Categories: EarthMeteorsScience

A Meteor may have Exploded in the Air 3,700 Years Ago, Obliterating Communities Near the Dead Sea

A meteor that exploded in the air near the Dead Sea 3,700 years ago may have wiped out communities, killed tens of thousands of people, and provided the kernel of truth to an old Bible story. The area is in modern-day Jordan, in a 25 km wide circular plain called Middle Ghor. Most of the evidence for this event comes from archaeological evidence excavated at the Bronze Age city of Tall el-Hammam located in that area, which some scholars say is the city of Sodom from the Bible.

Archaeologists have been digging at the Tall el-Hamman site for 13 years, and have unearthed some pretty convincing evidence supporting the air-burst idea. The findings were presented on November 15th at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research, by archaeologist Phillip Silvia of Trinity Southwest University. They were also published in a paper by Silvia and co-author and archaeologist Steven Collins called “The Civilization-Ending 3.7KYrBP Event: Archaeological Data, Sample Analyses, and Biblical Implications”.

The exploding meteor destroyed the ancient city of Tall el-Hamman in Jordan. Some scholars think that it is the city called Sodom in the Bible. Image: By UN –, Public Domain,

Tall el-Hammam was a thriving city state occupying Middle Ghor. The civilization had occupied the area for over 2,500 years. The city itself held the administrative center of the kingdom, and was protected by a perimeter wall up to 30m (100 ft) thick and up to 15m (50 ft.) high, for a linear distance of over 2.5km. The wall held multiple gates, towers, and likely other defensive features. But all that was obliterated when the meteor pierced the atmosphere and exploded over the area.

Evidence gathered at the Tall el-Hammam site tells the story of the event. When the meteor air-burst occurred, there was an intensely hot and powerful shock wave. The shock wave wiped out all settlements in the area and destroyed an area of 500 sq. km. And the area remained uninhabited for a remarkable 700 years after the event. Several lines of evidence support the likelihood of this event.

Silvia and Collins say in their paper that the destruction and the damage on walls and other structures in the city is directional, supporting the idea of a shock wave. In the past, archaeologist have wondered if an earthquake could have caused the collapse of the region, but an earthquake would not have caused the type of directional damage that the remaining structures and fortifications display.

Chelyabinsk fireball recorded by a dashcam from Kamensk-Uralsky north of Chelyabinsk where it was still dawn. A study of the area near this meteor air burst revealed similar signatures to the Tall el_Hammam site.

Archaeologists also wondered if an earthquake that caused burning petro-chemical eruptions could have caused the destruction. This burning would have explained the thick layers of ash at Tall el-Hammam, but doesn’t explain the “large-scale absence of tumbled mudbrick that would be typical of earthquake damage,” according to the paper. Archaeologists have been studying the area for 13 years to uncover more evidence to explain the sudden event, and according to Silvia and Collins, they found it.

A pottery shard was found in the city that had one side melted to glass. Only extreme heat can do that. Examination revealed zircon crystals inside a bubble in the glass which could only have been formed by temperatures over 4000 Celsius. Additionally, the layer of melted clay that turned to glass is only 1 mm, not the entire depth of the shard. This indicates only a short burst of intense heat, rather than long exposure from something like burning petro-chemical eruptions. The research team concluded that the shard was exposed to temperatures between 8,000°C and 12,000°C for less than a few milliseconds. That certainly supports the idea of an airburst.

Researchers at the site also found what’s called a “melt rock” weighing over 600 grams. It’s an agglomeration of three different rocks melted together by extreme heat and covered with a layer of glass. This also contained zirconium crystals, and further analysis of the melt rock concluded that it had probably been exposed to 12,000 degree Celsius temperatures for a few seconds.

The final piece of evidence concerns what happened to the Tall el-Hammam area after the destruction. This region is considered the best-watered agricultural area in the region, yet after the Tall el-Hammam city-state was destroyed, the area remained unoccupied for about 700 years. What could have caused this, if the extreme heat from the air burst lasted only a few seconds?

The answer lies in the soil, according to the researchers. Six samples from above, through, and below the soil layer from the time of the event were analyzed geochemically. The results showed “salt and sulfate levels > 6% (60,000 ppm) in the ash layer and > 5% (50,000 ppm) in the soil layers immediately above and below the ash layer,” according to the paper. The source of these contaminants had to be the Dead Sea, which borders the Middle Ghor area.

This photo shows trees felled from a powerful aerial meteorite explosion. It was taken during Leonid Kulik’s 1929 expedition to the Tunguska impact event in Siberia in 1908. The Tunguska site, the Chelyabinsk site, and the Tall el_Hammam site all show the same evidence of a meteor air burst. Credit: Kulik Expedition

The two scientists say that the massive shockwave and heat wave not only destroyed the settlements, but the shock wave deposited a layer of salts onto the top soil, destroying it and making it unable to support agriculture for hundreds of years. It only takes a salt content of 12,800 ppm to prevent wheat from germinating, and a salt content of 17,900 ppm to prevent barley from growing. Those thresholds were easily exceeded.

There is other evidence that supports the air burst theory behind Tall el-Hammam. Meteor air burst sites like Chelyabinsk and Tunguska have the same signatures of meteor air burst that Tall el-Hammam has. These include high levels of platinum, a high incidence of magnetic spherules, and also a high incidence of what are known as scoria-like objects (SLOs).

The researchers concluded that an airburst with a yield equivalent to a 10 mt nuclear warhead occurred about 1 km above northeast corner of the Dead Sea. They say this adequately explains all of the evidence gathered at Tall el-Hammam.

“Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land.” – Genesis 19:24-25

Some scholars think that Tall el-Hamman is the city of Sodom from the Bible. That idea has been around for a long time. It’s in the right place, and a meteor air burst would certainly explain the Genesis quote. It’s interesting that the Genesis quote mentions sulfur specifically, since a layer of sulfates and salt was deposited on the area by the event, destroying “the vegetation in the land.” But not all agree.

The painting “Lot and his Daughters” by Lucan van Leyden (1520) shows the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed in the background. Image Credit: By Lucas van Leyden – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain,

Some scholars think that the geography is not correct. Others think the timeline is wrong. But with this new study, both sides will have to reconsider the whole issue.

The Bible is interesting from a historical perspective, because it sometimes interweaves actual events from history with the Christian mythology. Now that it seems reasonable that a meteor airburst did destroy the area that may have contained Sodom, we can lay to rest the idea that the Christian God sent down fireballs to punish homosexuality. It looks like once again, it was a perfectly natural event that led to an apocalyptic, mythological story, and that what people once attributed to Gods and Goddesses is just nature.


Evan Gough

View Comments

  • Oy vey.

    A few days ago this site promoted pseudoscience archeoastronomy from a non-archaeological predatory journal, and here it promotes pseudoscience "biblical science" from a religious university "upholding biblical authority" on a collaborative dig with other similar pseudoscientists.

    The paper - which is a conference proceeding and it is unclear to me that if it has seen archaeological peer review - is portrayed as scant of evidence but starts out with that the lead author "has been declaring his conviction that Tall el-Hammam is biblical Sodom". So it is eager pattern search and there is no evidence such as names or site history connecting it to the religious myth.

    Such a connection, that would connect an event that predates the first archaeological evidence (the Dead Sea scrolls) of the religion and its myth with ~ 1,300 years by oratory (before written texts appears in the area), is unlikely to say the least.

    The article has other problems. It claims that the myth text "is interesting from a historical perspective, because it sometimes interweaves actual events from history with ... mythology". That would be a very scant "sometimes", since to my knowledge it gets only one local king correct from about 2 centuries before the basal texts appear. If one would be generous it also mentions a hostage situation and its correct place - we have independent historical records - around that time, but inflates the scope enormously from a few princes and entourage to a whole population. And that error is from just 2 centuries of retellling, Half of the texts are known to be archaeologically or even historically outright wrong, at other times as here we have no definitive evidence either way.

    Suffice to say, this is not science.

    [Link references omitted since the new site does not seem to like them.]

  • It seemed to me the article presented the scientific facts quoted from a research paper.

    The article made no claims of peer review or historical accuracy - Did you miss this sentence?:
    Some scholars think that the geography is not correct. Others think the timeline is wrong. But with this new study, both sides will have to reconsider the whole issue.

    It seems to me you are ofendwd that religion, myth and science appeared in the same article... It seems wise to take an open-minded approach and to entrtain the notion that sometimes myths (like the great flood) may have some basis in fact and good anthropologists consider all lines of enquiry regardless of scientific credentialling...

    • As I already mentioned, "biblical science" is pseudoscience, and there is no peer reviewed published paper. As I noted, there is not even hard evidence.

      It is definitely not anthropology, not even the social science kind that is not the hard science.

      My personal feelings towards pseudoscience, superstition and myth is neither here nor there. If it was we can ask why you want to defend garbage instead of welcoming review?

      • What I am defending is that the Author of the article took no position and reported scientific facts (or at the very least falsifiabe claims) from the research paper, like:

        * Researchers at the site also found what’s called a “melt rock” weighing over 600 grams.

        * Six samples from above, through, and below the soil layer from the time of the event were analyzed geochemically. The results showed “salt and sulfate levels > 6% (60,000 ppm) in the ash layer and > 5% (50,000 ppm) in the soil layers immediately above and below the ash layer,

        So, it's not like the Author was doing an expose on some crackpot Youtube video. He was quoting verifyable hard science contained in a research paper.

        This site caters to the masses. If the authors wrote 100% hard science papers nobody except academics would be interested or understand what it all meant to the average layperson.

        Psudoscience this article is not. I could find no opinion in it. I could find no myth being presented as fact.

        Not everyone is as well read academically as you are. I just think being overly critical of articles like these is not kind towards the authors whom we don't pay anything and who are kindly providing the general public interesting and informative articles.

      • Re-reading everything again I think I understand your ire.. The Author's last paragraph mentioning Biblical Science.

        So ok you may have a point there in the sense of 'what the heck is Biblical Science'

        I just think criticizing the whole article went too far when it was the phrase "Biblical Science" is what needs singling-out...

Recent Posts

Artemis Missions Should Bring Ice Home From the Moon Too

In a recent white paper, a team of scientists proposed that NASA's Artemis astronauts should…

17 hours ago

Design for a Space Habitat With Artificial Gravity That Could Be Grown Larger Over Time to Fit More People

There are two main approaches that humanity can take to living in space.  The one…

1 day ago

Searching for Phosphorus in Other Stars

The Search for Life can be a lot messier than it sounds. The three words…

2 days ago

The Space Court Foundation is Now in Session!

The Space Court Foundation hopes to play a pivotal role in the evolving domain of…

2 days ago

James Webb Will Look for Signs of Life on Planets Orbiting Dead Stars

Can the galaxy's dead stars help us in our search for life? A group of…

3 days ago

Weekly Space Hangout: September 16, 2020 – Dr. Merav Opher Discusses the Shape of the Sun’s Heliosphere This week we are pleased to welcome Dr. Merav Opher, Professor from the Astronomy…

3 days ago