“Mammoth hit by meteorite!” might sound like fantastical black-and-white puppet-fest filmed in glorious Moving-Picture-O-Vision, just before a gripping two-hour feature on why mixing ants and radioactive waste is, in fact, a bad idea – but it’s real. Arizona geophysicist Allen West discovered burn marks consistent with micrometeorite impacts in a number of mammoth and bison bones. The resulting study, performed in association with Dr Firestone of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, found numerous impact scars over thirty thousand years old.
One of the leading theories to explain repeated large animal extinctions in Earth’s history is meteor impact – because megatons of rock slamming into the planet after a few billion meter run-up is a pretty convincing way to kill anything. West hopes that these fossilized records will prove that a meteorite shower is responsible for the decline in some large mammal populations around 34,000 years ago, as well as providing a method to apply to other historical extinctions.
West urges museums and universities to re-examine their own fossil collections for signs of damage from beyond the sky, but that seems rather optimistic. There are only a finite number of ways you can look at a fossil and the odds of people having missed a minor thing like “damage where rocks from space hit it” is pretty low. True, these meteor fragments aren’t anything to deploy Bruce Willis over (those discovered so far are 5 millimeters at most) but they punch a hole, they burn the material, and if that isn’t noticeable enough for you they turn the site magnetic – all things that skeletons generally aren’t and won’t be until the fabled time of the Robo-Swiss-Cheese-Burning Dinosaurs comes to end us all.
Besides, the full-time job of anything in a museum is “be looked at”. It’s unlikely that a curator will get off the phone, look over at the fossils again and suddenly realize “My god! There’s a crater punched by the universe itself in that thing!
– Luke McKinney @ The Daily Galaxy