Symposium “New Scenarios of Solar System Evolution”
University of  Bergamo, June 1999

The Usselo Horizon,  a Worldwide Charcoal-Rich Layer of Alleröd Age

Johán B. Kloosterman

In 1980 was published the discovery of an iridium anomaly on the K-T boundary, and in 1991 the discovery of a huge impact crater of the same age, at Chicxulub on the tip of the Yucatan peninsula. In between those two dates, in 1985, it was found that that same iridium-rich boundary-layer contained an abundance of charcoal and soot, all over the world: the impact caused a wave of superheated air to roll around the earth, and the forests were incinerated, worldwide. As a direct result of the K-T discoveries, the idea of a Universal Conflagration is no longer taboo in academic circles. The first plants to grow again were ferns, and it must have been a strange sight indeed, to the few animals that survived the disaster: an abundance of fern growing on a black substratum.

A thin layer rich in charcoal also occurs in the Late Pleistocene, the Alleroed interstadial, with a radiocarbon age of about 11.000 years, and dendro-dated at about 13.000 years. If the dinosaur extinction has become symbolic for the K-T massacre, that of the mammoth stands as a symbol of the end of the Ice Age. The horizon, 5 to 15 cms thick, has been found in at least ten countries, on four different continents: \the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Great-Britain, France, Poland, White Russia, Egypt, South Africa, India and Australia. It was first found in 1940 in the Netherlands, in a sandpit at Usselo near Enschede, only a few kilometers from the boundary with Germany, by Dutch archaeologist Cornelis Hijszeler, custodian and later director of the Ryks Museum Twente, Enschede.

The Dutch geologists, a fraternity of dogmatic uniformitarians, felt uncomfortable and tried to hide the discovery. While Hijszeler published his results during the 1950’s, an excavation for a cartunnel was made at Velsen, west of Amsterdam, and the exposed Upper Pleistocene and Holocene section was studied by a interdisciplinary team of sedimentologists, palynologists, archaeologists. The Usselo horizon was found at a depth of 18 meters, significantly by an overseer. The experts who describe the unconsolidated sediments not once use the word charcoal. Only one contributor, Havinga, perhaps a rebellious type, speaks of the Usselo horizon as  “a layer of white sand with black speckles”. He reports the absence of pollen in that layer and the presence of Selaginella (mossfern) without realizing the possible importance of that bit of information. 

The German geologists did pick up Hijszeler’s discovery. They found that the charcoal-rich layer was synchronous with the huge and unique explosion of the Laacher See volcano, the ashes of which have been found from southern Sweden to northern Italy, and they imputed the gigantic forest fire which, as Hijszeler had found, raged at least from Ostende to Hamburg, to that volcanic eruption. The same causal relationship was accepted in Belgium, and later in northern France. During the 1960’s, the charcoal-rich horizon was also found in England, but the British scientists never tried to find out what had happened on the continent during the Alleroed, they remained in splendid isolation, very much like the Germans, who never showed curiosity for the geographical extension of the conflagration, perhaps because of the assumed causal relationship with the Laacher-See volcanic eruption.

From the people who knew, or knew about the existence of the Usselo horizon in northwestern Europe, only very few, perhaps two or three, heard about its discovery in White Russia, and a few others, perhaps three or four, about the discovery in Egypt, attributed to the Alleroed by radiocarbon dating, backed up by palynological, paleontological and archaeological data. None of them seems to have thought of the possibility that the fires in northwestern Europe, White Russia and Egypt could have started on the same day. 

Meanwhile, a charcoal-rich layer dating from the Alleröd was also found in India, and recently (not yet published) from the Late Pleistocene in South Africa and in Australia. 

Worldwide charcoal horizons seem to be not very common. Wendy Wolbach, after the discovery of the K-T boundary charcoal, made a literature search throughout the geological column, and found none, possibly because she had to rely on heavily biased literature, written by uniformitarians.  

So let us assume that that fire raging from England to Paris and Hamburg and possibly to Minsk, and that fire raging through the Nile Valley, and the others discovered in South Africa, India and Australia, and also those that soon will be discovered on other places now people will start looking for it, are all synchronous. Let us urgently adopt the working hypothesis that they were synchronous and had one and the same cause, and let us then see if everything starts fitting together. The extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna, the sudden ice melting, the catastrophic floods, the rise in sea-level, the sudden demise of the Magdalenian culture after an uninterrupted development of some 30.000 years and the backfall to Mesolithic primitivism. 

Let us not wait for the uniformitarians to agree, and let us not waste time trying to convince them. While we are born on a planet spinning and spiraling through a wildly dynamic universe, the uniformitarians try to impose upon us a static worldview. 

We are in the middle of a major crisis in the biosphere, which started about 13.000 years ago, possibly by a cometary impact. Quite possibly it is the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna – mostly herbivores but also their predators – which has opened an ecological niche for one predator that survived – humankind. The present population explosion and the continued faunal and floral extinctions occur in the wake of the universal conflagration of which the Usselo charcoal horizon bears witness.     

When we start studying these relationships, we’ll have the benefit of the fact that an older charcoal layer has been found already, on the K-T boundary, and has been seriously studied during the last few decades.  The past as the key to the present. 


To the following persons I am most grateful for their moral support, for help in the search for data and references, for material help, or for their hospitality – or for all that:

Walter Alvarez, Sérgio Bernardes and Rosa, Marc de Bie, Diogenes de Almeida Campos, Victor Clube, Jacques Hinout, Mrs E. Hijszeler, A. de Goër de Herve, Peter James and Ruth, Albert Jongmans, Mme A. Leroi-Gourhan, J. Merkt, E. Paulissen, Klaus Skupin, Alexander Tollmann, Hugo Cuellar Urizar and Teresa, Bart Vanmontfort, Jean-Paul Verdun and Denise, Wera-Mirim, Wendy Wolbach.



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FRANCE (Usselo horizon) 
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FRANCE (Abrupt termination of the Magdalenian Culture) 
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Additional References

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Manikowska B, 1969: Les sols fossiles des périodes interstadiaires du Würm supérieur (Paudorf, Alleröd) aux environs de Lods. Biul.Periglac. 18: 411-421. 
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Konecka-Betley K, 1977: Soils of the dune areas of central Poland in Late Glacial and Holocene. Folia Quaternaria 49: 47-62. 
Cichosz-Kostecka A, and 4 others, 1991: Late Glacial aeolian Processes in the light of sediment analysis from Kamion profile near Wyszogrod. Zeitschr.f.Geomorph. NF Suppl.45-50. Stgrt.


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For the presentation at the Bergamo Symposium I had 15 minutes available, kindly ceded to me  (from his own 40 minutes) by professor Alexander Tollmann of Vienna University.

I prepared the talk and the bibliography  in southern France, where I didn’t have with me the references from Poland. They are added below.

During the two years that followed I also found the presence of the Usselo Horizon in Denmark (the Bromme culture layer), first in the literature available in Dutch libraries, and then I went to Copenhagen to do more research.

The Proceedings of the Bergamo Symposium were published in 2002, and follow below.

Postscript 2007

In 2001 I became via the Internet aware of the accessibility of the Clovis Layer exposure at Murray Springs, Arizona. In 2002 I went there and took samples. One of these was analyzed on the presence of soot by Wendy Wolbach in Chicago, and gave positive results. However, some samples of the Usselo Horizon which I took in Schleswig-Holstein (Germany) did not contain soot, probably because in the unconsolidated Coversands it has been removed by percolating water. The result was that by 2003 my research got stuck.

Then in 2005, new developments were posted on the Net. In North America some people - William Topping, Richard Firestone, Allen West - had finally also understood that a thin dark layer, dating from the time when the Pleistocene megafauna disappeared, must have something to do with that disappearance. And Firestone and West happened to be full of ideas, and they have what I don’t have: laboratories with sophisticated hardware for analyzing samples.

In one Usselo sample that I took at Lommel (Belgium), early in 2006, an anomalous Iridium content was found, and in 2007 followed the discovery of nanodiamonds in Usselo samples from Holland, Belgium and Germany.

design (c) Rolf van Dam