Saturday, October 18, 2008

Real Science Meets Lovecraft's Imagination: Nyarlathotep

The Black Band of Nyarlathotep?

Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become ... Song by Toto

Really Cool History
By Janet Raloff
Web edition
Friday, October 17th, 2008
{excerpts -CP}

... Lonnie Thompson and his colleagues at Ohio State University {keep specimens} quite cool, as in frigid. But that’s the price these scientists pay to preserve some 7,000 ice cores — archives of regional environments around the world, some depicting conditions that existed more than 10,000 years ago.

One core that particularly captured my attention was collected atop Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro. The glacier there is rapidly evaporating. But Thompson’s crew has extracted one core from the site that contains ice that at its bottom dates back 11,700 years. And at a depth corresponding to 4,200 years ago, this core exhibits a curious 3 millimeter black band. It’s dust, Lonnie explains, and appears to help corroborate some ancient archeological records from Egypt, half a continent away.

Egyptian history archived in ice atop a 15,000-foot glacier in central East Africa? Yep. Not far-fetched at all, he says. Indeed, by marrying physical data from ice cores to anthropological records, Thompson says, “we can start to figure out the role that climate and environment played on the rise and fall of cultures.”

There’s no written records of what settlements in East Africa and the Andes were experiencing at that time. But there is such a record from Egypt, Lonnie says. “And you find that this period corresponds to the fall of the Old Kingdom, which is when the pyramids were built, and the rise of the Middle Kingdom.”

Enscribed onto the tombs of pharaohs are tales describing the history of their realm. “These are usually glowing tales of conquests and expansion,” Lonnie explains — much like you often hear politicians crow about today.

Except there was one period in Egypt — 4,186 years ago — when the news was anything but upbeat. Hieroglyphic accounts reported tales of people migrating north and south in a search for food. The stories describe sand dunes crossing from one side of the mighty Nile to the other. Horror stories recounted episodes of mass starvation. Further north, in the Middle East, archeologists have unearthed evidenced of huge cities that came to an abrupt end 4,200 years ago.

The Kilimanjaro black-dust band: “We believe it comes from the Middle East and Africa,” he says. “It appears to record a 300 year drought that impacted the entire region.” And some of that telltale dust appears to have traveled across and up into the Andes.

The question, Thompson says, is how widespread this drought was. Because he also finds markers of it in ice cores he’s brought back from Tibet.

The number and geographic distribution of cores exhibiting the black band allow scientists to probe such apparently devastating events — and show that they can be wide scale and last centuries.

Keep in mind, Thompson says, these were natural climate anomalies. {Or was it the terror of Nyarlathotep?? - CP}


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