The Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which tells of God destroying two cities for their wickedness, may have been inspired by a cosmic collision on Earth in 1650 B.C.
An exploding asteroid, comet or meteor melted the Bronze Age city of Tall el-Hammam in Jordan, according to new archaeological evidence published September 20 in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.
Twenty-one researchers examined archaeological records to determine the most likely cause of the destruction some 3,600 years ago of the largest of three major ancient cities in the region of the Dead Sea.
The team of archaeologists, geologists, geochemists, mineralogists, cosmic-impact experts and space physicists, ruled out warfare, a fire, a volcanic eruption or an earthquake as probable causes. Those events, they reason, marshaling an array of cutting-edge evidence, could not have generated the kind of extreme heat required to melt the city.
The most likely culprit, they concluded, was a projectile from space. But because they found no crater at the site, they attribute the devastation to an airburst generated by a high-speed asteroid, meteor or comet hurtling through the atmosphere.
The projectile most likely exploded some 2.5 miles above the city, unleashing a blast 1,000 times more powerful than the one generated by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, according to Christopher R. Moore, an archaeologist at the University of South Carolina, who, along with four of his research collaborators, authored a September 20 article in The Conversation.
“Air temperatures rapidly rose above 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit,” write the authors. “Clothing and wood immediately burst into flames. Swords, spears, mudbricks and pottery began to melt. Almost immediately, the entire city was on fire.”
Moments later, a shockwave tore through the city, traveling at some 740 miles an hour—faster than the deadliest tornado on record. “None of the 8,000 people or any animals within the city survived—their bodies were torn apart and their bones blasted into small fragments,” the authors note.
“It appears that the culprit at Tall el-Hammam was a small asteroid similar to the one that knocked down 80 million trees in Tunguska, Russia, in 1908,” they add. “It would have been a much smaller version of the giant miles-wide rock that pushed the dinosaurs into extinction 65 million years ago.”
For years, archaeologists have examined the ruins of the city’s mudbrick buildings, which stood up to five stories tall and were reduced to rubble. They uncovered evidence of destruction caused by an abrupt, huge spike in temperature.
The researchers of the current study found melted metals and minerals that backed up their idea that an airburst was behind the devastation. They also found peak concentrations of shocked quartz—“sand grains containing cracks that form only under very high pressure,” according to James P. Kennett, emeritus earth scientist at the University of California—Santa Barbara.
The researchers have yet to fully puzzle out why the city and more than 100 other settlements in the area remained uninhabited for centuries. They believe the impact may have sprayed toxic concentrations of salt from the Dead Sea, making agriculture impossible.
“Without crops, no one could live in the valley for up to 600 years,” Moore and his co-authors write, “until the minimal rainfall in this desert-like climate washed the salt out of the fields.”
“It’s possible that an oral description of the city’s destruction may have been handed down for generations until it was recorded as the story of Biblical Sodom,” the authors speculate, referring to the book of Genesis:
“Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground….and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.”
The researchers pose the question: “Could this be an ancient eyewitness account? “ They point out that the destruction of Tall el-Hammam is likely not the earliest time a human settlement was destroyed by a cosmic impact event. A paper published in March 2020 describes a similar occurrence: the destruction of the Syrian village of Abu Hureyra some 12,800 years ago. But the Genesis account may be the first written record of such a catastrophic event.
Moore and his colleagues warn, “As of September 2021, there are more than 26,000 known near-Earth asteroids and a hundred short-period near-Earth comets.”
The Church of Scientology publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.