dark Ages. Lars Franzen and Thomas Larsson of Goeteborg University, Sweden, have presented evidence from sites in Tunisia and Sweden, which show that,

“A major atmospheric cooling event, accompanied by excessive precipitation, which led to flooding, occurred around 1000 BCE. The event was sudden and widespread, and the finding of small glassy spherules pointed to a possible impact origin. Franzen and Larsson suggested that an asteroid or comet of diameter in the range 0.5-5 km may have landed in the eastern Atlantic around 1000 BCE, affecting in particular Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.”[12]

Now, why would the earth be subjected to an extended period of bombardment from asteroids and meteors? From where did these impactors originate? The answer to that question probably lies within the dense core of the Taurid meteor stream. 

The Taurid Swarm

The Taurids are the largest meteor stream in the inner solar system. It contains some large chunks of rocks that have struck the earth in the past. Most scientists believe that the Beta Taurids – which is the section of the stream we cross from June 5 to July 18, with peak activity on June 29 – was the source of the Tunguska meteor of June 30, 1908. 

The progenitor of the Taurid stream was a giant comet, around 50 - 100 km in diameter, which had entered the inner solar system at least 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. The comet was tossed into a short-term orbit around the Sun, and disintegrated in stages, leaving behind a trail of debris known as the Taurid meteor stream or Taurid Complex.[13]

The Earth crosses the Taurid meteor stream twice in course of its annual orbit. The dense swarm of comets within the stream is called the Taurid Resonant Swarm. Credit: David Clark, University of Western Ontario.

The giant progenitor comet of the Taurid meteor stream still remains hidden in the center of the Taurids, moving within a tightly packed swarm consisting of several large comets formed by the fragmentation of the progenitor (all of which are in a dormant state), and dozens of full-size asteroids up to 1 km wide. This dense cluster of comets and asteroids within the Taurid meteor stream is called the “Taurid Resonant Swarm”. The faint Comet Encke, which is the only visible comet within the Taurid meteor stream today, could be a recently reactivated fragment of the Taurid progenitor comet. 

In an article in National Geographic, Australian astronomer Duncan Steel provided an estimate of how often we get hit by the comets and asteroids within the Taurid swarm:

“Every 2,500 to 3,000 years or so, the core of the Taurid stream passes near Earth and produces much more intense meteor showers for a few centuries, said Steel. A gap of a few centuries separates the era of intensity between Northern Taurids and Southern Taurids.”[14]

This is a significant observation from the perspective of the Late Bronze Age collapse. If the earth had passed through the dense core of the Taurids towards the beginning of the 12th century BCE, then it would have resulted in intense meteor showers over a period of a few centuries – with consequent cosmic airbursts and impact events - which could account for all the calamities that befell the eastern Mediterranean region over the next 400 years. 

The area of collapse, in fact, was much wider than the eastern Mediterranean. In reality, the Greek Dark Ages was a time of global collapse of civilization. 

A Global Catastrophe

Everywhere we look around the world, the period from 1200 BCE – 700 BCE was the time when the erstwhile Bronze Age cultures collapsed and gave way to the Iron Age civilizations. In Persia, for instance, the Median kingdom emerged in the 8th century BCE, but what do we know about the Bronze Age cultures of the region? Very little, for all of them disappeared, and it is only at sites like Jiroft that we get an inkling of Bronze Age Persia.

The Indus Valley civilization had already undergone a catastrophic collapse at around 1900 BCE due to a host of environmental conditions – notably droughts and earthquakes - and most Indus cities had been abandoned by 1700 BCE. However, a Late Harappan, post-urban culture continued to survive in parts of Sindh and Saurashtra, which was characterized by relative poverty in their material culture – crude pottery, poorly constructed buildings, disappearance of urban amenities etc. The Late Harappan phase continued till around 1000 - 900 BCE,[15] and ended due to factors not clearly known. After a gap of nearly 400 years we see the emergence of the 16 Great Kingdoms (Mahajanapadas) in the Gangetic plains at around 600 BCE, marking the beginning of the Iron Age culture of India. While certain Harappan traditions were carried over to the later-day Indian civilization, many elements of their skills, beliefs, customs, and socio-cultural setup were lost forever.

Catastrophe also struck the Olmec civilization of Mesoamerica at this time. The center of Olmec culture in the early years was at San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan. However, in c.950 BCE there was a wholesale destruction of San Lorenzo monuments. The site was abandoned at around 900 BCE, and the center of power shifted to La Venta soon afterward. Mesoamerican scholars believe that severe environmental changes may have been responsible for this shift in Olmec centers, with certain important rivers changing course.

Apparently, the Greek Dark Ages was a time when civilizations across the world got a drastic reboot. The old ways of doing things were violently erased, and while some elements of the Bronze Age societies were carried forward, we mostly see the emergence of new artistic styles, religious beliefs, philosophies, architecture, and modes of governance. This brings to mind those haunting words that the Egyptian priest of Sais had spoken to Solon, the Athenian law-giver when Solon had gone to Egypt at around 600 BCE: 

“Whereas just when you and other nations are beginning to be provided with letters and the other requisites of civilized life, after the usual interval, the stream from heaven, like a pestilence, comes pouring down, and leaves only those of you who are destitute of letters and education; and so you have to begin all over again like children, and know nothing of what happened in ancient times, either among us or among yourselves.”[16]

The “stream from heaven” that the Egyptian priest spoke of, could refer to the Taurid meteor stream, which seems to play a crucial role in the periodic annihilation of civilization. In my book Yuga Shift, I have proposed that the Greek Dark Ages correspond to the period of transition between the descending Kali Yuga and the ascending Kali Yuga in the Yuga Cycle, and I have identified the Taurid meteor stream as the primary trigger for the cataclysms of the transitional periods between the Yugas.


[1] Robert Drews, The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 B.C., Princeton University Press, 1993, p. 3-4.
[2] Ibid p. 8.
[3] Ibid p. 24
[4] Dave Roos, “What Caused Ancient Egypt’s Decline?”, History, 10 August 2022, https://www.history.com/news/decline-ancient-egypt-causes
[5] Ibid p. 3.
[6] "The Sea Peoples’ Inscriptions and Excavation Results", Luwian Studies, https://luwianstudies.org/the-sea-peoples-inscriptions-and-excavation-results/
[7] Mike Baillie, “Do Irish bog oaks date the Shang dynasty?” Current Archaeology 1989, 10: 310–313.
[8] Ted E. Bunch et al, “A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea”, Scientific Reports, 2021, Vol.11, Article No.18632, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-97778-3
[9] Genesis 19:24-26.
[10] Sonia Fernandez, “Evidence that a cosmic impact destroyed ancient city in the Jordan Valley”, Phys.org, 20 September 2021, https://phys.org/news/2021-09-evidence-cosmic-impact-ancient-city.html
[11] N. Mörner, “The Kaali Impact as Trigger of a Mega-Tsunami Event and Violent Seismotectonics in Sweden”, International Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 2020, Vol.10, No.3, pp. 235-246, https://www.scirp.org/journal/paperinformation.aspx?paperid=103095
[12] Trevor Palmer, Robert N. Brandon, Perilous Planet Earth: Catastrophes and Catastrophism Through the Ages, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 344.
[13] D.I. Steel, D.J. Asher, S.V.M Clube, “The Taurid Complex: Giant Comet Origin?” International Astronomical Union Colloquium, 1991, Vol. 126, pp. 327-330, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0252921100067063 
[14] John Roach, “Meteor Shower Promises Seven Shooting Stars an Hour”, National Geographic News, 7 November 2003, https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/11/1107_031107_taurids.html
[15] Jim G. Shaffer, “Reurbanization: The Eastern Punjab and Beyond”, Studies in the History of Art, 1993, vol. 31, pp. 53–67.
[16] Plato, Timaeus, http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/timaeus.html

Bibhu Dev Misra

Bibhu Dev Misra is an independent researcher and writer on ancient civilizations and ancient mysteries. His passion is to explore the knowledge left behind by the ancients in the form of inscriptions, artifacts, monuments, symbols, glyphs, myths and legends. His articles have been published in different magazines and websites such as the New Dawn, Science to Sage, Nexus, Viewzone, Graham Hancock's website, Waking Times etc. and he has been featured on podcasts, interviews and online conferences organized by Earth Ancients, Portal to Ascension, OSOM, Watcher's Talk, Times FM and others. He is an engineer from IIT and a MBA from IIM, and has worked in the Information Technology industry for more than two decades. He can be reached at [email protected] and via his website Ancient Inquiries: www.bibhudevmisra.com

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