Well, well, well – the answer really was 42 all along! Take a bow, Douglas Adams!


It seems a huge fossilized tree in New Zealand has got the scientific world all abuzz.

A perfectly preserved ancient tree fossil has offered scientists a unique peek into a moment 42,000 years ago when the Earth’s magnetic field went haywire. The impressive study paints a picture of temporary environmental chaos, potentially influencing everything from an increase in cave paintings to the extinction of the Neanderthals.

. . .

Geomagnetic excursions are short-lived, and involve temporary changes to the Earth’s magnetic field lasting anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand years. The most recent recorded geomagnetic excursion is known as the Laschamps excursion and it took place around 42,000 years ago.

“The Laschamps Excursion was the last time the magnetic poles flipped,” explains Chris Turney, co-lead author on a landmark new study investigating this transformative event. “They swapped places for about 800 years before changing their minds and swapping back again.”

Scientists have known about these dramatic magnetic pole events for a long time but it’s never been clearly understood what kind of impact they have on life or the environment. That is until a few years ago, when an ancient fossilized tree was discovered in New Zealand.

Workers preparing a site for a new power-plant unearthed the massive kauri tree trunk, perfectly preserved for 42,000 years, with its rings offering up an incredible 1,700-year record of the Earth’s environmental conditions exactly spanning the period of the Laschamps Excursion.

“For the first time ever, we have been able to precisely date the timing and environmental impacts of the last magnetic pole switch,” says Turney. “Using the ancient trees we could measure, and date, the spike in atmospheric radiocarbon levels caused by the collapse of Earth’s magnetic field.”

. . .

The results reveal an incredibly dramatic period of environmental change, particularly in the stretch of time leading up to the few hundred years the Earth’s magnetic field was reversed. The study calculated a depleted ozone layer, higher levels of ultraviolet radiation and increased atmospheric ionization all coalesced about 42,000 years ago. In tribute to author Douglas Adams – in whose book The Hitchhiker’s Guide the the Galaxy, the supercomputer Deep Thought calculates the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is “42” – the researchers named this specific period the “Adams Transitional Geomagnetic Event.”

“The more we looked at the data, the more everything pointed to 42,” says Turney. “It was uncanny.”

Alan Cooper, co-lead author on the study, suggests a number of novel environmental conditions would have appeared during the so-called Adams Event. Auroras, for example, would have been widespread across the entire planet, alongside extraordinary volumes of electrical storms due to increases in ionized air.

“Early humans around the world would have seen amazing auroras, shimmering veils and sheets across the sky,” says Cooper. “It must have seemed like the end of days.”

There’s more at the link.

I can’t help wondering how prehistoric humans – if they were actually human by that stage;  opinions differ – would have experienced that.  Without any scientific framework to speak of, everything would have been explained through superstition and mythology.  How many ancient pantheons had their genesis in the weird play of light across the night sky during the Laschamps Excursion?  We’ll probably never know . . .

This is the kind of discovery that a young scientist, having just completed his doctorate, can start work on as a researcher, and retire forty or fifty years later without having finished his work.  It’s going to keep them busy for decades.



  1. Peter, consider that 'prehistoric' humans may not have been without scientific framework. My great grandmother moved across country in a covered wagon, and before she died she saw men on the moon. If that much can happen in one lifetime, why believe that technology wasn't around back then? Imagine such a thing happened today. Tech would vaporize; space craft would crash as the magnetosphere collapsed; electric, internet, etc. would crash. Imagine if that happened today; we would likely start from scratch again, and be considered 'primitive'. The same thing may have happened before, at Noah's flood.

    1. It's an interesting idea. However, our technological civilization is powered by fossil fuel. Perhaps only temporarily, but we've already deposited a thin layer of soot in sediments. This geological record, including the specific radiocarbon isotope "fingerprint" to distinguish it from, say, forest fires will be readable eons from now, long after our cities have crumbled and their remains subducted by tectonic motion.

      No technological civilization – human, dinosaur or trilobite – existed on Earth before ours, or they would have left telltale signs. We are the first, and so far, only one.

  2. Hmmmm… I have read several articles' about how man has not changed one whit for over 100,000 years. If that's the case, those men of a 100,000 years ago were just as capable as us to create an advanced civilization. Perhaps the
    Laschamps Excursion of 42,000 years ago wiped that civilization out. Just wondering….

  3. I have read of underwater explorations in the Black Sea reoorting apparent stone structures or walls at a 600 to 1000 ft depth, on a plateau like geologic structure surrounding the deeper central waters.
    These were not what the archeologists were looking for, so only incidental reports were made.
    The Med breaking into the Black Sea basin as "The Flood"?
    Looking forward to more research on this, now that a primary source has been found.
    John in Indy

  4. The "this" I am looking forward to research on is the fossilized tree and the pole reversal.
    Sorry, not clear.

  5. I can't help wondering how prehistoric humans….would have experienced that. Without any scientific framework to speak of, everything would have been explained through superstition and mythology.

    Really, Peter? Can you look at what's coming out of Democrats and their fellow Leftist travelers today and claim we're NOT still basing everything on "superstition and mythology"? If you've spoken to any young people currently enrolled in what passes for "school" these days, or worse, their teachers and professors, we're still at the "viewing random shapes and lights in the sky with wonderment" stage.

    Sheesh. "Scientific framework" my aching…well, never mind what aches.

  6. A few thoughts: look up Van Danikan, the cave burials in the Mid East. Pretty well determine that Neanderthal a hundred thousand years ago were human, current polar shift has been going on for an eye blink compared to 800 years, many current scientists are now saying a magnet anomaly over the south Atlantic is the probable cause of an ozone hole, and I read articles in one of the journals decades ago that were tracking magnetic shifts in ancient hearths in the American South West. The New Zealand tree tracks what was happening in the environment where it stood , not world wide!

  7. "I can't help wondering how prehistoric humans – if they were actually human by that stage; opinions differ – would have experienced that."

    To borrow again from Douglas Adams, they would likely have at least been "mostly human."


  8. We can carbon date cave paintings showing the use of bow and arrow to about 50,000 BC, so the dispute is academic hair-splitting.

    Re: the Med breaching into the Black Sea is unlikely to be the source of the Great Flood stories.
    There were floods aplenty during the most recent ice age that occurred on a scale that's almost impossible to comprehend. (Glaciers make amazingly good dams, right up to the point where they start to float and fail catastrophicly.) The best studied examples are the Missoula Floods that put most of Northern Idaho, Oregon, and Washington underwater, but the area between the Black and Caspian seas was extremely hard hit. I believe most of mesopotamia, armenia, etc caught it too.

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