Could Sodom have been destroyed by meteor?

An ancient Middle Eastern city likely was destroyed by a cosmic airburst and could have been the origin of the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. That’s according to an article published in September in the journal Nature. 

ECU’s Sid Mitra, professor of geological sciences, was part of the team that wrote the paper, “A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea.” In it, researchers hypothesize a meteorite impact or bolide – a meteor that explodes in the atmosphere – likely caused the destruction. They compared the airburst to the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, where a 50-meter-wide bolide detonated, generating 1,000 times more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. 

Site excavation began in 2005, Mitra said, and researchers have been interested in a citywide 1.5-meter-thick destruction layer of carbon and ash. The layer dates to about 1650 B.C.E. (about 3,600 years ago) and contains shocked quartz, melted pottery and mudbricks, diamond-like carbon, soot, remnants of melted plaster and melted minerals including platinum, iridium, nickel, gold, silver, zircon, chromite and quartz. 

this map illustrates the reach of a blast similar to the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, overlaid on the Jordan site.

this rendering shows what the site and the blast would have looked like

“They found all this evidence of high-temperature burning throughout the entire site,” Mitra said. “And the technology didn’t exist at that time, in the Middle Bronze Age, for people to be able to generate fires of that kind of temperature.” That supported the idea of an external source of energy, such as a meteor, he said.

The site includes a massive palace complex with thick walls and a monumental gateway, much of which was destroyed.

A high concentration of salt is also in the destruction layer, which could have ruined agriculture in the area. That could explain the abandonment of more than a dozen towns and cities in the lower Jordan Valley in the following centuries. 

The team ruled out other potential processes, including volcanic or earthquake activity, wildfire, warfare and lightning. None provided an explanation as well as a cosmic impact or airburst, the paper said. 

Genesis 19:24 describes sulfur raining down out of the heavens and the destruction of the cities and all those living in them, as well as the vegetation in the land. 

“So some of the oral traditions talk about the walls of Jericho (about 13-1/2 miles away) falling down, as well as the fires if they’re associated with Sodom,” Mitra said. “Again it’s science; you look at your observations, and in this case it’s the historical record, and you see what you hypothesize and if it fits the data, and the data seem to fit.”