The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of the most famous episodes from Genesis. But did Sodom exist, and where was it?
Dr Steven Collins has been excavating at Tall el-Hammam north of the Dead Sea since 2005. His fascinating book Discovering the City of Sodom describes why it’s the city’s most likely site.
He found a very large Middle Bronze Age city – the time of Abraham and Lot – at 100 acres in the top 1 percent of the area’s largest Bronze Age cities. It had as many as 25,000 inhabitants, a 12 feet thick city wall up to 35 feet high, and a colossal smooth-faced mudbrick rampart sloping 35 degrees away from the wall’s outer face for up to 150 feet.
Middle Bronze Age destruction layer
But what’s particularly interesting is how it ended. Digging down through the layers, one reaches Iron Age 2 (about 10th century BC) and then… ash, destruction, and a huge jump backwards in time to artefacts from six or seven centuries earlier in the Middle Bronze Age. This is the Late Bronze gap: no Late Bronze Age or Iron Age 1 structures have been found.
Perhaps an earthquake or military action? But after the destruction, carbon dated to 1700±50 BC, the site was left unpopulated for many centuries. Cities on crossing trade routes with abundant water and arable land were almost always rebuilt.
Glass, before it existed
One day, in this shin-high destruction layer of dark ash and rubble still bearing the scent of burning, a strange discovery was made. It was a greenish glass-like surface, about the size of your palm. Glazing like this didn’t exist in the Near East before 700 AD, roughly 2,400 years later, so at first Dr Collins thought it was a shard of glazed Islamic pottery. But the destruction layer had been undisturbed since being deposited.
Turning it over, he saw that the other side was ordinary Bronze Age pottery, the curvature indicating it came from the shoulder of a Middle Bronze Age 2 storage jar, a very common object he’d examined hundreds of times before. But never with one side glazed. Also strange: the glazing protruded a millimetre or two over the sherd edge.
A burst of heat, then a quick drop in temperature
The shard was examined by the U.S. Geological Survey Laboratory in New Mexico using the $500,000 Cameca SX 100 microprobe.
The results: both sides are the same material, kaolin, made from clay-like soil or silt or sand. One side has been superheated into glass and then rapidly cooled before the whole jar could turn to glass, similar to airborne magma becoming volcanic glass. That’s why the molten glass on the surface could flow only a few millimetres before it froze again, protruding slightly over the unmelted interior.
Later, a scanning electron microscope indicated boiling of the melted material at 4,000°C . Nothing man-made in the ancient world the U.S. Geological Survey technicians knew of could produce that high a temperature for that short a time.
The closest match to another material, visually, chemically and materially is trinitite. The atomic bomb’s first test was codenamed Trinity by Robert Oppenheimer. The shard looks exactly like the melted surface material at Trinity Site, New Mexico. The bomb was detonated in an area covered with a lot of sand: there was a heat flash, and instant cooling.
Tunguska-class meteor airburst
Back in the Middle Ghor (the circular plain where the Jordan empties into the Dead Sea) researchers noticed the blast seemed directional, coming from southeast, towards the Dead Sea.
Soil samples showed the ash layer has a salt and sulphite content of 6%, tapering off quickly above and below. The chemical composition of the salts and sulphites is virtually identical to Dead Sea water.
Finally, other cities in the Middle Ghor show the same gap in occupation of 600-700 years.
In a conference paper they say this explosive Event “in an instant, devastated approximately 500 km2 immediately north of the Dead Sea, not only wiping out 100% of the Middle Bronze Age cities and towns, but also stripping agricultural soils from once-fertile fields and covering the eastern Middle Ghor with a super-heated brine of Dead Sea anhydride salts pushed over the landscape by the Event’s frontal shockwaves. … it took at least 600 years to recover sufficiently from the soil destruction and contamination before civilization could again become established…”
What was the cause? It’s still work in progress, but they say that there is only one naturally occurring event capable of producing the observed concussive power and heat: a meteor airburst, similar to the 1908 Tunguska Event, estimated at 10-30 megatons, that laid out over 80 million trees radially from ground zero in 2,200 km2 of Siberian forest.
Compare Genesis 19:
Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.
More at tallelhammam.com