The Hopewell Comet Airburst Event


Maria Saniel-Banrey
Kenneth Tankersley


By Maria Saniel-Banrey, Geoarchaeology/Anthropology

Advisor: Kenneth Tankersley

Abstract: This paper provides the first direct positive evidence of a comet airburst event, which occurred
during the Middle Woodland cultural period. Using inductively coupled plasma mass
spectrometry (ICP-MS) elemental analysis, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and energy
dispersive analysis of X-rays (EDAX), we found positive Pt and Ir anomalies, micro-meteorites,
micro-tektites, and macro-meteorites in archaeological strata from across the northern Western
Hemisphere, which date just prior to the CE 535-536 extreme weather event. These independent
proxies suggest a time-correlative atmospheric deposition of meteoric debris. The greatest
concentration of Pt, Ir, and meteoric debris occur in the Ohio River valley and likely resulted
from a high altitude (i.e., > 5 km) airburst. This airburst event would have had both short and
long-term impact on the Indigenous population of this region. Additionally, the Middle
Woodland stratum of airburst debris provides a new chronostratigraphic marker for late
Holocene archaeological strata with limited chronometric control.


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