Evidence that a cosmic impact destroyed ancient city in the Jordan Valley

Credit: University of California, Santa Barbara
Tall el-Hammam, a city in the Middle Bronze Age (3600 years ago or approximately 1650 BCE), was a dominant place. It is located on a high ground in southern Jordan Valley, northeastern of the Dead Sea. The settlement was the first to be continuously occupied in Bronze Age. It was 10 times bigger than Jerusalem, and 5 times more than Jericho at that time.

James Kennett, emeritus professor at UC Santa Barbara of earth science, said that "it's an incredibly important cultural area." This is where much of the early cultural complexity of humanity developed.

The mound is a favorite spot for biblical scholars and archaeologists. It contains evidence of culture from the Chalcolithic (or Copper Age), and has been compacted into layers over the millennia that the highly strategic settlement was constructed, destroyed, and rebuilt again and again.

Researchers were intrigued by the 1.5-meter gap in the Middle Bronze Age II stratum because of its unusual materials. They found pottery fragments that had their outer surfaces melted into glass, "bubbled", mudbrick, and partially melted building materials. This was in addition to all the usual debris from war and earthquake destruction.

Kennett said that there was evidence of temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees Celsius. Kennett's research group was at the time building the case for an older cosmic explosion 12800 years ago, which triggered widespread burning, climate changes, and animal extinctions. Tall el-Hammam's melted and charred materials looked familiar to a group that included impact scientist Allen West, Kennett and Philip J. Silvia. They were part of Trinity Southwest University's research effort trying to discover what happened there 3,650 years ago.

The results of their research were published in Nature Scientific Reports.

Salt and Bone

Kennett stated that there is evidence of a large cosmic explosion, near Tall el-Hammam. Kennett was referring to an explosion similar the Tunguska Event in 1908 when a meteor measuring 56-60 meters pierced Earth's atmosphere above the Eastern Siberian Taiga.

According to the paper, the shock from the explosion above Tall el-Hammam caused the city to collapse, flattening its palace and the surrounding walls. The bones were distributed in a way that indicated "extreme disarticulation" and "skeletal fragmentation in close-by humans."

Kennett found further evidence of the airburst by performing many types of analysis on soil and sediments in the critical layer. Their analysis revealed tiny iron- and silica rich spherules, along with melted metals.

"I believe shocked quartz is one of the most important discoveries. These are sand grains containing cracks which form only under very strong pressure," Kennett stated about one of the many evidence points that point to a large, near Tall el-Hammam, airburst. "We have shocked quartz in this layer. This means that there were tremendous pressures to shock quartz crystalsquartz is one the most difficult minerals to shock.

According to the paper, the airburst may also be responsible for the "anomalously large concentrations of salt" in the destruction layer. This averages 4% and can go up to 25% in some samples.

Kennett stated that the meteor, which likely fractured when it came into contact with Earth's atmosphere, "the salt was thrown up because of the high impact pressures." It is possible that the impact may have partially struck the Dead Sea, which has a lot of salt. Salt-rich shores of the Dead Sea also exist, so impact may have distributed salt crystals further afield, not just at Tall el-Hammam but also at Tell es-Sultan, also known as biblical Jericho and Tall-Nimrin, both of which were also destroyed.

Researchers believe that the high-salinity soil may have caused the "Late Bronze Age Gap", where cities in the lower Jordan Valley were abandoned. This resulted in a drop of tens to a few hundred people. These once fertile areas were inhospitable, and nothing could grow there. People had to flee the area for many centuries. The Iron Age, approximately 600 years after the sudden destruction of the Bronze Age cities, shows evidence that Tall el-Hammam was resettled.

Fire and Brimstone

The ongoing debate about Tall el-Hamman's identity has focused on whether it is the biblical city of Sodom. This was one of two cities mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Genesis which God destroyed because of how wicked their inhabitants were. Two angels save Lot and tell him to not look back as they run. Lot's wife, however lingers and is transformed into a salt pillar. Fire and brimstone fell from heaven, multiple cities were destroyed and thick smoke rose from the fires. Many people were killed and crops destroyed. This sounds like an eyewitness account for a cosmic impact. It is a satisfying connection.

Kennett stated that all the observations in Genesis support a cosmic explosion, but there is no scientific evidence that the destroyed city is the Sodom of Old Testament. Researchers believe that the disaster could have inspired the oral account in Genesis as well as the biblical account of Jericho's burning in the Old Testament Book of Joshua.

Further information: Ted E. Bunch et. al., Tall el-Hammam, a Middle Bronze Age town in the Jordan Valley, near the Dead Sea was destroyed by an airburst of Tunguska size, Scientific Reports (2021). Information from Scientific Reports Ted E. Bunch et. al., Tall el-Hammam, a Middle Bronze Age City in the Jordan Valley close to the Dead Sea was destroyed by an airburst of Tunguska size, Journal (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-97778-3

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