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Swindon, England

Contacts: Charlotte Allen, PPARC Press Office

          Dr William Napier, Armagh Observatory

Wednesday 20th May 1998                                


Ancient myths, tree ring studies and archaeological evidence all confirm that a rare giant comet may have visited the Earth only a few thousand years ago, raining fireballs and meteors in its wake.

Dr Bill Napier, astronomer at Armagh Observatory, and Dr Victor Clube of Oxford and Armagh Universities, have investigated the doom-laden cosmic myths of early civilisation. From the Persian prophet Zooraster, who in 500 BC predicted the end of the world caused by 'a huge comet sent by Satan', to the description in the Book of Revelations of a 'burning mountain' falling from the sky, early history is full of myths of celestial combat, rains of fire and many-headed dragons, which support astronomers' theories of the existence of a tumultuous night sky.

Recent terrestrial research has provided 'hard' evidence to support theories of close encounters with comets. Tree-ring studies of Irish oaks at Queen's University, Belfast, show a dramatic climatic downturn around 2354-2345 BC, perhaps caused as the Earth entered the path of a comet's meteor stream. Archaeological digs in Northern Syria reveal, at around the same time, a cataclysmic environmental event accompanied by destruction of mud-brick buildings caused by a 'blast from the sky', again pointing to an encounter with a giant comet.

Dr Napier's article, 'Comets, dragons and prophets of doom' appears in the second issue of Frontiers, published by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council. All material is copyright free. Copies can be obtained from the Publicity Team on tel. 01793 442123, fax 01793 442002 and e-mail

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