An asteroid hits an ancient city in the Middle East, inspired by the biblical story of Sodom

  • The biblical story of Sodom says that God destroyed the city and its people because of their wickedness.
  • Study suggests the story may have been inspired by an asteroid strike that destroyed an ancient city.
  • A space rock about 50 meters wide destroyed the Middle Eastern city of Tall el-Hammam 3,600 years ago.

While the inhabitants of an ancient Middle Eastern city now called Tall el-Hammam one day went about their daily business around 3,600 years ago, they had no idea that an invisible icy space rock was heading towards them at about 38,000 miles an hour.

Flashing through the atmosphere, the rock exploded into a huge fireball about 2.5 miles above the ground. The explosion was about 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima. The shocked townspeople who watched him were instantly blinded. Air temperatures rose rapidly above 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit (2,000 degrees Celsius). The clothes and the wood immediately caught fire. Swords, spears, mud bricks and pottery began to melt. Almost immediately the whole town was on fire.

Seconds later, a massive shock wave swept through the city. Traveling at around 740 mph, it was more powerful than the worst tornado on record. Deadly winds ravaged the city, demolishing all buildings. They sheared the first 40 feet of the four-story palace and blew the mixed debris into the nearby valley. None of the town’s 8,000 people or animals survived – their bodies were torn apart and their bones were blown into small fragments.

About a minute later, 14 miles west of Tall el-Hammam, winds from the blast hit the biblical city of Jericho. The walls of Jericho collapsed and the city burned down.

It all feels like the climax of a Hollywood disaster movie at the edge of your seat. How do we know that all of this really happened near the Dead Sea in Jordan millennia ago?

Evidence that an asteroid hit Tall el-Hammam inspires Sodom story

The city of Tall el-Hammam is located approximately 7 miles northeast of the Dead Sea in Jordan.


It took almost 15 years of careful digging by hundreds of people to get the answers. It also involved detailed analyzes of material excavated by more than two dozen scientists in 10 states in the United States, as well as Canada and the Czech Republic. When our group finally published the evidence recently in the journal Scientific Reports, the 21 co-authors included archaeologists, geologists, geochemists, geomorphologists, mineralogists, paleobotanists, sedimentologists, cosmic impact experts, and physicians. .

Here’s how we’ve built this image of devastation in the past.

Firestorm throughout the city

Evidence that an asteroid hit Tall el-Hammam inspires Sodom story

Researchers stand near the ruins of ancient walls of Tall el-Hammam.

Phil silvia

Years ago, when archaeologists examined the excavations of the ruined city, they were able to see a dark layer about 5 feet thick of charcoal, ash, melted mud bricks and pottery. fondue. It was obvious that a violent firestorm had destroyed this city long ago. This dark band has been called the layer of destruction.

No one knew exactly what happened, but this layer was not caused by a volcano, earthquake, or war. None of these are capable of melting metal, mud bricks, and pottery.

To understand what might, our group used the online impact calculator to model scenarios that match the evidence. Built by impact experts, this calculator allows researchers to estimate the many details of a cosmic impact event, based on known impact events and nuclear detonations.

It appears that the culprit in Tall el-Hammam was a small asteroid similar to the one that knocked down 80 million trees in Tunguska, Russia in 1908. It would have been a much smaller version of the giant 10 km wide rock. that drove the dinosaurs to become extinct about 65 million ago.

We had a probable culprit. Now we needed proof of what happened that day in Tall el-Hammam.

Find “diamonds” in the dirt

Evidence that an asteroid hit Tall el-Hammam inspires Sodom story

The microscopic images show small cracks in the quartz grains, which indicate an impact of space rock.

Allen West

Our research revealed a remarkably wide range of evidence.

At the site, there are finely fractured grains of sand called shock quartz that only form at 725,000 pounds per square inch of pressure (5 gigapascals) – imagine six 68-ton Abrams military tanks stacked on your thumb.

The destruction layer also contains tiny diamonoids which, as the name suggests, are as hard as diamonds. Each is smaller than an influenza virus. It appears that the wood and plants in the area were instantly transformed into this diamond-like material by the pressures and high temperatures of the fireball.

Experiments with laboratory kilns have shown that pottery and mud bricks in Tall el-Hammam liquefied at temperatures above 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit (1,500 degrees Celsius).

It’s hot enough to melt an automobile in minutes.

The destruction layer also contains tiny balls of molten material that are smaller than the airborne dust particles. Called spherules, they are made up of vaporized iron and sand that has melted at around 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit (1,590 degrees Celsius).

Evidence that an asteroid hit Tall el-Hammam inspires Sodom story

Spherules made of molten sand (top left), palace plaster (top right), and molten metal (two below) suggest a destroyed space rock at Tall el-Hammam.

Malcolm LeCompte

Additionally, the surfaces of pottery and molten glass are speckled with tiny molten metal grains, most notably iridium, which has a melting point of 4,435 degrees Fahrenheit (2,466 degrees Celsius), platinum that melts at 3. 215 degrees Fahrenheit (1768 degrees Celsius) and zirconium silicate which melts at 2800 degrees Fahrenheit (1540 degrees Celsius).

Taken together, all of this evidence shows that temperatures in the city have risen more than those of the city’s normal volcanoes, wars and fires. The only natural process that remains is a cosmic impact.

The same evidence is found at known impact sites like Tunguska and Chicxulub Crater, created by the asteroid that triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs.

A remaining puzzle is why the city and more than 100 other settlements in the region were abandoned for several centuries after this devastation.

The high levels of salt deposited during the impact event may have made cultivation impossible. We’re not sure yet, but we believe the explosion may have vaporized or splashed toxic levels of Dead Sea saltwater across the valley. Without harvests, no one could live in the valley for up to 600 years, until the minimum rainfall in this desert climate washes away the salt from the fields.

Was there an eyewitness surviving the explosion?

It is possible that an oral description of the destruction of the city was passed down for generations until it was recorded as the biblical Sodom story. The story of Sodom in the Bible describes the devastation 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 townspeople were killed.

Could this be ancient eyewitness testimony? If so, the destruction of Tall el-Hammam could be the second oldest destruction of a human settlement by a cosmic impact event, after the village of Abu Hureyra in Syria around 12,800 years ago. Above all, it may be the first written record of such a catastrophic event.

The frightening thing is that this certainly won’t be the last time a human city meets this fate.

NASA Near-Earth Object Map

An image showing the positions of known NEOs (in green), January 2018.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Tunguska-sized aerial explosions, like the one in Tall el-Hammam, can devastate cities and entire regions, and they pose a serious modern danger. As of September 2021, there were over 26,000 known near-Earth asteroids and around 100 near-Earth comets. Millions more remain undetected, and some may be heading towards Earth now.

Unless telescopes in orbit or on the ground detect these rogue objects, the world may not have any warning, as will the people of Tall el-Hammam.

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