3,600 Years ago, a 50-Meter-Wide Meteor Exploded in the Sky and Destroyed a City Near the Dead Sea

Archeological excavations have revealed evidence of a huge cosmic airburst that occurred around 3,600 years ago. It decimated a whole city in the Middle East near the Dead Sea. This event was 1,000 times stronger than the Hiroshima nuclear bomb and larger than the Tunguska airburst in Russia in 1908. Tall el-Hammam was a thriving city in Jordan that was destroyed by the event.
The researchers used evidence from the dig and an online impact calculator to estimate that a 50-meter-wide space rock exploded at 4 km (2 miles) above Earth. This caused a blinding flash, as well as a heat wave of 2,000 degrees (3600 F) This would have instantly incinerated any wood structures or bodies and melted any metal objects such as swords and spears and pottery and mudbrick buildings.

The destruction was not over. Just seconds later, a huge shockwave smashed everything. It included a 4- to 5-story palace complex as well as a large, 4-m-thick, mudbrick wall of defense.

Nature Scientific Reports published the paper. The authors claim that even though this is not their field of expertise, an eyewitness account of the 3600-year-old catastrophe that decimated Sodom may have been passed on as an oral tradition. Stones and fire fell from the sky to destroy the city. This story is a result of a time when natural disasters were often blamed on the anger and wrath of the gods.

Tall el-Hammam is located. Photo of the southern Levant looking north showing the Dead Sea and the location of the site (TeH), as well as other nearby countries. This area is bounded by the Dead Sea Rift fault line, which marks a major tectonic plates boundary. Credits: NASA, West et al.

Archeological studies and digs at many Middle East sites reveal layers of ancient habitation. These layers are of religious or nationalist importance for multiple ethnic groups. The cycle of conquests and victories continues over the millennia. Tall el-Hammam, however, is a different story. This region of eastern Jordan has been unoccupied since the Middle Bronze Age. This area had been one of the most productive agricultural lands within the region and was home to flourishing civilizations for at least 3000 years. The salts flooded the region, and the soil was unable to grow.

Researchers from several universities and organisations are currently investigating this mystery. Archeologists have been working at Tall el-Hammam since 2005. Even the earliest archaeological excavations showed unusual materials such as melted mudbrick fragments and melted pottery, ash and charcoal, charred seed pods, and burned textiles. All of these were interwoven with pulverized Mudbrick. Further digs also revealed amazing destruction.

Because they were not likely to cause the destruction they discovered at the site, the researchers eliminated all other suspects such as war, fires or volcanic eruptions. None of these events could have caused the intense heat that was required to cause the melting they found. The excavators discovered spherules made of shocked quartz. This is a sign of a sudden and intense high-temperature event like a cosmic impact.

The palace at TeH was levelled by a catastrophic event. (a) Reconstruction of the palace with 4 to 5 stories by artists. It was 27 m in length and 27 m in width before it was destroyed. (b) Modern excavation and artist evidence-based reconstruction of the palace site on the upper tall. MB II is the top of 1650 BCE Middle Bronze rubble. The field surrounding the excavation is flat unlike panel a. Parts of the original palace's 4-story height were??12+?m. However, afterward, only a few courses left on stone foundations and labeled wall remnants. The bottom is a portion of the foundation for the huge wall surrounding the palace. Excavation has removed the debris from between sheared walls. Panel a and panel b show that the palace's upper parts are missing millions of mudbricks. Credit: West, et al.

The site excavators concluded independently that evidence suggested a cosmic impact after eleven seasons of excavations. Our outside team of experts from different disciplines was contacted to examine possible formation mechanisms for this unusual collection of high-temperature data.

Although an asteroid impact could have produced all of the evidence that archaeologists had found, there was no evidence of any crater in the vicinity.

A group of 21 researchers used an impact calculator to determine that a meteor or comet was the most likely cause. According to their calculations, such an event would cause the unusual destruction discovered by archaeologists such as pottery fragments, which were found to have had their outer surfaces melted into glass and some that bubbled like they were boiling, and extreme disarticulation.

A salt-related airburst caused hypersalinity to the soil. This made it impossible for agriculture and led to the abandonment of 120 local settlements in a radius of approximately 25 km.

An explosion may have vaporized or sprayed toxic levels of Dead Sea salt water across a valley, according to a group of research colleagues in an article published in The Conversation. They include archaeologist Phil Silvia and geophysicist Allen West as well as Ted Bunch, Malcolm LeCompte, and Ted Bunch, a geologist, and Malcolm LeCompte, a space physicist. Without crops, the valley would have been uninhabitable for 600 years. Then, the desert-like climate and minimal rainfall wiped out the salt from the fields.

Check out the Nature Scientific Reports paper by the team

This website has more information on the Tall el-Hammam Excavation.

Caption: This is an artist's depiction of an asteroid measuring 10 kilometers (6 miles) in diameter striking Earth. Credit: Don Davis/Southwest Research Institute.