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from the trenches
Ancient Impacts? Volume 61 Number 4, July/August 2008

Comet Destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah!" screamed recent British headlines. "That was hype," says Mark Hempsell, one of two British spacecraft engineers who recently wrote a book claiming that an Assyrian cuneiform tablet records the trajectory of a comet that eventually struck the Austrian Alps in 3123 B.C. "Sodom and Gomorrah don't appear in the book at all," says Hempsell, who notes their interpretation is based on a sober assessment of the data, though it has yet to find support among archaeologists. "It has all the hallmarks of a crackpot theory, but we think the evidence is convincing."

Meanwhile, a paper published last year argued that a comet hit North America 12,900 years ago and wiped out the Clovis people. The theory is now meeting stiff critiques from archaeologists who argue there is clear evidence the Clovis people developed into other cultures. One critic admits there may have been an "impact event," but that it probably didn't cause widespread change, pointing out that a 1908 comet impact in Siberia wasn't responsible for the Russian Revolution a decade later.

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