Original Post August 29, 2012
‘Thunderstones’ in the form of tektites – Did human beings watch them falling?
As an additional possibility of no small importance, the concept of the thunderstone may have been sparked by a conflation of lightning with meteors which, on occasion, do deposit rocks onto the surface of the earth. François Lenormant, Allan Cardinall, Gerald Wainwright, Robert Temple and Alastair McBeath are among the many scholars who recognised the ultimate thunderstone in the meteorite as it was seen to fall. Temple identified an interesting geographic distribution between areas more likely to experience thunderbolts or meteorite falls respectively:
‘In Egypt, where thunder and lightning are rare because of the climate, it is meteors which are seen rather than thunderbolts, and meteorites which are retrieved from the place where a heavenly object has struck the ground. But in Greece and Italy, where thunder and lightning are extremely common, it is thunderbolts which are commonly seen, and which repeatedly strike the earth. And whatever is retrieved from the site whether a real or imagined product of the thunderbolt is a “thunderstone” …’
To an observer, lightning strikes and meteorite falls have rather more in common than is often realised. Meteors and lightning both involve ephemeral flashes of light cast by the ‘sky’ with terrifying effect. ‘Electrophonic’ meteors, such as many bolides, are accompanied by a variety of sounds, including crepitation. Meteorites often impact amid such thunderous sounds: ‘Many observers near the points of meteorite impacts have reported consistent patterns of sounds: whistling or buzzing like that produced by falling bombs, tearing or rumbling noises, and detonations analogous to those produced by supersonic aircraft’.
To raise an even ‘boulder’ idea, is it conceivable that recurrent traditions of mythical beings succumbing to colossal thunderbolts testify to actual observations of a meteorite impact? Inflammatory though this may sound to hardcore surviving uniformitarians, it is certainly remarkable that Edwin Denig (1812-1858), an Assiniboine (North American Plains), attributed the demise of the aquatic monster Wau-wau-kah to the impact of a ‘thunder stone’, ‘a black projectile that came whistling out of the west with “terrible velocity”, deafening noise, and a bright flash’ – long before geologists commenced to entertain impact scenarios for mass extinctions.
Indeed, meteorites are not the only rocky offspring of impact events. Impactites are bodies formed of ‘glassy to finely crystalline material created by fusion of target rock by heat generated during impact of a craterproducing meteorite’: ‘If the impactite material is a natural vitreous fused silica glass formed under high temperatures in a quartz sand environment, it is called lechatelierite‘.
If meteorites and impactites added fuel to the idea of ‘thunderstones’, other types of thunderstones fall into place as well. The inclusion of many prehistoric implements receives a firmer grounding as these were sometimes forged out of meteoric iron in ancient Egypt and elsewhere – surely not by accident. And tektites, needless to say, did descend from the heavens amid luminous displays and thunderous booms that may have dwarfed the odd fireball. The idea must meet with derision, as less than half a dozen tektite strewnfields are known, the youngest of which is dated to some 800,000 years ago – too early to have left any marks on human memory. As one scholar remarked with respect to the Australian tektites:
‘The last explanation, that they fell from the sky, happens to be correct, but just by chance, inasmuch as the fall of the australites, though geologically recent, predates the coming of man to Australia’.
Even so, some traditions apparently beg to differ. In 1927, a Barkindji (western New South Wales, Australia) vividly recounted the discovery of odd-looking rocks in the wake of a fallen ‘star’:
‘AND THEY COULD SEE THE SKY WAS LIT UP … AND THERE WASN’T ANY MOON, SO THEY TOOK NOTICE OF THIS, AND THEY GOT SCARED …THEN THEY HEARD THIS RUMBLING NOISE FROM THE SKY, LIKE THUNDER … AND AS IT CAME DOWN CLOSE, THERE WAS RED STREAKS, AND A GREAT BIG BALL OF FIRE COMING DOWN … AND THERE WAS SMOKE … AND WHERE IT FELL, SOME OF THEM DIED THERE, AND SOME OF THEM GOT BURNT … THERE WAS FIRE IN IT. …
YEARS AGO, WHEN WE CAME OUT HERE, THERE WAS SOME DIFFERENT COLOURED STONE AS WELL AS WHAT YOU SEE NOW. THERE WAS A LOT OF BLACK STONE HERE … THAT SORT OF DULL BLACK LIKE YOU SEE IN OUR PEOPLE’S OLD FIREPLACES. AND IT HAD SHINY BITS LIKE BLACK MARBLE, TOO, AND BITS OF GREEN, AND BITS THAT WERE WHITE-ISH LIKE THE FAT IN A SHEEP. … AND IT RAINED FOR DAYS … AND DAYS … AND DAYS …’ (capitals original, paragraphing added)
Was the story-teller describing Australites? The predominance of a black colour and the presence of glassy characteristics certainly suggests so, all the more since indigenous Australians are known to have been familiar with Australites. The estimated dates may seem to be cast in stone, but – at the risk of falling out with specialists – one must ask whether our radiometric dating methods are still reliable enough considering that the constancy of radioactive decay rates seems to have been assumed – if not even falsified – rather than proven. A future realisation that the Australites may actually have precipitated within the past 10,000 years would certainly hit hard.
Rens Van Der Sluijs