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So as a geographic feature and major historic event I have a meteor (and the resulting crater) idea in my head.

The idea is that the meteor sort of resets civilization. Obviously I don't want it to kill off all life on the planet as no people = boring story.

So the basic question is, could a meteor destroy civilization (defined in this case as large nations/empires/trade/organized learning) around the planet and not kill off all life?

How would that look, what would happen to civilization and why?

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    $\begingroup$ I wonder about the approach of having a large enough meteor hit an ocean and basically "tsunami washing" the planet, maybe the only survivors are on >5000ft elevation or something. $\endgroup$ – Culyx Oct 1 '14 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ That is a cool question actually...can someone write that into an answer, not sure if that is feasible or not. $\endgroup$ – James Oct 1 '14 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ I would have to ask a question else where just to write the answer =P $\endgroup$ – Culyx Oct 1 '14 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ It seems like the tsunami suggestion would make a good answer to this question - reducing the population to near zero and removing access to technology and knowledge and history. $\endgroup$ – trichoplax Oct 2 '14 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ I remember reading a book with a similar premise (googling…). It was called "The Aftermath". A comet strikes near California, causing massive worldwide devastation, but there was a safe zone on the opposite side of the world, off the coast Africa. Fortunately, there was an engineering seminar/cruise with hundreds of the world's leading experts, their families, & an engineering library, that happened to be in this area. There was much detail about the destruction level, the safe zone, resource availability, & how to survive while trying to efficiently bootstrap modern technology from scratch. $\endgroup$ – Caleb Hines Oct 30 '14 at 5:09
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Yes. A large enough metor could raise a massive dust cloud over the earth and cause a large shift in geography. The dust cloud could prevent crops from growing well killing civilization by reseting the population that the earth's agriculture could support. The temperature would also plumet, killing more people unprepared for the cold. Earthquakes and other geological shifts could kill more people and turn cities and buildings into toppled ruins. Eventually, once the dust cloud cleared civilization could begin to produce more food again and temperatures would reset, allowing life to go on.

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  • $\begingroup$ How do the humans that survive the blast survive the following long winter (so to speak) $\endgroup$ – James Oct 1 '14 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ The same way they did during the last Ice Age: by bundling up, hunting furs, and so forth. Humans are pretty resourceful. $\endgroup$ – CAgrippa Oct 1 '14 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @James Even in the artic there are some animals and some food. People at the equater would still live in a relatively temperate environment. People like Eskimos used to living in the cold north might be forced south, but they would have the experience for a few to survive and could teach others. $\endgroup$ – Vulcronos Oct 1 '14 at 19:58
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A little research on the eruption of Krakatoa might give you some ideas, as would digging into the whole nuclear winter question. In essence, I'd approach this by figuring that your planet would get very cold for a while.

One possibility is that the planet was previously rather warm, and so most of the larger settlements and whatnot tended to be up toward the poles. After The Big Strike, the world gets cold, so everyone starts clustering around the equator. The problem, of course, being that they therefore cannot mine the old settlements for stuff and ideas, such that they necessarily end up with a more rudimentary technology. That, combined with dramatically lowered population, might have the "reset" effect you're looking for.

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An option that's more surgical in its devastation, but that doesn't give you the crater you want, is to drop the meteor into the sea. Civilizations tend to form around bodies of water (such as the Mediterranean). Throw a meteor into an inland sea like that, and the resulting tidal wave will wipe out the coastal civilization, while leaving the nomadic tribes of the interior alone.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would a meteor that hits in the sea potentially create a ring of islands around where it impacted? $\endgroup$ – James Oct 2 '14 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ Unlikely, for any combination of sea depth and meteor size where the tidal wave is the dominant effect. The problem is that the upper parts of the crater rim are loose rock, which will be washed away when the water re-fills the crater. This impact effects simulator is a useful resource for working out the physical effects of a meteor, though it doesn't give climate effects. $\endgroup$ – Mark Oct 2 '14 at 19:04
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After sufficiently large tsunami (multiple large meteors in multiple oceans) surviving civilizations would be:

  • Mormons in Utah (which is located in Great Basin and guarded from oceans by high mountain ranges)
  • civilizations deep in central Asia: Tibet and various *Stans (Kazachstan, Kirgizstan, Afganistan) - they can live without modern technologies
  • people high in mountains in Andes

I think Mormons would be well positioned to recover, if they survive initial impact. They generally have 1 year of supply of basic food, and they still can grow more.

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