Approximately 3,600 years ago, there was a catastrophic event in the modern-day Middle East that completely destroyed the city of Tall el-Hammam in present-day Jordan. Up to now, the source of this possible cosmic impact event had been a mystery. But that has now changed, as scientists who’ve studied the ruins at Tall el-Hammam for 15 years have determined that the city’s destruction was caused by an asteroid .
The scientists involved in this latest comprehensive study came from a broad range of disciplines, including archaeology, geology, geochemistry, paleobotany, and a number of other earth science specialties. To understand the nature of the cosmic impact event that obliterated the ancient settlement, which was located less than 15 kilometers (10 miles) from the Dead Sea, the scientists collected materials from a five-foot (1.5-meter)-thick layer of badly burned and melted materials that showed Tall el-Hammam had experienced an almost unimaginable disaster. The destruction was clearly the result of an intense firestorm, but the team scientists weren’t sure about the exact nature of its cause.
Top; The Middle East and Tall el-Hammam (in present-day Jordan) where the cosmic impact of an asteroid completely destroyed a city of nearly 9,000 inhabitants . Bottom; The present-day remains of Tall el-Hammam where the cosmic impact of an asteroid blast destroyed life and melted rock and pottery. ( Scientific Reports )
Asteroid’s Cosmic Impact May Have Destroyed Biblical Sodom!
A thorough and detailed analysis of the evidence has finally revealed the answer. After ruling out a range of possible natural or man-made disasters, they settled on a cosmic impact event as the only realistic possibility to have created so much destruction.
Intriguingly, the scientists believe the annihilation of Tall el-Hammam may have been the real-life inspiration for the one of the world’s most famous stories about a city destroyed by fire.
“It is worth speculating that a remarkable catastrophe, such as the destruction of Tall el-Hammam by a cosmic object, may have generated an oral tradition that, after being passed down through many generations, became the source of the written story of biblical Sodom in Genesis ,” the scientists wrote, in a research study introducing their findings in the journal Scientific Reports .
“The description in Genesis of the destruction of an urban center in the Dead Sea area is consistent with having been an eyewitness account of a cosmic airburst,” they continued. “Stones fell from the sky; fire came down from the sky; thick smoke rose from the fires; a major city was devastated; city inhabitants were killed; and area crops were destroyed.”
Researchers stand near the ruins of ancient walls, with the destruction layer about midway down each exposed wall. (Phil Silvia / Scientific Reports ))
A Fearsome Object Creates a Wasteland
By the scientists’ calculations, this space rock may have been as much as 200 feet (60 meters) in diameter. It would have entered the earth’s atmosphere traveling at speeds in excess of 38,000 miles per hour (61,000 kilometers per hour). It didn’t actually strike the earth, according to calculations, but instead exploded about 2.5 miles (four kilometers) above the earth’s surface, with a force 1,000 times greater than that of the atomic bombs that exploded over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
The initial explosion would have caused air temperatures to rise to above 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit (2,000 degrees Celsius). Everything flammable in the city below would have burst into flames, while exposed metal, brick, and pottery would have begun to melt. A few seconds later the blast’s shockwave would have leveled every standing structure in the city, as it produced winds in excess of 740 miles per hour (1,200 kilometers per hour). The 8,000 people living in Tall el-Hammam would have been killed quite quickly, along with any animal life unfortunate enough to be caught inside the blast zone.
The scientists say that the blast was so powerful that it may have vaporized a significant volume of water from the nearby Dead Sea. Afterward, it would have deposited the salt from the water across a wide area of the earth, salting the soil and leaving it useless for growing crops. If indeed this happened, it may explain why the area around Tall el-Hammam was left deserted and abandoned for 600 years after the asteroid explosion occurred.
Tall el-Hammam before and after the cosmic impact of the asteroid blast showing clear evidence of high temperature damage. ( Scientific Reports )
Identifying an Asteroid’s Unique Signature of Destruction
The normal route in science is to collect abundant evidence, and then develop theories that are consistent and can explain all of it.
What the scientists studying the destruction of Tall el-Hammam, Jordan did was the opposite . They developed their theory about what happened (an asteroid impact) first, and then set about to find detailed evidence that would demonstrate that they were right.
Based on the scale and nature of the destruction, they already knew the damage observed at the Tall el-Hammam site couldn’t have been caused by warfare, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, or volcanic eruptions. To explore the space object theory more deeply, they used an interactive tool called the Online Impact Calculator to run various cosmic collision scenarios.
Administered jointly by Purdue University and the Imperial College of London, the Online Impact Calculator lets users calculate the effect of meteors, asteroids, or comets hitting land or water, or exploding above the earth. The damage found at Tall el-Hammam was consistent with the effects of an airborne asteroid explosion, the scientists concluded, recalling an event that occurred in 1908 when a wide swath of Siberian tundra was destroyed by an asteroid that exploded over Tunguska, Russia.
While this theory seemed to explain the observable evidence of destruction at Tall el-Hammam, a much closer examination of the site was necessary to ensure this theory was a good fit. Seeking final proof, the scientists poured over the destruction layer with a fine-tooth comb, collecting extensive samples for further laboratory analysis.
What they discovered matched their working theory quite well. The scientists found a number of anomalies that showed the ancient city had been hit by some type of high-temperature, high-pressure blast.
Those anomalies included:
- Pieces of melted and bubbled pottery and mudbricks that had been subjected to extreme temperatures above 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit (1,500 degrees Celsius).
- Fractured sand grains known as shocked quartz, which can only be created by pressures in the 725,000 pounds per square inch (51,000 kilograms per square centimeter) range.
- Tiny super-hard particles called diamondoids, which are created from wood or plant material that has been vaporized at tremendously high pressures and temperatures.
- Particles smaller that airborne dust known as spherules, made from iron and sand vaporized at temperatures above 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit (1,590 degrees Celsius).
- Pottery and melted glass surfaces infused with small metallic grains of metals like iridium and platinum that require temperatures above 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,600 degrees Celsius) to melt.
Normal fires and even volcanic lava aren’t capable of producing temperatures and pressures that exceed these levels. Ruling out a nuclear explosion, the only candidate that could produce the necessary heat and pressure would be a large object from space either crashing into the planet’s surface or exploding in the air directly above it.
This shaded relief image of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula shows the subtle, but unmistakable Chicxulub cosmic impact crater. Most scientists now agree that this cosmic impact event was the cause of the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction, the event 65 million years ago that marked the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs as well as the majority of life on earth at the time. (NASA / Public domain )
Yes, It Can Happen Again
Assuming the cosmic impact asteroid theory is correct, it must be pointed out that this is an occurrence that has been repeated throughout earth’s history.
Approximately 12,800 years ago, an asteroid similar to the one that likely destroyed Tall el-Hammam exploded over the ancient village of Abu Hureyra in the territory of modern-day Syria, wiping that settlement completely off the map. The most extreme example of such an event occurred 66 million years ago, when a six-mile (10-kilometer)-wide asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula and ultimately caused environmental and climate changes that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Will something like this happen again? Unfortunately, geological history suggests that it’s not a matter of if, but when.
The full report is available to read from Nature Scientific Reports .
Top image: An evidence-based depiction of the cosmic impact which had the power of 1,000 Hiroshimas. Source: Allen West and Jennifer Rice / CC BY-ND 4.0
By Nathan Falde