[meteorite-list] Mammoths Found Peppered with Meteorite Fragments

From: Sterling K. Webb <sterling_k_webb_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu, 13 Dec 2007 19:30:26 -0600
Message-ID: <047c01c83df0$e81206c0$5d22e146_at_ATARIENGINE>

Hi, List

Well, I knew we were going to get back to those
mammoth teeth... How about the history of the
whole crazy thing? Who is Richard B. Firestone?

Firestone is a well-established scientist, long at
the Lawrence Radiation Lab at UC Berkeley, and
for the DOE, Editor of the standard reference of
the thousands of isotopes of the natural (and
unnatural) elements, in its eighth edition. Publications:
http://ie.lbl.gov/rbf/publist.htm are journal articles,
refereed, invited, etc. Expert on isotopic dating
lab techniques and geochemistry. Here is his CV:

I think you can dismiss the shotgun theory, really:
No Cardiff Giant, no Abominable Snow Man, no fake
diamond mine, no Barnum tricks.

As near as I can determine, this entire thing began
20 years ago (you can't say he isn't patient) because,
as a University geochemist, he was approached by
several archaeologists, of varying degrees of academicality
(some were "amateurs"), for assistance in dating their
sites, and he did the nice-guy thing by helping them.
He uncovered numerous isotopic anomalies in paleo-
Indian sites and artifacts. Puzzling anomalies. Enough
to get some funding from DOE to make a research
project with Wm. Topping. He didn't go looking for
anomalies (or anything); he found them, though. And,
at first, the only conclusion that he drew was that the
radiocarbon dates for these sites were wrong and
couldn't be trusted, which was what he was asked to

This original research, begun in 1990, was published
in this form in 2001, in "The Mammoth Trumpet,"
which despite its name is a respected journal, with
both scientific and popular articles:
The full PDF link will not open to a window,
but will download (I discovered):
There is also an (formal) answer to criticism of
the article by his co-worker, Wm. Topping:

What we have here is an "Orphan Fact." It has
no convincing explanation to safeguard it. So,
everybody ignores it and believes it is just an error,
or aberration, some kind of mistake. But there is
massive evidence of what Firestone originally called
a "nuclear" catastrophe. He has advanced a number
of explanations, of varying degrees of likelihood.
They are: a) Super Solar Flare, b) Nearby Supernova,
c) Neutron Bombardment of Unknown Origin,
d) Comet, e) Comet from a Supernova, f) Iron
Meteorite Airburst, g) Another Tunguska-type
Airburst, h) Uh... Oh, gee, where'd I put that list?

Back in the fall of 2005, there was a whole long
string on the List about this. I actually sent Firestone
a polite little email asking, if he thought these particles
came from a supernova, why didn't he check them for
Iron-60 (which is produced only in supernova)?

Here's his response:

< Sterling:
< There are many things to look for and 60Fe
< is a good one. I don't think that this is
< easy and nobody has come forward to do
< it. So far we have found anomalous 40-K
< abundances and strong evidence that the
< impacting body was composed of KREEP-like
< material identified on the Moon. We are
< looking for fullerenes and diamonds in the
< particle layer.
< It is interesting that people are critical
< of something they haven't seen. The
< archaeologists I showed this to are very
< receptive. The particles that bombarded
< mammoths probably are comparable to well
< known "pre-solar grains" that are forged
< in the supernova explosion itself. If
< they can survive that environment, they
< can likely penetrate the atmosphere.
< Of course, this is a hypothesis and people
< are welcome to provide other explanations,
< but not to simply dismiss the data.
< Regards,
< Rick Firestone

That was two years ago. As we know now, they
found "fullerenes and diamonds" in the layer. As
always, when people dislike an explanation, they
do not search for an explanation that works, they
attack the facts for demanding one. That's not the
way it's supposed to work, as Firestone rightly says
in the last sentence of that reply (above).

At the same time (2 years ago), I suggested that the
Earth's passage through a small tight globule or compact
stream of supernova debris (dust), likely from the
Scorpius-Centaurus OB Association, the nearest star
cluster with recent supernovae, could explain the irradiation,
the isotopic anomalies, the radiocarbon excursions, the
iron particles, the micro-meteoritic debris, the fullerenes
and the diamonds --- all stuff you'd find in supernova

I do not imagine that "dust" can account for particles
embedded in mammoth-teeth. I don't know what could
account for it, frankly. It is (just barely) conceivable that
a dense clump of very fast-moving supernova dust might
contain particles much larger than dust. You have to bear
in mind that "galactic" objects don't just travel at interplanetary
speeds; they travel in the ranges of possible galactic speeds.
Much faster, or could be.

You can see from Firestone's comments about tiny fast
particles surviving the atmosphere that he knows pretty
much nothing about it. He's been learning though. Now,
he understands only the airburst of a large object can
get the particles close to the elephants, er, mammoths,
hence the new explanation. It probably isn't explanation
enough. But if you don't like the hypothesis, then the
appropriate response is to put on your hypothesizing
hats and get into Deep Thought. (Yeah, you're right;
I got nothing.)

However, don't waste time kicking the Orphan Fact!
There is independent evidence of cosmic radiation "spikes"
in the Antarctic ice cores at the very same dates as Firestone
finds elsewhere, in the isotope Beryllium-10, again this is an
isotope only generated in supernovae.

Something happened, but what?

And, Firestone has a popular-market book out now (of course):

Sterling K. Webb
----- Original Message -----
From: "tracy latimer" <daistiho at hotmail.com>
To: <cynapse at charter.net>; "Meteorite Mailing List"
<meteorite-list at meteoritecentral.com>
Sent: Thursday, December 13, 2007 2:41 PM
Subject: Re: [meteorite-list] Mammoths Found Peppered withMeteorite

I also agree. Any airburst or cratering event sufficiently energetic to
create Meteor-Crater-esque iron spherules and fire them, still smoking, into
mammoth tusks, should result in more definite signs of concussion and heat
damage to the other bones. We should be finding, in conjunction with pitted
mammoth tusks, skeletons with shattered bones, singed hair and flesh and
other remnants, and other evidence of being at the meteoric equivalent of
ground zero. Look at what happened at Tunguska. Where are the charred tree
stumps and other plant matter?

Playing Devil's advocate for a moment, is there a chance the author is
fudging the findings? Could the proposed results be replicated by, say,
firing a shotgun shell full of coarse iron filings at a tusk, like using
paper from the appropriate era to forge a historical document? Stranger
things have happened in the course of academia, especially when a scientist
has strongly invested in a theory. Human beings also love a fantastic, even
if erroneous, story, over a more pedestrian explanation, despite Occam's
Razor. Is there another, simpler explanation for the findings?

Just call me Doubting Tracy (I was dubious about the Peru crater as well,
and was happy to have been proven wrong!)

Tracy Latimer

> From: cynapse at charter.net
> To: meteorite-list at meteoritecentral.com
> Date: Wed, 12 Dec 2007 22:27:33 -0400
> Subject: Re: [meteorite-list] Mammoths Found Peppered with Meteorite
> Fragments
> On Wed, 12 Dec 2007 11:23:33 -0800 (PST), you wrote:
>>Eight tusks dating to some 35,000 years ago all show signs of having
>>being peppered with meteorite fragments.
>>The mammoth and bison remains all display small (about 2-3mm in size)
>>Raised, burnt surface rings trace the point of entry of high-velocity
>>projectiles; and the punctures are on only one side, consistent with a
> Okay, does this make much sense to someone better with the math than I am?
> (I'm
> staring in your direction, Sterling). How far would particles of
> meteorititic
> or cometary dust (presumedly from an airburst) be able to travel in
> near-surface
> atmospheric thickness while still retaining enough velocity to penetrate
> bone
> and leave "raised, burnt surface rings"? I'm betting not very far at all.
> Tens
> of meters? Hundreds? I'm betting that if you are close enough to have dust
> (2-3mm) penetrate bone, you are close enough that you are going to be
> turned
> into a bag of splintered pulp by the shockwave. Just doesn't seem to hold
> water
> to me.
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Received on Thu 13 Dec 2007 08:30:26 PM PST

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