In the early 1900’s, European explorers were making the first automotive forays into the Saharan desert. Their efforts sparked the imaginations of many explorers – to go further than any known travelers had ever gone before into this harsh terrain in search of fame, lost cities, and mysterious desert riches. The desert environment was brutal to these expeditions and many ended early in disappointment and some to tragedy.
In 1932, in one particularly desolate and inaccessible location, the explorer Patrick Clayton was making the first known forays into the brutal and windswept Saad Plateau south of the Great Sand Sea. As he was driving in one of the most hostile areas of the Sahara, he noticed something that shouldn’t be there. In a several kilometer area, he found chunks of yellow-green glass.
He collected some for the Egyptian Geological Survey. Clayton returned over the next couple years, collecting more samples until 1934 when he marked his last visit by leaving a whiskey bottle with a note inside
The Ancient Egyptians apparently found these glass objects as well, using them as decoration. One can even be found in a pendant worn by King Tutankhamun.
Many scientists today think the glass was a product of a meteor exploding in an aerial burst right before impact to the Earth, causing the surface temperature to reach 1,800 degrees Celsius/3,272 degrees Fahrenheit. Some geologists associate the glass formed from such a large areal burst as analogous to trinitite which was created from sand exposed to the thermal radiation of early nuclear explosion tests. It is estimated to have occurred around 26 million years ago since glass was found knapped and used to make tools during the Pleistocene era.
The image below is of the possible crater from the remaining debris left from the aerial explosion in the area.
- The original publication of the finding by Patrick Clayton.
- Here is an interesting BBC documentary on the subject: