Response to 'The Fall of Phaethon: A Greco-Roman Geomyth Preserves the Memory of a Meteorite Impact in Bavaria (South-East Germany)' by Rappengluck et Al. (Antiquity 84)

Article excerpt

The article by Rappengluck et al. (2010) has proposed a connection between the historical myth of the fall of Phaethon and a meteorite impact in south-eastern Bavaria. The authors contend that the well-known myth of the crash of the sun chariot represents the survival of a memory of this natural catastrophe and suggest therefore that this confirms that the impact took place during the Iron Age, some 2500 years ago. The Tuttensee plays an important part in this hypothesis; the authors consider it to be the largest crater in a strewn field of 60 x 40km.

The phenomena which they ascribe to the meteorite impact have, however, long been known to geologists working in the region to be the results of processes connected to glaciers, i.e. processes of redeposition and weathering. The arguments, drawing on astronomical and archaeological associations, continue to give cause for doubt (see also Darga & Wierer 2009) and geological misgivings have now been vindicated by radiocarbon dating obtained for the infilling of the basin of the Tuttensee.


An auger core was taken from the peat bog surrounding the present-day Tuttensee (inside the proposed 'crater wall'). This core encountered peat above lake marl. Four samples from different depths gave an undisturbed sequence ranging from 4800 years ago near the surface to 12 500 years ago flora the lake deposits at the base.

Description of the profile (Kroemer 2010) and dating [Lab. no Beta Analytics, USA]

-0.5 m peat decomposed

0.6m cal BP 4580-4420 [Beta 262618]

0.8m cal BP 6890-6670 [Beta 262617]

2.5m cal BP 10 220-9910 [Beta 265371]

-2.5m fen peat to wood peat

2.8m cal BP 12 750-12 390 [Beta 265372]

-4.0m lake marl (confirmed)

-5.0m lake marl (presumed on the basis of the consistency tested by piling)

The deposits were generally waterlogged; the lake marl especially had a soft consistency.

This continuous and undisturbed sequence of peat overlying lake deposits from 4800 to 12 500 BP clearly contradicts the existence of structures which would be expected from a 2500-year-old impact crater. Above all, Rappengluck et al. (2010) propose an impact which not only created the Tuttensee basin but also caused massive shock effects in the rock leading to melting and the formation of nanodiamonds.


Additional scientific counter arguments

The crater rim proposed by Rappengluck et al. (2010) does not exhibit the shape normally expected of crater walls; instead it takes the form of a gravel terrace, in part more than 200m wide, built up by meltwater on the edge of the ice. Moreover, it is confined to the western and southern shores of the Tuttensee (Figure 1) and shows fluvial crossbedding in a gravel pit. The Tuttensee landscape has been identified for quite some time as belonging to glacial formations (Ganss 1977; Gareis 1978).

Rock debris, created by tectonics, erosion and also impact, can later be turned back into solid stone (mostly) through the agency of binding agents, for example calcitic cementation; these are the so-called breccias. Such formations came into being on a large scale by tectonic movements during the formation of the Alpine mountain chain. Boulders and pebbles from Alpine breccias thus belong to the common components of moraines and gravels of the Alpine piedmont. The shape of pebbles and calcitic cementation can later disappear in part or completely through dissolving processes during weathering. This is not a consequence of an impact, and could be confirmed also in the Chiemsee region (Freude 2007).

The authors of the Phaethon article also document the case of fragments of pebbles pushed together and reconstituted. This phenomenon too is known over the whole Alpine piedmont and can be attributed to pressure of overlying deposits or glacier ice. The 'strong corrosion of rocks down to skeletal formation' (Rappengluck et al. …