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A giant space rock destroyed a city near the Dead Sea about 3,600 years ago; Inspiration for the story of the destruction of Sodom and the destruction of the walls of Jericho

One of the researchers responsible for the discovery tells how An asteroid similar to the one that caused the event in Tungaska in Siberia in 1908, hit the city of Jordan northeast of the Dead Sea. The city was abandoned afterwards, and the echoes of the explosion hit other cities in the vicinity, including Jericho

By: Christopher Moore, archaeologist and director of special projects at the Savannah River Archaeological Research Program and the South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina

A satellite image showing the area of ​​Tal al-Hammam about 12 kilometers northeast of the Dead Sea. The city, now called "Tal al-Hammam", is located about 11 km northeast of the Dead Sea, in what is now Jordan. NASA, CC BY-ND
A reconstruction illustrating the meteorite explosion over Tal al-Hammam about 12 kilometers northeast of the Dead Sea. Image: NASA, CC BY-ND

When the inhabitants of an ancient Middle Eastern city now called Tall El-Hammam in Jordan went about their daily business one day about 3,600 years ago, they had no idea that an invisible frozen space rock was moving towards them at a speed of about 61,000 km/h.

The rock flashed through the atmosphere and exploded in a massive fireball about 4 kilometers above the ground. The explosion was a thousand times more powerful than the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. The stunned townspeople who looked at him immediately went blind. The air temperature quickly rose above 2,000 degrees Celsius. Clothes and wood immediately went up in flames. Swords, spears, mud and pottery began to melt. Almost immediately, the entire city caught fire.

A few seconds later, a massive shock wave crashed into the city. It was moving at a speed of about 1,200 km/h, and was stronger than the worst tornado ever recorded. The deadly winds tore through the city and destroyed every building. They blew off the top 12 meters of the four-story palace and swept the jumbled debris into the nearby valley. None of the 8,000 people or animals in the city survived - their bodies were torn to pieces and their bones exploded into small pieces.

About a minute later, 22 kilometers west of Tal al-Hammam, the winds of the explosion hit the biblical city of Jericho. The walls of Jericho fell and the city burned to the ground.

It all sounds like the climax of a Hollywood disaster movie. How do we know that all this really happened near the Dead Sea thousands of years ago?

A satellite image showing the area of ​​Tal al-Hammam about 12 kilometers northeast of the Dead Sea. The city, now called "Tal al-Hammam", is located about 11 km northeast of the Dead Sea, in what is now Jordan. NASA, CC BY-ND
A satellite image showing the area of ​​Tal al-Hammam about 12 kilometers northeast of the Dead Sea. The city, now called "Tal al-Hammam", is located about 11 km northeast of the Dead Sea, in what is now Jordan. NASA, CC BY-ND

Getting the answers required almost 15 years of painstaking digging by hundreds of people. The study also included detailed analyzes of material excavated by more than two dozen scientists from ten US states, as well as Canada and the Czech Republic. When our group finally published the evidence recently in the journal Scientific Reports. The twenty-one co-authors included archaeologists, geologists, geochemists, geomorphologists, mineralogists, paleobotanists, sedimentologists, cosmic collision experts, and physicians.

This is how we built this image of destruction in the past.

A firestorm across the city

Years ago, when archaeologists looked at excavations of the ruined city, they could see a black layer about 1.5 meters deep consisting of a mixture of coal, ash, mud and melted pottery. It was clear that a fierce firestorm had destroyed this city a long time ago. This dark layer was called the destruction layer.

The researchers stand next to the ruins of the ancient walls, with the signs of the layer of destruction visible in the middle of each exposed wall. Phil Sylvia, CC BY-ND
The researchers stand next to the ruins of the ancient walls, with the signs of the layer of destruction visible in the middle of each exposed wall. Phil Sylvia, CC BY-ND

No one was sure what happened, but this layer was not caused by a volcano, earthquake or war. None of these factors are able to melt metal, mud and pottery.

To figure out what could (would) have caused such devastation, our group used an online asteroid impact calculator to try out scenarios that fit the evidence. The calculator was built by meteorite impact experts and allows researchers to estimate the many details of a cosmic collision event, based on known collision events and nuclear explosions.

The culprit in the destruction of Tal al-Hammam appears to have been a small asteroid similar to the one that felled 80 million trees in Tungaska, Russia in 1908. It was a much smaller version of the mile-wide giant rock that drove the dinosaurs to extinction 65 million years ago. We had a reasonable suspect. Now we needed proof of what happened that day at Tal al-Hammam.

Finding 'diamonds' in the dirt

Our research revealed a remarkably wide range of evidence.

The site has finely cracked sand grains called compressed quartz, which crystallize only at a pressure of 51 thousand atmospheres. Imagine six 68 ton Abrams military tanks stacked on a thumb.

The destruction layer also contains tiny diamonoids, which, as their name suggests, are as hard as diamonds. Each is smaller than a flu virus. It appears that trees and plants in the area were immediately transformed into this diamond-like material by the fireball's high pressures and high temperatures.

Diamonoids (center) inside the crater. They were created by the high temperatures of the fireball and pressures on the trees and other plants. Malcolm Lecompto, CC BY-ND
Diamonoids (center) inside the crater. They were created by the high temperatures of the fireball and pressures on the trees and other plants. Malcolm Lecompto, CC BY-ND

Experiments in laboratory kilns have shown that the pottery and mud presses at Tal al-Hammam were created at temperatures above 1,500 degrees Celsius. It's hot enough to melt a car in minutes.

The destruction layer also contains tiny balls of molten glass smaller than airborne dust particles. They are called spheroids. These globules are made of iron vapor and sand that melted at around 1,590 degrees Celsius.

In addition, the surfaces of the pottery and molten glass are speckled with tiny molten metallic grains, including iridium with a melting temperature of 2,466 degrees Celsius, platinum that melts at 1768 degrees, and zirconium silicate that melts at 1,540 degrees.

Together, all this evidence shows that temperatures in the city rose to temperatures higher than those emitted by volcanoes, warfare, and normal urban fires. The only natural process left is impact from space.

The same evidence is found at well-known impact sites, such as Tongska and Chicxulub Crater, which were created by the asteroid that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

One mystery that remains is why the city and more than a hundred other settlements in the region were abandoned for several centuries after this destruction. It is possible that high levels of salt spilled on the area during the impact event did not allow crops to be grown. We're not sure yet, but we think the explosion vaporized or splashed toxic levels of brine from the nearby Dead Sea. Without crops, no one could live in the valley for about 600 years, until the minimal rainfall in this desert climate washed the salt from the ground.

Were there any eyewitnesses who survived the explosion?

An oral account of the destruction of the city may have been passed down through the generations until it was recorded as the story of biblical Sodom. The Bible describes the destruction of an urban center near the Dead Sea - stones and fire fell from the sky, more than one city was destroyed, thick smoke rose from the fires and the inhabitants of the city were killed.

Could this be ancient eyewitness testimony? If so, the destruction of Tal al-Hammam may be the second oldest destruction of a human settlement by an impact event from space, after the village of Abu Huraira in Syria about 12,800 years ago. Importantly, this may be the first written record of such a catastrophic event. The scary thing is that this almost certainly won't be the last time a human hair meets this fate.

Animation depicting the positions of known near-Earth objects at points in time over the 20 years ending in January 2018. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Animation depicting the positions of known near-Earth objects at points in time over the 20 years ending in January 2018. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Air explosions the size of the Tunguska asteroid, such as the one that occurred at Tal al-Hammam, can destroy entire cities and regions, and are a serious danger even today. As of September 2021, there are more than 26,000 asteroids and one hundred comets in very close orbits to Earth. One of them may inevitably crash on Earth. Millions more have yet to be detected, and some may be on their way to Earth right now unless ground-based or space-based (satellite) telescopes spot these rogue objects. However, it is still possible that no warning will be given, just as he called for the residents of Tal al-Hammam.

This article was co-authored by archaeologist Phil Sylvia, geophysicist Alan West, geologist Ted Bunch, and space physicist Malcolm LeCompte (Petalcom).

לArticle on The Conversation website

More of the topic in Hayadan:

20 תגובות

  1. Very interesting. The reactions of the believers here are also interesting, a scientific, historical article for anthropology, thanks to Iden. (:

  2. There is a mistake in the description of the first picture in the article.
    Thanks for the fascinating article

  3. According to archeological surveys and the well-known article by Professor Ze'ev Herzog ("There are no findings in the field" Ha'aretz 1999), the city of Jericho during the time of Joshua had no walls at all, meaning that the wall of Jericho found in archaeological excavations was built only in a late period.
    In addition, he means that it is also quite clear from sentences that appear both in the Torah and in the book of Joshua, for example: "In that period it was like this and like that..." and from this the whole Torah and Sir Joshua are written in the past tense. It is clear that the biblical story was written in a later period - probably the time of King David, or even during the Second Temple period, and it was probably mixed with folktales and, among other things, stories about natural disasters such as this one.

  4. There is no crater! The verses speak clearly: 'And the name that rains brimstone and fire from heaven on Sodom... and will overturn all the cities of the square'.
    Brimstone and burning salt all over the land... like the revolution of Sodom and Amorrah... . Maybe we'll get an article about finding the Yerubael address as well?

  5. It's always fun to see science "discover" things that have been written in our Torah for 3000 years.
    Soon they will find out that there was no meteor and nothing, only God.

  6. It was not Sodom and Gomorrah and the land and Zeboim that were destroyed by the Almighty, the King of Kings, the God of Israel and the entire world and creator of heaven and earth because of the sins of the inhabitants of these 4 cities. It's something else that has nothing to do with them at all. And the walls of the city of Jericho fell about 500 years after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. All these 4 ancient cities sat on one rock, and simply the Almighty God turned the rock to the other side, these 4 cities are underground under this rock, I do not say this, but the Holy Rashi interprets and explains it . By the way, the entire world only existed for 5,782 years and 27 days, that is, 5,782 years and 27 days before me, the Almighty, King of Kings, God of Israel and the entire world and creator of heaven and earth created the entire world in six days of action!!!!

  7. I didn't check, I put it on now for the first time but if you wrap it up in Noah's flood, then your source is probably not scientific.
    In any case, to this day it is known that the story of Noah (and Gilgamesh) arose from the testimonies of the survivors of the flooding of the Black Sea in the valley that was there before, 9,500 years ago.

  8. In the original publication in the West..there is the scientific information in which they calculated and it is 4200 years, which by the way corresponds exactly to the Christian calculation since Noah (there is no point in calculating further because it is nonsense!)
    The city they discovered northeast of the Dead Sea was covered in dust from the impact of one of the giant meteorite trail rocks that mostly disintegrated at the entrance and fell in the Austrian Alps (and this was also published a number of years ago)

  9. Since humanity does not possess preventive technology and science is not developed enough to predict and prevent such events, I will not worry and will just continue to live my life until I evaporate

  10. This story is also mentioned in the Koran.
    Corresponds exactly to the light listed in the above article.
    This is the punishment received by the people who lived during the time of the prophet Lot.
    You can search on Google what punishment the people of the prophet Lot received because of their actions.

  11. This is a classic case of a nuclear explosion. There is evidence that similar things happened in other places in the world, the result of wars of control by the "gods" who came from space. And they enslaved the primitive human beings for their needs, whoever rebelled was destroyed. It is enough to look at the mythologies of all the peoples in the world that tell about gods who came from the sky. They created a new person with the help of genetic manipulations and laid the foundations for the current human culture, of course, out of their own interests. It is enough to look at the book of Genesis through the eyes of the 21st century to understand what it is about.

  12. The "story" is interesting and it can be assumed that it is mostly based on geological and archaeological findings, but there are no geographical findings since:
    The described city sits in an area that is not suitable for descriptions
    The geographers of the traditions and stories of the Tanakh,
    Talal-al-Hammam sits in a relatively dry area with the only source of water
    He is the Jordan that is a little distant,
    To verify this, the traditional biblical Sodom is located in the corner
    The southeastern part of the Dead Sea, in the area where two large villages, "Pifi and Safi" are located today, whose residents enjoy a green oasis rich in water,
    Fresh water streams create a huge delta that makes agriculture possible
    and a source of livelihood for thousands of people,
    To the west of the huge nave is the Dead Sea basin, which is also described in the sources,
    According to all the geological signs in the period in question there was Agno
    The eastern part of the Dead Sea is dry, which allowed easy passage from east to west.
    That is: in the south-east of the Dead Sea is a fertile and accessible area which according to all the signs
    was densely populated in ancient times,
    Tradition and sources define this area as Sodom and therefore
    As someone who knows the area inside out, I prefer to stay
    With the traditional Dead Sea and Sodom.

  13. There is no evidence for an asteroid, it's just a holdover from the findings, it seems more like you're talking nonsense, the Bible is real, not your holdovers

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