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KRONOS Vol II, No. 1
PALEO-CALCINOLOGY: DESTRUCTION BY FIRE
IN PRE-HISTORIC AND ANCIENT TIMES Part II
ALFRED DE GRAZIA
[* This paper is an expanded version of one that was first presented on June 18, 1974 before
the international symposium -- Velikovsky and the Recent History of the Solar System held
at McMaster Univ., Hamilton, Ontario. Copyright © 1976 by Alfred de Grazia.]
A NEW INTERDISCIPLINARY METHOD
The mystery of the "Burnt City" of Troy will soon be a century old, but its solution may be
within grasp. It can now be reviewed in the light of substantial advances in empirical technique and
general additional and spectacular theories. The latter are provided most forcibly by Claude Schaeffer
and Immanuel Velikovsky.
In 1948, Professor Schaeffer, who had excavated at Ras Shamra Ugarit, published a treatise
on comparative stratigraphy of the near and middle east during the Bronze Ages of the second
millennium B. C. He incorporated the work of many predecessors, including the investigators of
Troy-Hisarlik, into a theory that a sequence of fires and earthquakes had destroyed Bronze Age
civilizations concurrently, several times over, in the vast area stretching from Troy and Egypt to
Persia, and even beyond into China. Similar phenomena are recorded for Etruria (Tuscany),
Meso-America, and elsewhere(32) and might someday be synchronized.
Although he is a catastrophic revisionist, Schaeffer has not gone deeply into causes. He
demonstrated the hard evidence of universal destruction. He invoked earthquakes followed by fire,
or where earthquakes were not in evidence, simply enormous calcination. He exculpated invaders
as the destroyers of civilization in many instances, even though he employed conventional terms such
as "the Peoples of the Sea" that are used to explain the abrupt termination of many civilized
communities. He can point often to disturbed and unsettled human elements who came upon the sites
(Significantly, Blegen had already shown that a new cultural element did not succeed Troy
IIg; the Troy III culture was closely related.(33) This is remarkable because the calcinated debris of
Troy IIg was never dug out and was probably unknown, yet the debris of the old city was strong
enough to become the foundation of the new city walls.)
In his command of the natural sciences involved and their interweaving with ancient sources
and psychology, Velikovsky has excelled all writers on questions of catastrophe. Working
independently, he published in 1950 his account of universal destruction of the second half of the
second millennium. He asserted that heavy seismic disturbances and devastating flames consumed
the same ancient civilizations. But, with the aid of ancient legends and documents, he insisted upon
the role of overall volcanism, heavy meteoric falls, and as "first cause," a derangement of the
planetary system that brought down upon the earth the proverbial "wrath of the gods," not only
Olympian gods, but Hebrew, Egyptian, Babylonian, Olmec and other gods.(34)
Unfortunately, for twenty-five years, the assemblages of ideas and facts of Schaeffer and
Velikovsky have been largely ignored by the ruling groups of scholars. Velikovsky, "an extraordinary
polymath," in the words of the late Columbia University classicist, Moses Hadas, was subjected to
unscientific vilification. Schaeffer, Professor at the Sorbonne and a renowned excavator, has been
hardly cited for his magnum opus. Few scholars have been ready to confront the anomalies of their
own findings. One exception was Spiridon Marinatos, who plunged to his death in 1974 at the
famous site of his work. His excavation of the Minoan culture of Thera-Santorini, from beneath the
effects of the plinian explosion of the island, called international and interdisciplinary attention to the
destruction of a critical portion of Mediterranean civilizations.
But Blegen of Cincinnati was also an exception; he was disposed to a cautious empiricism,
but was piqued by the strange events that had befallen Minoan and Mycenaean civilization. In the
voluminous published records of the Cincinnati expedition, we find the following lines:
"A large collection of earth samples was also made this year.  Specimens were
taken from all strata of all main layers in the principal areas of digging, and the number of
small bags thus collected exceeded 400. They were shipped to Cincinnati for scientific
examination by specialists in geology and botany."(35)
When, in 1974, we discovered this passage, we made inquiry, only to find that the samples
had never been analyzed. The long period of World War II had intervened. Personnel left, never to
return. Other interests took priority. The samples rested in their cloth bags in the attic of McMicken
Hall at the University of Cincinnati. Finally, in 1975, material from the bags was provided to
Professor George Rapp of the University of Minnesota for eventual analysis. This material will serve
for the first calcinological testing of the causes of the destruction of Troy-Hisarlik. It will perhaps
form the basis of testing also the more general theories advanced as to the causes of the destruction
of many ancient civilizations.
What questions should be asked of these humble sacks of debris, and, by extension, of all
similar samples to be drawn from other destroyed settlements? In other words, of what should
consist the science that investigates ancient destruction by combustion -- call it 'calcinology', perhaps?
We may address this question either by taking up one by one the theories as to the origins of
the combustion, or by taking up the techniques for the investigation of combustion. In respect to the
theories, one would inquire into the possibilities of one or a combination of accidental fire; "the
invader's torch"; Greek Fire; seismic-caused fire; explosive local volcanism from fissures or now
extinct cones; fall-out of tephra from remote, perhaps general, volcanism; ramified lightning;
petroleum (bitumen, asphalt, naphtha); fire rain from extraterrestrial sources; sulphur (brimstone) rain,
non-volcanic and extraterrestrial; and gas explosion in the atmosphere, terrestrial or extraterrestrial
In respect to the techniques, one would speak of ambiance induction; artifact analysis;
comparative historical deduction; thermal-visual examination; morphological examination; electron
scanning microscopy; chemical mineralogical tests; thermo-luminescence tests; radiocarbon tests;
potassium-argon tests; radiation level tests; and tests for paleo-magnetism. Inasmuch as individual
techniques may dispose of more than one theory, it may be best to proceed by offering a few words
concerning their relevance.
Fundamental to pursuing all causal alternatives is a careful inductive study of the ambiance
of combustion. Whether performed on records of past expeditions or upon a setting itself, a skeptical
and fully alert reading or examination is required. We have entertained too close a circle of interests
and hypotheses; the Trojan record shows this. So do hundreds of other excavation reports.
First of all, an interdisciplinary group of scientists must set standards and criteria for entering
upon a testable location. Conventional archaeology has certainly proceeded far along these lines, but
new parameters need to be added, taken from geology and meteorology, as for instance, the effects
of wind and the strength of building materials. The camera that has come to play an important part
in contemporary investigations needs to be aimed at the hypotheses, so to speak. The pioneering
work of the engineer, C. Lerice, in magnetomatic and radiotropic anterior probing of subsurface
forms is worthy of generalization to standard practice. Standards for measuring depth of debris,
original and actual density of calcination, percentage of ash content, and architectural and object
deformities should be set up. Pre-selection and logging of samples should be systematically done in
the manner of the Cincinnati expedition of 1937.
The analysis of artifacts is sometimes conducted as part of a treasure hunt. To this day,
objects from the Treasure of Priam have not been studied carefully to determine whether they have
been fused by heat or by oxidation. Objects are described as they are found but not to the extent that
a specific set of hypotheses is applied to each object as to how it might have been placed, or dropped,
or slipped, or fallen as a result of direct or indirect natural causes.
Nor has an inductive, comparative, historical method been always conscientiously pursued.
A single anomaly in a closed layer may be worth more to science than a golden chalice. To dismiss
the anomaly as an "impossible" intrusion, a "similarity," and "forerunner" is all too common practice.
The attempt of the University of Cincinnati expedition to reconcile the anomalies of location of their
carefully uncovered shards in the face of the conventional Egyptian-anchored chronology is a case
in point. "The discovery of these 7th-century shards 'in several areas in the strata of Troy VIIb1
stratified below layer VIIb2,' which is supposed to represent the 12th century, I presents a perplexing
and still unexplained problem.'"(36) Fortunately the self-restraining, objective empirical techniques
of the expedition simply stood even against an authoritative contradiction, to fuel an attack against
the authoritative chronology at a later date. One goal of calcinology is to establish a frame of analysis
that can be transferred from one excavation to another both to interlock events and to serve eventual
critiques of received versions of the comparative development (and destruction) of civilizations.
I should place in the same category of historical comparative method the application of
mythology. Dorothy Vitaliano, pursuing a strict uniformitarian theory, has nonetheless exemplified
the necessary marriage between myth and geology that research properly demands; to her, myth
serves as a clue to past events, especially when they are extraordinarily forceful.(37) Sometimes, as
in the case of Troy, there are direct myths describing events overtaking the site. In other cases, myths
may be transferred from other times and places as hypotheses.
The examination of bones found in circumstances of combustion may well be expanded.
Paleosteology ordinarily does not address itself to the degree of heat to which human remains have
been subjected, or whether the heat was searing or slow. For example, a separate volume in the
Cincinnati Troy series, its other merits aside, does not answer questions relevant to the sudden
destruction of the city.(38) How much heat reached the people whose skeletons remained? Would
the heat elsewhere have erased entirely any humans and animals? Contemporary arson experts can
transfer their "knowhow" to such queries.
Contemporary fire experts and combustion chemists can also contribute useful principles for
the visual examination of thermal effects. A high sensitivity to variations in color and texture is still
not a prerequisite for professional archaeology. Conversations with persons concerned with
combustion problems come around repeatedly to unanswerable questions of color, stains, textures,
bubbles and cracks.
The morphology of combustion environments would deal with terrain features that might have
altered, or for that matter remained significantly unaltered, in the course of the destructive
combustion. Earthquakes uplift and crack the earth. Volcanic and seismic fissures leave different
traces. Lightning can bum and dig distinctive fissures as well.
It would be useful to perform core drillings in the hinterland of destroyed settlements to
discover whether the ash trapped about the ruins is also present in some natural lowland areas of slow
deposition, removed from human habitations. Recently, for example, the Athens Metro project tested
the subsoil to a depth of 20 meters in 228 locations for the purpose of planning subway construction.
Archaeological finds were noted and covered over, but the ordinary corings were not handled
properly for the analysis of combustion or other natural phenomena. Almost all samples show
"Athens schist," a vague term for sandstone, siltstones and the like; most of the preserved cores are
disturbed and eroded by water used in the drilling. (39) (The rock cores, incidentally, show highly
intense fracturing near the surface.)
Unfortunately oil exploration does not concern itself with logging the cores brought up from
the near subsurface of wells under drilling.(40) It may be possible in the future to make a cooperative
arrangement with petroleum geologists to provide such data. Apart from its usefulness to social and
natural history, near subsurface samples may reveal chemical and morphological peculiarities of areas
overhanging oil pools, such as distillates of hydrocarbons indicating surface origins. (Again, this
would appear to be an appropriate scientific response, as there are frequent references in myth to
rains of sticky substances from the sky.)
This conjecture leads naturally to inquiry into the composition of shales, clays, and soils found
in connection with ancient destruction. An analysis of "samples that cover depositional and chemical
environments ranging from continental and coastal soils to marsh and subtidal marine deposits" of
recent age has disclosed complex polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon assemblages (PAH) with "a high
degree of similarity in the molecular weight distribution of the many series of alkyl homologs."(41)
This PAH is carcinogenic and mutagenic. The soils sampled were from widely separated locations
on and off the New England coastal region. Forest pyrolysis and atmospheric transport was
suggested. A search for other non-biological organic compounds was indicated. The cause of such
an immense fire is conjectural, as is indeed the postulate of the fire itself.
Are we so swollen with pride that we cannot review Ignatius Donnelly's Ragnarok (1883) and
not gain from it at least a doubt as to the origins of some of the world's clays? Clay is conventionally
assigned to sedimentation or decomposed structural material, without inquiring as to possible
volcanic or other sources. Yet, a geological walk along many a Greek island beach may pass across
deposits of pumice dust and of grey clay that visually suggests bentonite. Donnelly claimed a
cometary origin for a heavy rain of fire and gravel that destroyed part of the globe and most of
mankind. What does the new geology say to this? At least in regard to calcinated settlement debris
and to open area subsurfaces nearby, what is called for is an increased resort to professional
morphological, visual, and tactile examination, then to chemical mineralogical tests, and also to
electron scanning microscopy.
Reference was made earlier to the extraordinary layer of copper and lead scoriae found by
Schliemann in the burnt city. Is this mined ore, purified metal, or ore in a natural state? The origins
of metals are not a settled matter. There is too long a stone age, too ready an access to ores, too
abundant a mythology to relax in the arms of conventional theory.
Sample tests are generally inexpensive and well-structured; they require only small amounts
of material, often only a gram. But, of course, the sampling technique is critical and a manual of
instructions for sampling calcination with a mind to covering all hypotheses raised by this paper is a
task for the future.
The idea that thermo-luminescence, radiocarbon, potassium-argon, and fission-tract dating
techniques can be applied to combustion studies with good effect is natural but perhaps overly
optimistic. Of course, calcinology is interested in dating inasmuch as one of its aims is the
establishment of concurrences in destruction; if two spatially separated combustion processes point
to the same or related causes, then their dating will not only confirm their relationship but will also
permit a more secure dating of other sites where similar combustion but insufficiently related artifacts
and structures are discovered.
Thermal effects encountered on calcinated sites play a large role in permitting age-determinations (as in thermo-luminescence tests and fission-track dating) by providing a basal date
from which calculations of age may be made, and in obscuring chronology by contaminating burned
substances through mixing, as in radiocarbon dating. However, it will be of interest to apply long-term dating techniques such as the potassium-argon method if only to check whether the test gives
an impossibly old date to a recent volcanic event. Where uranium minerals have been used to give
colour to artifacts of glass, the fission-track technique may provide reliable dates and a check on
radiocarbon dates. If an artificial glass is subjected subsequent to its manufacture to combustion
temperatures of over 600 degrees centigrade, the fission-tracks may be partially or entirely erased,
permitting the date of the new calcination to be determined from the tracks now present. Tracks in
volcanic glass should date the eruption that produced it. Extra-terrestrial microtectites lend
themselves also to fission-track dating and can be searched for in ruins. (42)
Tests for radiation levels of the debris are indicated because of the possibility that the
destruction may have involved atmospheric or air-transported agents. For instance, the radiation
levels would vary from the norm if lightning had struck or a meteoric pass-by had greatly raised
temperature levels. Lightning effects may also be indicated by magnetization of metal pieces; for this
reason and also to determine whether a change in the magnetic pole had occurred, supposing a catastrophe to have been widespread, the then-exposed rocks should be tested for abnormal magnetism,
and ceramic shards of successive levels should be tested for the same and for possible reversal of
direction from one level to another.
As the gamut of tests and procedures is subjected to the concerted attention of scholars of
relevant fields, it may be expected that a system of procedures and a battery of tests will evolve -
simpler, easier to employ, practicable given the conditions of archaeological exploration. The
resultant research and testing would possibly confirm that archaeology and geophysics have
overlooked some significant part of the absolutely small fund of ancient data. At that point, not too
far away, we may begin to speak of a new subfield of science called paleo-calcinology.
And when this task is finished, we might turn to another new subfield, which beckoned as
temptingly even as we tried to concentrate upon calcination, paleo-seismism. Here the implication
is that the mercalli scale may be quite inadequate to denominate thrusting, folding, and crustal rising
and falling that may have occurred in the time of man, and that the present awareness of settlement
sites is merely fractional; much more may have disappeared or is effectively hidden so as to lend a
false perspective to the human story.
Also paleo-diluviology, the study of ancient floods and tidalism. And still another, paleo-meteorology, a study that would include the great winds that can sweep away everything down to
bed rock, given the slightest faltering of the earth's rotation, or the passage of any substantial material
from outer space through the atmosphere. Part of the total task, we seem to be saying, is to separate
ancient real occurrences from ancient myth. The larger task is to distinguish real ancient
catastrophism from literal theology, not to denigrate theology but so as to recognize catastrophism
for what it did to shape man and his environment.
32. Cf. Nicola Rilli, Gli Etnischi a Sesto Fiorentino
(Firenze: Tipografia Giuntina, 1964).
Also, Michael D. Coe, R. A. Diehl, and M. Stuiver, "Olmec Civilization, Veracruz,
Mexico: Dating of the San Lorenzo Phase," 155 Science
(1967), 1399-1401 (the authors
report that many pieces of asphalt litter the excavated ruin level). F. Wendorf, et al.,
"Egyptian Prehistory," 169 Science (1 8 Sept. 1970), no. 395 1, pp. 1 163, 1169 and
figure 1, speak of a widespread brush fire" in reference to a bed of ash in the Nile Valley.
Geologist Louis Lartel, in his first studies of Cro-Magnon man near Les Eyzies-de-Tayec,
Dordogne, in 1868 uncovered five archaeological layers covered with ash. And so forth.
33. Op. cit., p. 700.
34. E. C. Baity, "Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy Thus Far," 14 Current Anthropology (October, 1973), 389-449.
35. Vol. I, p. 17.
36. I. M. Isaacson, "Applying the Revised Chronology," IV Pensee, no. 4, 5, p. 14, quoting
C. W. Blegen, Troy, V.IV, 1, p. 158.
37. Legends of the Earth (Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 1973).
38. J. Lawrence Angel, Troy: The Human Remains (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton U. Press,1951).
39. Site visit with Arthur Brown, Geologist and technical consultant, Athens Metro Project, September 1 1, 1974.
40. Communication of April 24, 1974 from K. F. Huff, Manager, Exploration Division, Exxon.
41. M. Blumer and W. W. Youngblood, "Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Soils and
Recent Sediments," Science (April 4, 1975), p. 53.
42. W. Gentner, B. P. Glass, D. Storzer and G. A. Wagner, "Fission Track Ages and Ages of
Deposition of Deep-Sea Microtektites," 168 Science (17 April 1970), 359-61.
The author is wholly responsible for the theory and presentation of this report He wishes
to acknowledge his obligation, however, to a number of persons who kindly supplied information
and advice as he was preparing it. Among them are:
- C. C. Chandler, Director of Forest Fire and Atmospheric Sciences Research, U. S. Department of
Agriculture, Forest Service.
- Arthur Brown, Geological Engineer, Technical Consultant, Athens Metro Project.
- Ruben G. Bullard, Department of Geology, Cincinnati Bible Seminary.
- J. L. Caskey, Professor of Archaeology, University of Cincinnati.
- Dr. Howard W. Emmons, Karman Laboratory of Fluid Mechanics and Jet Propulsion, California
Institute of Technology.
- John Freeley, Professor of Physics, University of the Bosphorus.
- Billie Glass, Associate Professor of Geology, University of Delaware, Newark.
- W. A. Haas, Engineer, Fire Protection Department, Underwriters Laboratories Inc.
- John Gnaedinger, President, Soil Testing Services Inc., Northbrook, ID.
- Jorg Keller, Professor of Mineralogy, University of Freiburg, West Germany.
- A. Bruce Mainwaring, President, Uniform Tubes, Inc., Collegeville, Pa.
- G. Marinos, Director, Department of Geology and Paleontology, University of Athens.
- Dr. Charles D. Ninkovich, Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, Palisades, N. Y.
- Dr. Gerd Rosler, Consulting Geologist, Naxos, Greece.
- Eugene van der Pool, Archaeological Photographer, American School of Classical Studies, Athens.
- Dorothy Vitaliano, Associate Professor of Geology, University of Indiana, Bloomington, Ind.
- Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky, Princeton, N. J.