How an asteroid destroyed ancient land
THE effect would have been of biblical proportions: a superheated asteroid exploding into a massive fireball and shockwave over the Dead Sea.
The discovery and radiocarbon dating of unusual minerals in Jordan suggests exactly this happened some 3700 years ago.
Trinity Southwest University archaeologist and biblical researcher Phillip Silvia says preliminary findings based on crystallised rock suggests a massive airburst meteor blasted a 25km wide circular plain on the northeastern edge of the Dead Sea, now called Middle Ghor.
In a presentation to the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research last week, Silvia said excavations at five Middle Ghor sites showed the area was settled for a stretch of at least 2500 years. Then, all of a sudden, the region suffered a collective collapse towards the end of the Bronze Age.
He says surveys have revealed the remains of a further 120 settlements in Middle Ghor, all of which could have been exposed to a fiery blast.
Now, "We're unearthing the largest Bronze Age site in the region, likely the site of biblical Sodom itself" the excavators' website declares.
A WELL-WATERED LAND
Silva says the ruins of the Bronze Age city of Tall el-Hammam, which he and his team have been excavating for the past 13 years, provides the greatest preliminary evidence of a low-altitude airburst meteor.
Hammam features a raised acropolis upon which a palace complex was built. It looked out over the largely flat 200sq km expanse of what was likely a small kingdom on the edges of the River Jordan.
"The site had begun (at least) during the 4th millennium BCE, thriving for at least a thousand years as an open agricultural community," the researchers write. "But at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BCE, dramatic disruptions in the relative peace of the region occurred, causing the inhabitants of Tall el-Hammam to construct a formidable defensive system that included a stone-and-mud brick city wall."
The kingdom continued to thrive. Until, suddenly, it didn't.
"It's remarkable that Tall el-Hammam and its neighbours … suffered a civilisation-ending calamity, uniquely their own, toward the end of the Middle Bronze Age," they write. "While cities to the west (Jerusalem, Bethel, Hebron), north (Deir 'Alla, Pella, Beth Shan), and east (Rabbath-Ammon, Tall al-Umayri, Nebo) continued in the Late Bronze Age, the cities, towns, and villages of the eastern Jordan Disk did not."
"The phenomenon resulting in the destruction of civilisation on 'the well watered plain of the Jordan' and repelling reoccupation for so many centuries is now coming to light through analyses performed by 'impact' researchers from seven participating universities," the archaeologists' website reports. "That the most productive agricultural land in the region, which had supported flourishing civilisations continuously for at least 3000 years, should suddenly relinquish, then resist, human habitation for such a long period of time has begged investigation."
Silva says the shockwave of the asteroid likely forced a tsunami of Dead Sea brine over what was once fertile farm land. Those who survived from the 50,000 or so people living in the area at the time would have been forced to leave.
A paper published by Silvia and Steven Collins says this "affirm that Tall el-Hammam also tells the Right Story - that the evidence of destruction is consistent with Genesis 19:22-28."
King James Version: 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.
Radiocarbon dating places the sudden disappearance of clay brick walls - leaving behind only stone foundations - at some 3700 years ago, he says. Recovered fragments of pottery, Silvia says, show signs of having had their outer layers melted into glass.
Zircon crystals in those glassy films would have formed within the first second of the extreme-heat blast, he added, indicating temperatures as hot as the surface of the Sun.
"The physical evidence from Tall el-Hammam and neighbouring sites exhibit signs of a highly destructive concussive and thermal event that one might expect from what is described in Genesis 19," the study reads. "The soil/ash samples gathered from Tall el-Hammam contain evidence of topsoil destruction and subsoil contamination with Dead Sea salts that would have prevented the cultivation of crops for many centuries following the event."
Supporting the airburst theory was the discovery of tiny spherical mineral grains which rained down on the ground following the explosion, along with unusual amounts of platinum-palladium, Silvia says.
"An airburst yield of 10 megatons over the northeast corner of the Dead Sea would be sufficient to produce the physical damage observed 10km away at Tall el-Hammam. Note that this is only one-half the yield of the Tunguska airburst event (in Siberia), well within 'recent' human experience for meteoritic airbursts," the study reads.
The impact would cause Middle Ghor to remain uninhabited for another 700 years.