Scientists discovered that Tell el-Hammam was destroyed by an asteroid 3,600 years ago. Credit: Shutterstock

An Asteroid Annihilated an Ancient City 3,600 Years Ago

Archaeologists noted that about 3,600 years ago, the city of Tell el-Hammam was unexpectedly abandoned, and more than 100 neighboring settlements suffered a similar fate. They remained uninhabited for the next 300-600 years.

While investigating the Tell el-Hammam monument, archaeologists discovered a layer of sediment about 1.5 meters deep from the Middle Bronze Age (circa 1800-1550 BC), which contained a large number of melted clay products, charred wooden beams, grain, bones, as well as charcoal. In addition, all buildings, including the large palace, were destroyed to their foundations. Scientists believe that the city was destroyed by an asteroid fall.


An ancient city was destroyed by an asteroid: Everything you need to know

The Tell el-Hammam settlement

On the territory of modern Jordan in the Jordan Valley, there is an archaeological site called Tell el-Hammam. Excavations at this place, which are still ongoing, began in 1975-1976. The oldest settlement on this territory dates back to the Chalcolithic era (around 4300–3600 BC), but the city flourished somewhat later, in the Bronze Age.

Biblical city of Sodom

At the beginning of the III millennium BC, large-scale fortifications were erected around the city – a city wall of stone and brick 5.2 meters thick and up to 15 meters high, as well as an earthen rampart. Some researchers suggest that Tell el-Hammam is the biblical city of Sodom.

Location of the Tell el-Hammam archaeological site. Credit: Ted Bunch et al. / Scientific Reports, 2021
Location of the Tell el-Hammam archaeological site. Credit: Ted Bunch et al. / Scientific Reports, 2021

Abandoned

The city-state, located on the territory of Tell el-Hammam in the early and middle Bronze Age, did not suffer, unlike neighboring Northern Mesopotamia during the drought of the XXII century BC, but, on the contrary, flourished. However, in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, it, along with a number of nearby villages located in the Dead Sea region, was abandoned for several centuries.

Middle Bronze Age layers

Ted Bunch from the University of Northern Arizona, together with scientists from the United States, conducted a study of the archaeological site of Tell el-Hammam. The researchers focused their attention on layers dating back to the 2nd millennium BC – the Middle Bronze Age (around 1800-1550 BC). In addition to the usual finds typical of ancient cities destroyed by wars and earthquakes, archaeologists have found very unusual materials: ceramic shards with outer surfaces melted into glass; bubbling mud-brick fragments; partially melted roofing tiles.

Burned and melted objects

Archaeologists found that the 1.5 meters deep layer was in stark contrast to the layers above or below. In addition to burnt clay products, they found everyday objects, charred pieces of wooden beams, charred grain and bones, as well as limestone stones that were burned to chalk.

Artist's impression of the palace in ancient times and a photo of its remains. Credit: Ted Bunch et al. / Scientific Reports, 2021
Artist’s impression of the palace in ancient times and a photo of its remains. Credit: Ted Bunch et al. / Scientific Reports, 2021

Stone foundations

Scientists noted that on the stone foundations related to the Middle Bronze, there are practically no adobe brick superstructures. All the walls were torn down, including those of the massive palace complex, which probably reached 11-15 meters in height.

What happened Tell el-Hammam 3,600 years ago?

The investigated layer turned out to be filled with charcoal. Archaeologists noted that about 3,600 years ago, the city was unexpectedly abandoned, and more than 100 neighboring settlements suffered a similar fate. They remained uninhabited for the next 300-600 years.

Theories and conclusions

Archaeologists have come to the conclusion that the only plausible mechanism for the formation of such deposits and destruction is the fall of an asteroid, which, among other things, could explode in the air. Scientists estimate the explosion power at 22 megatons in TNT equivalent, which is comparable to the scale of the Tunguska catastrophe.

Abnormally high salt content

According to the authors, the discovered finds melted at a temperature of 1300-2500 degrees Celsius. In addition, the studied layer had an abnormally high salt content, which is consistent with an explosion near the Jordan River or the Dead Sea. Salinization of the territory has sharply limited the ability to engage in agriculture here for a period of about 600 years.

Was this event related to the well-known Biblical accounts?

The researchers added that the description of the catastrophic event 3,600 years ago may have come down to us as a biblical account of the destruction of Sodom. However, there are no other sources other than the Bible that would describe the destruction of the city as a result of an explosion or a meteorite fall.


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Sources:

Binyon, M. (2021, September 22). Meteor destroyed Sodom, Tell el-Hammam VALLEY Archaeologists believe. World | The Times.
Bunch, T. E., LeCompte, M. A., Adedeji, A. V., Wittke, J. H., Burleigh, T. D., Hermes, R. E., Mooney, C., Batchelor, D., Wolbach, W. S., Kathan, J., Kletetschka, G., Patterson, M. C. L., Swindel, E. C., Witwer, T., Howard, G. A., Mitra, S., Moore, C. R., Langworthy, K., Kennett, J. P., … Silvia, P. J. (2021, September 20). A Tunguska Sized airburst destroyed TALL el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea. Nature News.
Fernandez, S. (2021, September 20). Evidence that a Cosmic Impact destroyed ancient city in the Jordan Valley. Phys.org.
Moore, C. R. (2021, September 20). A giant space rock demolished an ancient Middle eastern city and everyone in it – Possibly inspiring the Biblical story of Sodom. The Conversation.
O’Neill, M. (2021, September 21). Sodom and Gomorrah? Evidence that a Cosmic Impact destroyed a Biblical city in the Jordan Valley. SciTechDaily.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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