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A City-Destroying Space Rock May Have Inspired the Biblical Story of Sodom

The Tunguska event is named for the area in Russia around the Tunguska River where on the morning of June 30, 1908, a high-speed space rock exploded and the air burst created the largest impact event on Earth in recorded history. Archeologists have recently found evidence of a similar air burst created by a similar space rock 3,600 years ago that completely destroyed an ancient Middle Eastern city, demolishing every building and incinerating all of its residents. If that asteroid’s destruction was named for the city it vaporized, it might have been called the Sodom Event. Was the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah really inspired by a space rock?

Trees leveled by the Tunguska explosion.

“Years ago, when archaeologists looked out over excavations of the ruined city, they could see a dark, roughly 5-foot-thick (1.5 m) jumbled layer of charcoal, ash, melted mudbricks and melted pottery. It was obvious that an intense firestorm had destroyed this city long ago. This dark band came to be called the destruction layer.”

Christopher R. Moore, Archaeologist and Special Projects Director at the Savannah River Archaeological Research Program and South Carolina Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology and co-author of a new study on this Tunguska-like event published in the journal Scientific Reports, explains in The Conversation what archeologists found while excavated at Tall el-Hammam, an archaeological site in the eastern part of the lower Jordan Valley that many believe was once the site of the biblical city of Sodom. That “destruction layer” has baffled archeologists for years until Moore and his team analyzed it with the Online Impact Calculator, which models known impact events and nuclear detonations and facilitates studies of ancient ones. The calculator indicated that Tall el-Hammam was destroyed by a small asteroid similar to the one that destroyed Tunguska in 1908, but much smaller that the rock that caused the dinosaur extinction 65 million ago. What they needed was physical proof.

“The destruction layer also contains tiny diamonoids that, as the name indicates, are as hard as diamonds. Each one is smaller than a flu virus. It appears that wood and plants in the area were instantly turned into this diamond-like material by the fireball’s high pressures and temperatures.”

Along with the diamonoids, the destruction layer contained shocked quartz that only form at 725,000 pounds per square inch of pressure (5 gigapascals), pottery and mudbricks that liquefied at temperatures above 2,700 F (1,500 C), spherules of vaporized iron and sand that melted at about 2,900 F (1,590 C), and tiny melted metallic grains, including iridium with a melting point of 4,435 F (2,466 C), platinum that melts at 3,215 F (1,768 C) and zirconium silicate at 2,800 F (1,540 C). Is that enough proof?

“Together, all this evidence shows that temperatures in the city rose higher than those of volcanoes, warfare and normal city fires. The only natural process left is a cosmic impact.”

An asteroid? Does that mean the sinners are off the hook?

That’s proof of a Tunguska-like event at Tall el-Hammam. However, is it proof of the existence of the destruction of Sodom? Moore thinks witnesses passed the story down orally until it was written in the Hebrew Bible as the devastation of an urban city near the Dead Sea where stones and fire fell from the sky, thick smoke rose from the fires and the city’s inhabitants were wiped out. Moore agrees that’s not definitive proof, but he sees it as a warning that these Tunguska-like events are common and happen frequently – even if the city isn’t wicked.

Moore and his teammates looked back at the fires of Tall el-Hammam and didn’t turn to stone. Lot’s wife must be p*ssed.

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Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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