• "Then a star fell:" Folk-memory of a celestial impact event in the ancient Egyptian Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor?

    Author(s):
    Lloyd Graham (see profile)
    Date:
    2019
    Group(s):
    Ancient Near East, Assyriologists, Egyptology
    Subject(s):
    Ancient Egypt, Ancient Egyptian literature, Egyptology, Ancient Near East, Folktales
    Item Type:
    Article
    Tag(s):
    Archaeoastronomy, meteorite, geomythology, extinction
    Permanent URL:
    http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/gwvr-xs27
    Abstract:
    The motif in the centre of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor (ca. 2000-1900 BCE) concerns a star that fell to earth and caused the extinction of a population of giant serpents on an enchanted island, whose location is traditionally ascribed to the Red Sea. These creatures could apparently breathe fire, but they themselves were “burned utterly” in the fireball that followed the celestial body’s impact with the earth. If the recently postulated Late Holocene meteorite impact (<5000 years ago) at Umm al Binni/al Amarah in southern Iraq is indeed the cause of a regional impact fallout layer dated to ca. 2350 BCE, then a folk memory of this event could be preserved in the Egyptian story; the proposed impact site and the story’s likely setting both lie due east of Egypt, and oral reports of the loss of life wrought by the impact in Mesopotamia would soon have reached Egypt. A less likely candidate is the putative comet strike of ca. 2807 BCE that has been proposed to account for the undersea “Burckle crater” south-east of Madagascar. Both of these sites are as yet unproven as impact craters. A confirmed meteorite impact in south-western Egypt <5000 years ago, which caused the Kamil crater, is another possible contributor to the fireball motif in the Tale. In light of modern theories that a meteorite, comet or asteroid impact caused the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event in which the non-avian dinosaurs were eliminated 66.5 million years ago, it is uncanny to find the destruction of a unique population of flightless, dragon-like giant reptiles attributed to just such a collision in this ancient narrative.
    Notes:
    Additional tags: Astromythology; Otherworld journey, Otherworld voyage, Ancient Egypt, Middle Kingdom literature, Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, meteorite impact, meteor impact, dinosaur extinction
    Metadata:
    Published as:
    Online publication    
    Status:
    Published
    Last Updated:
    6 months ago
    License:
    All Rights Reserved
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