Did a Comet Destroy Ancient Sardinia?
A group of Italian scientists recently met to present their hypotheses regarding the cause of the disaster that devastated the island of Sardinia in 1175 BC. Their meeting took place before the opening of the exhibition called Big Wave: The Mythical Island of Sardinia, which is currently running at the museum in Sardara. The hypothesis drawing the most attention is that ancient Sardinia was destroyed by the impact of a comet which is believed to have caused a tidal wave.
Scientists have long wondered what caused the destruction in ancient Sardinia, with hypotheses consisting of: an earthquake, a tidal wave, a comet, and even Zeus punishing the behavior of the inhabitants (with the latter put forward by Plato in his dialogue Critias.)
Su Nuraxi archaeological site, which was excavated in 1950, has been dated to the Bronze Age, Sardinia (The Guardian)
Sergio Frau, a writer and journalist who has been researching the region of Sardinia for over 10 years, was joined by leading Italian scientists when he visited the island and took part in the presentation prior to the Sardara Museum's exhibition. Frau believes that the cause of the ancient destruction on the island was the impact of a comet, which set off a huge tidal wave.
"We’re talking about a huge volume of water, some 500 meters (1640.4 feet) high [the elevation up to which the nuraghi were affected]. Only a comet could do that, if the impact occurred very close to the coast and in a very specific direction,” he asserted in the presentation.
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Frau's explanation for the catastrophe that struck Sardinia is somewhat new. It was not until the 1980s that people even thought possible a tidal wave in the Mediterranean. However, scientists researching the topic have now declared at least 350 tidal waves in the area over a 2,500 year period.
Sardinia is one of many locations that have been likened to the famous Atlantis. The ancient philosophers Plato and Aristotle as well as the Greek historian Herodotus all believed that the modern day Sardinia was the island of Atlas. They asserted that the ancient site was beyond the pillars of Hercules, in the strait between Sicily and Tunisia. This belief is also held by Frau.
Illustration of 'New Atlantis' by Sir Francis Bacon from his utopian novel of 1627 (Endlessformsmostbeautiful/Flickr)
Sardinia today is an island with numerous sites of archaeological interest. It contains 7000 nuraghi fortresses (supposedly the oldest castles in Europe), ancient cemeteries, "giants' tombs," caves with nicknames like "Witches Dwellings," ruins of temples and more. Despite the archaeological wealth of the island, the large numbers of malaria carrying mosquitoes kept researchers from the island until the late 20th century when DDT was able to eradicate the problem. Since then the island of Sardinia has been a location of various excavations, including one in 2012 in which thousands of fragments of life-size stone warriors was unearthed.
Stone warrior and detail of stone warrior's head, Mont'e Prama, Sardinia (Wikimedia Commons)
Frau's research has caught the attention of others, as he was able to maintain a captivated audience for the two hour presentation, according to The Guardian. One of the audience members was the former head of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Azzedine Beschaouch, whose provided this feedback to the press regarding Frau's research:
“One of the merits of the research carried out by Sergio Frau is to have shown that the nuraghe civilization was one of the focal points of the ancient world, in terms of both geography and outlook... Now we need to give scientific, historical, cultural, political and emotional substance to a still mysterious past.”
Prehistoric temple of Monte d'Accoddi, believed to be one of the oldest buildings in the world, Sassari, Sardinia (Wikimedia Commons)
Stefano Tinti, a geophysicist and tidal wave expert, is also convinced that the hypothesis is correct. “A falling comet strikes the sea at a speed of 20km (12.4miles) a second...It takes less than a second for the wave to propagate, with a four or fivefold increase in size.” Tinti told Le Monde.
The next step is for the scientists to look for evidence of a comet's impact underwater - if it can be found, or at the least, fragments of the comet.
Featured image: Nuraghe Ruju, Sardinia (Wikimedia Commons)