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Hurricane or Tsunami?: North Carolina coast turns to Tar Hell around time of Magna Carta

I have always been personally curious about the lack of documented evidence for a tsunami ever occuring on my home coast of North Carolina. Some of the largest undersea land slides on earth have been documented off our wonderful Outer Banks, and earthquakes are not completely unknown in the Carolinas. Both cause big waves. But more to point for the Tusk, some very credible work has documented cosmically-induced tsunami in the New York and Hudson Valley region, not far away from NC in a regional sense.

Why then is there not some sign of a big wave ever — just once — running up onto the flat and featureless Carolina coast in human times?

After re-reading some of the work of Dallas Abbott and others describing tsunami signatures in Long Island Sound and the Hudson Valley, I was Googling about for anything hinting at such a wave. I had looked before — but apparently prior to the 2007 publication of the article below.

 


 

The authors describe a catastrophic inundation around 1000 AD of the Pamlico Sound, the 2000 square mile shallow estuary that defines the North Carolina’s coast. Look closely at a map of our proud state. The North Carolina coast is characterized by long narrow barrier islands that embay the Pamlico Sound, an inland sea, as thought by Verrazano.

I knew work had been underway for years taking geological cores from under these sounds, led by Stanley Riggs of ECU and the USGS. But I had not seen much of interest to the Tusk (though I have not paid terribly close attention).

In any case, the cores in the Pamlico Sound revealed that the sound had been repeatedly — at least twice in the last 5000 years — inundated by seawater. Flooded so throughly by the sea that the former sound became open marine waters for hundreds of year before closing again.

The authors presume it was a hurricane or closely space hurricanes that caused the Pamlico Sound to become the sea again for 500 years.

This paper reports on the intriguing sedimentary and micropaleontological record of several vibracores that indicates that the southern Outer Banks barrier islands underwent significant destruction, presumably as the result of a major hurricane or hurricanes, approximately 1,100 cal yr BP.  Culver, et. al. 2007

The Tusk thinks the authors are probably underestimating the potential for a cosmic tsunami. Other earth scientists have found evidence of Holocene tsunami’s on the America’s eastern seaboard and concluded they were induced by rocks into the pond.

The authors of this paper think differently and quite quickly dismiss tsunami (and surely cosmic tsunami) as a cause of the Pamlico innudation:

Tsunami and hurricanes are potential causes of barrier island collapse. Unfortunately, foraminiferal signatures of tsunami are not yet sufficiently well defined (e.g., Hawkes et al., 2006). [to……..?] Major hurricanes (category 3 and greater) hit coastal North Carolina several times a century, but vibracore PS03, three adjacent cores, and more than 30 cores across the Hatteras Flats and through the modern barrier islands, indicate just one substantial collapse, several centuries in duration, since the barrier islands formed around 3,500 cal yr BP. A major hurricane, or a closely spaced series of major hurricanes, such as hit the Gulf Coast in 2004 and 2005, is the most likely proximal causal agent in this North Carolina coastal region that was dubbed, “Hurricane Alley.”  Culver, et. al. 2007

The authors kind of leave you hanging after the tsunami reference, huh?

Culver, et al. don’t rule out a tsunami, but rather claim their manner of testing for abundance and types of tiny sea creatures called “foraminifera” cannot — yet — define a tsunami. Fair enough, but it still leaves me wanting them to rule tsunami out on others ground — which they do not.

Then things get more interesting — much more interesting.  Looking for references to an Atlantic tsunami in 1000 AD, I  remembered another Dallas Abbott paper, one which I had posted last year to the Tusk. In the paper Abbott tentatively dates tsunami materials from a New York bog to several time periods.

She puts the most recent tsunami layer in New York within the same period as the Pamlico inundation.

Further coorroboration is found in the well-recorded English annals from September 28, 1014, where middle age historians note a “flood from the sea” in England. [The congruence of Abbott’s findings and the English tsunami history is well summarized in this 2012 blog].

See these references to the English tsunami from “Tsunami Chronology supporting Late Holocene Impacts

On 28th September 1014 widespread coastal flooding occurred in Britain [13]. William of Malmesbury in The History of the English Kings (vol. 1) states that «a tidal wave, of the sort which the Greeks call euripus and we ledo, grew to an astonishing size such as the memory of man cannot parallel, so as to submerge villages many miles inland and overwhelm and drown their inhabitants.[23].

For the same year, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that «on the eve of St. Michael’s Day [28th September], came the great sea-flood, which spread wide over this land, and ran so far up as it never did before, overwhelming many towns, and an innumerable multitude of people» [16]. Some accounts suggest that this flood affected Kent, Sussex, Hampshire [11], and even as far west as Mount’s Bay in Cornwall, where the Bay was «inundated by a ‘mickle seaflood’ when many towns and people were drowned» [29]. Healy [15] describes organic deposits in Marazion Marsh, that lie behind a coastal barrier in Mount’s Bay, that is dated to no later than AD 980 and overlain by a sand layer, which could be a signature of the flood event. In North Wales, it has been suggested that recently described field evidence for tsunami impact may be related to this Celtic event [14]. The flood is also mentioned in the Chronicle of Quedlinburg Abbey (Saxony), where it states many people died as a result of the flood in The Netherlands, and it is remembered in a North American account by [17].

1014 AD saw the most intense spike of Ammonium in Greenland ice in 1000 years

Pretty interesting, huh?  But there’s more to come….

  • carol

    See also Mike Baillie, New Light on the Black Death, Tempus:2006 where hedescribes 1014 as a single year with an extremely narrow tree ring. It also a significant setback for the Viking enclave in Dublin who seem to have suffered heavy losses including boats so that local Celtic princes were able to defeat them and drive them out

  • E.P. Grondine

    Dating notes. For dating see:

    http://www.csasi.org/states/nsc/baucom/baucom15.htm

    at about 1000 BCE.

    My note on Tuscarora memories of the destruction of the fourth division of the Tuscarora by impact mega-tsunaim ca. 585 CE is sadly no longer available online:

    http://esp.ucsd.edu/forum/spring06/CCNet_index.doc

    This probably co-dates with impact tsunami off France:
    http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/ccc/ce082202.html

  • Tex Long

    The ~3500BP time corresponds to widespread destruction in middle east, including eruption of Thera / Santorin and the destruction of the Minoan kingdom. This is also a time of abrupt changes apparently world-wide.

  • carol smith

    The link with the defeat of Viking Dublin is perhaps not on as the battle of Clontarf took place at Easter 1014 but the great flood of 1014 in the A/S chronicle took place on St Michael’s eve, september 28th – so it looks like a red herring.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi Carol –

    If a tsunami hits on one shore of a body of water, it is likely that it will hit on other shores as well. Icelandic records should cover the later Atlantic. Coastal Spain and the coastal Carolina’s should link as well.

    What we really need is some nice wood samples with tree rings.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi Tex –

    The eruption of Thera and a close pass of Comet Encke occurred ca. 1628 BCE.

    I am curious about ca. 1500 BCE (the 3,500 YA) date for the formation of the Sound, and how that relates to the archaeological record on the shore.

    I have this feeling that they don’t match.

    Its funny but in the late pleistocene one sees geological maps with ice overlaying archaeologically known occupation areas.

    I have wondered whether the entire barrier itself is the result of impact tsunami run off from the shore, rather than of sand deposition by currents flowing from the south.

    In any case, impact tsunami can be differentiated from seismic tsunami by their force and size.

    I now have two candidate dates for the loss of the fourth division of the Tuscarora.

    If this hit Britain, then it should have hit Iceland, Spain and France as well.

  • E.P. Grondine

    A TUSCARORA IMPACT TSUNAMI TRADITION
    E.P. Grondine epgrondine@hotmail.com
    Man and Impact in the Americas

    Hello Benny,

    I think some Conference participants will find of interest the following Tuscarora impact tsunami tradition, which I located during a recent trip through North Carolina. The material given here was adapted for the book “The Tuscaroras: Volume 1, Mythology, Medicine and Culture”, Frank Roy Johnson ed., Johnson Publishing Company, Murfreesboro, North Carolina, 1967.

    JOHNSON’S BACKGROUND UNDERSTANDING:
    KAHASTINENS, THE FIRE DRAGON (Page 72)

    “More feared than the Ke-nea-rah-yah-neh (Flying Head) was the Fire-Dragon which the Tuscaroras called “Kahastinens”. He was one of the more ancient of the supernaturals, having by his power of sorcery tricked the Chief of Skyland [the Holder of the Heavens] at the opening of the second cosmologic[al] period.

    “Late in the nineteenth century the belief was still current among the Tuscaroras and other Iroquois “in the existence of enormous tri-form monsters, having the head, breast, and shoulders of a panther; the wings and claws of an eagle; and the body of a huge serpent.” The monster’s mouth and eyes were said to “emit fire and balls of light” while lambent flames played over its entire length of about two bow shots and girth of corresponding proportions.

    “Its abode was at the bottom of great lakes, like the North Carolina Sounds, the Great Lakes, and sometimes lesser bodies of water. It came forth at night, at which time it flew across the sky making its way from one lake to another. He who was nearby could hear the waters boil and hiss when the flame-enveloped monster plunged into a lake. [electrophorenic sound?]

    “Sometimes Kahastinens was regarded as an ill omen. At other [time]s he threatened the light of night and day, attempting to swallow the Sun or [the] Moon. At such times the light bodies went into eclipse; the terror stricken people shouted shot arrows at the supposed monster, urged their dogs to bay and howl at him, and beat drums and kettles to frighten the demon away.

    “J.N.B. Hewitt says that a study of the components of the Fire-Dragon’s name [“Kahastinens”] indicates the “shooting light or star” accounts for his origin.”

    THE WIZARDS’ COMPETITION (page 141)
    As adapted by Johnson from the telling recorded by J.N.B. Hewitt, “A Competititve Exhibition of Wizard Power”, Smithsonian Office of Anthropology, Bureau of American Ethnology Manuscript Collection, 1890, 3 pages, informant not further identified by Johnson.

    “Many years ago among the Tuscaroras it was given out that an exhibition of the power of wizards in the nation would be given at a certain lake, circular and not very large, and that the public would be invited to it merely as spectators.

    “Several days before the day appointed for the event, all of the wizards hunted for three successive days, and the carcasses of all the things that they killed were thrown into the lake. After the elapse of three more days, the performance of the weird craft were held.

    “The wizards sat all around the lake, and when it became twilight, the appointed time having arrived, one of the wizards began to sing his medicine song. As an exhibition of his skill he could only make an eddy flit or skim in various directions on the surface of the water. The people stood aghast, astonished at the exhibition of such uncanny power.

    “After a while one of the other wizards laughed scornfully and said, “Ha, ha, ha. That is not much; it is indeed nothing.” So he began to sing [his medicine song], and finally paused in his song when a fish skimmed along the surface of the water.

    “Another wizard [then] laughed and said, “Oh, ha, that is nothing; that is nothing curious [remarkable or unusual].” He began to sing [his medicine song] and then stopped: Then rose slowly from the midst of the lake a serpent, showing one half of its body, and then [it] disappeared.

    “[Then] the fourth wizard laughed and said, “Why that is nothing; that is not wonderful.” Then he began singing [his medicine song], and finally [he] stopped: and the water in the middle of the lake rose up like a mound, and a Buffalo Bull rose from the turbulence of the waters and then sank down again.

    “Whereupon the wizard told the people to retire from the shore of the lake. And then rose again the Buffalo showing great rage, and after walking around on the surface of the lake, a Fire-Dragon [Kahastinens] burst from its surface, splattering the water over the people.

    “Then both the Buffalo and the Dragon disappeared, for all the people [had] fled terror stricken, and the discomfited wizards as well.”

    COMMENT

    From the description of the Kahastinens it should be clear that they included not only simple meteors (“shooting star”s), but also comets. It is also clear that the original Tuscarora traditions were heavily edited by the anthropologists to fit with the modern scientific understandings of the 1890s and 1950s. Finally, it is interesting to note that the Tuscaroras associated the dimming of light during eclipses with the dimming of light caused by the dust loads from comets.

    At the time of European contact the various tribes which composed the Tuscarora family of the Iroquois people lived on the west and east sides of the Carolina Sounds. These sounds are bodies of water separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the Carolina Banks, which banks are usually and generally assumed to have been formed by the gradual accretion of eroded soil on the edge of the continental shelf.

    However, according to one of my local informants, the US Geological Survey has recently been boring test holes along the western shores of the Carolina Sounds, and these drillings have indicated that those western shores of the sounds were the coast of the Atlantic Ocean as recently as 15 feet ago. While the USGS cores have not been published yet, …

    My guess is that the relatively small impact tsunami described in the Tuscarora tradition of the Wizards’ Contest may safely (?) be associated with the disappearance of two islands in the sea which Gregory of Tours recorded as occurring in 585 CE. For which see:
    http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/ccc/ce082202.html

    Ed

  • E.P. Grondine

    BTW, in yet another example of bad translation, “Flying Heads” are now known to be the northern Iroquois word for “tornados”, which includes “firestorms”.

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