Scientists found geological evidence of the Biblical destruction of Sodom

In a new scientific paper published in Nature titled, "A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea," a group of two dozen scientists present the results of 15 years of research into the lost Middle Eastern city of Tall el-Hammam, presenting evidence that it was in fact destroyed by an asteroid some 3600 years ago or so:

The proposed airburst was larger than the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, where a ~ 50-m-wide bolide detonated with ~ 1000× more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. A city-wide ~ 1.5-m-thick carbon-and-ash-rich destruction layer contains peak concentrations of shocked quartz (~ 5–10 GPa); melted pottery and mudbricks; diamond-like carbon; soot; Fe- and Si-rich spherules; CaCO3 spherules from melted plaster; and melted platinum, iridium, nickel, gold, silver, zircon, chromite, and quartz. Heating experiments indicate temperatures exceeded 2000 °C. 


 An airburst-related influx of salt (~ 4 wt.%) produced hypersalinity, inhibited agriculture, and caused a ~ 300–600-year-long abandonment of ~ 120 regional settlements within a > 25-km radius. Tall el-Hammam may be the second oldest city/town destroyed by a cosmic airburst/impact, after Abu Hureyra, Syria, and possibly the earliest site with an oral tradition that was written down (Genesis). 

First, those are some impressive feats of calculation to figure out all that stuff from the 4,000-year-old ruins of what used to be a city in the desert. Good on them (this Online Impact Calculator apparently helped). If you don't want to read the scientific paper (which is very Scientific Paper), they break down their discovery process with some much-more accessible language in The Conversation. It's actually pretty fascinating — how each new archaeological find lead to more questions, and how so many disciplines came together to figure out that, holy shit, it must have been a slightly smaller version of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, and here's how it burned all this stuff and affected these minerals and this geography and caused all this domino chain of other issues in the area.

But what does any of this have to do with sodomy?

Well, as detailed in the Book of Genesis, Sodom and Gomorrah were two cities that were chock full of sin, which has been largely interpreted as a euphemism for homosexuality, unless it's not. Whatever the case, Old Testament God got pissed and destroyed these two "cities of the plain" as punishment for doin' butt stuff, I guess.

These scientists weren't necessarily looking to prove or disprove a Biblical story. But they did not in their paper that, well, Tall el-Hammam was a city of a plain, and it was pretty brutally destroyed by a giant flash of fury from the Heavens, and given the time, it could have very well been the folkloric inspiration for that particular Bible story:

There is an ongoing debate as to whether Tall el-Hammam could be the biblical city of Sodom, but this issue is beyond the scope of this investigation. Questions about the potential existence, age, and location of Sodom are not directly related to the fundamental question addressed in this investigation as to what processes produced high-temperature materials at Tall el-Hammam during the MBA. Nevertheless, we consider whether oral traditions about the destruction of this urban city by a cosmic object might be the source of the written version of Sodom in Genesis. We also consider whether the details recounted in Genesis are a reasonable match for the known details of a cosmic impact event.


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 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, e.g., (i) stones fell from the sky; (ii) fire came down from the sky; (iii) thick smoke rose from the fires; (iv) a major city was devastated; (v) city inhabitants were killed; and (vi) area crops were destroyed. If so, the destruction of Tall el-Hammam is possibly the second oldest known incident of impact-related destruction of a human settlement, after Abu Hureyra in Syria ~12,800 years ago.

That's a cool bit of story!…though, I'm sorry not sorry if it ruins your fantasies of a vengeful sky-father burning a bunch of people to death for doing sex. If it makes you feel better, a giant asteroid demolishing a city would almost certainly count as an "act of God" in legal terms, according to your insurance adjustor.

A giant space rock demolished an ancient Middle Eastern city and everyone in it – possibly inspiring the Biblical story of Sodom [Christopher Moore / The Conversation]

A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea [Ted E. Bunch, Malcolm A. LeCompte, A. Victor Adedeji, James H. Wittke, T. David Burleigh, Robert E. Hermes, Charles Mooney, Dale Batchelor, Wendy S. Wolbach, Joel Kathan, Gunther Kletetschka, Mark C. L. Patterson, Edward C. Swindel, Timothy Witwer, George A. Howard, Siddhartha Mitra, Christopher R. Moore, Kurt Langworthy, James P. Kennett, Allen West & Phillip J. Silvia / Nature]

Image via Public Domain