A drought of Biblical proportions
Archaeologists learn how Assyria was destroyed
For the first time, archaeologists have discovered scientific evidence that a 60-year drought likely precipitated the fall of the ancient Assyrian empire, which Biblical prophets predicted decades in advance.
According to historical records, the Assyrian kingdom, centered in modern northern Iraq, collapsed just as the prophet Zephaniah warned it would. Babylonians and Medes together destroyed the kingdom’s capital, Nineveh, around 612 B.C.
Archaeologists first excavated the ruins of Nineveh 180 years ago but didn’t know how two smaller and weaker armies managed to fell the most powerful kingdom on Earth at the time. Assyria dominated an area extending from modern-day Iran to Egypt for more than two centuries.
In the study, published Nov. 13 in Science Advances, the researchers conducted radioisotope analysis on layers of stalagmites on the floor of the Kuna Ba cave in northeastern Iraq. Pairing their data with archaeological findings and ancient written records, they discovered that the Assyrian heartland suffered from a drought lasting six decades, up to the time of its collapse. Harvey Weiss, a Yale University professor and one of the researchers, described the empire’s fall as the “mother of all catastrophes.” It took the Babylonians and Medes only three months to annihilate Nineveh.
Before the megadrought, a high rainfall period spurred Assyria’s rapid growth and expansion, according to Weiss. Babylonians to the south relied on irrigation for their water supply, buffering them from the drought.
“Now we have a historical and environmental dynamic between north and south and between rain-fed agriculture and irrigation-fed agriculture through which we can understand the historical process of how the Babylonians were able to defeat the Assyrians,” Weiss said.
Assyria antagonized the Israelites during Old Testament times. The book of Jonah describes how the prophet tried to run from God rather than preach a message of judgment to the people of Nineveh around 760 B.C. Around 720 B.C., Assyria conquered Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel and drove its people into exile.
Writing sometime between 663 and 654 B.C., the prophet Nahum foretold the plundering of Nineveh. A few years later, Zephaniah warned that God was going to “stretch out his hand against the North and destroy Assyria, and he will make Nineveh a desolation, a dry waste like the desert” (Zephaniah 2:13). If the research is correct, it provides a better understanding of how God accomplished that.
Fifty-seven years ago, Hanna-Barbera first aired its futuristic cartoon series The Jetsons about a family living in 2062. Back then, George Jetson’s flying car seemed like pure fiction. But more than 100 companies are now developing flying vehicles called electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, which they plan to market far earlier than 2062. Even Uber has developed an eVTOL project called Uber Air, the BBC reported.
So far, eVTOL prototypes cannot fly very far. They have a battery life of only about half an hour and a maximum speed of 68 mph. Some companies are experimenting with adding wings to stretch the distance up to 185 miles.
But even if engineers can improve battery life and speed, they have a lot of work ahead. The vehicles would need places to take off, land, and recharge. Engineers could construct vertiports, but they would bring air traffic and the risk of accidents to the surrounding community. The aircraft would require new airspace management systems. Skeptics note that the lightweight vehicles might not perform well on windy days and could pose a danger in bad weather.
But eVTOL manufacturers remain optimistic. They say the quiet aircraft won’t need a runway and will provide a safer mode of transportation than helicopters or passenger jets with more complex designs.
Uber Air told the BBC that such services will become “an affordable form of daily transportation for the masses, even less expensive than owning a car.” —J.B.
An amateur photographer encountered a 110-foot expanse of beach laden with what looked like ice eggs earlier this month on Hailuoto Island between Finland and Sweden. The balls ranged in size from that of a chicken egg to a football.
BBC weather expert George Goodfellow explained that the egg-shaped ice chunks form when just the right mix of cold temperatures and wind break off bits of ice sheets and seawater freezes to them. As big waves toss and tumble the ice chunks, they become round and polished. Then the waves either throw them onto the beach or they wash up when the tide goes out.
In the past ice, ice eggs have appeared on Lake Michigan shores near Chicago. In 2016, Siberian residents in Nyda discovered ice balls measuring up to 3 feet across, covering an 11-mile area of the coast. —J.B.