A new study, the result of 15 years of study carried out by 21 co-authors in 10 states in the U.S., as well as Canada and the Czech Republic, including archaeologists, geologists, geochemists, geomorphologists, mineralogists, paleobotanists, sedimentologists, cosmic-impact experts, and medical doctors, was published on Monday in the journal Scientific Reports. Researchers studying the Tall el-Hammam in the eastern part of the lower Jordan Valley containing the stratified remains of a Bronze Age fortified urban center, researchers were faced with a 5-foot-thick layer of charcoal, ash, and melted bricks and pottery at the site which researchers called the destruction layer. The evidence of intense heat precluded a war or earthquake. They determined that the bricks melted at a temperature of 2,700 Fahrenheit, hotter even than a volcano.
Perplexed by the level of destruction, the researchers used the Online Impact Calculator to model scenarios that fit the evidence. The calculator allows researchers to estimate the many details of a cosmic impact event, based on known impact events and nuclear detonations.
The study concluded that about 3,600 years ago an icy space rock measuring 50 meters across entered the atmosphere while traveling 38,000 mph. Lacking a crater to indicate an impact, the researchers concluded that the asteroid entering the atmosphere resulted in a massive fireball that exploded about 2.5 miles above the ground. The resulting blast was about 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb and destroyed the region.
The event devastated the city which had been settled since about 4,300 BCE. Air temperatures in the entire region rose above 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, causing clothing and wood to immediately burst into flames. Mud Bricks and pottery began to melt, something even volcanoes do not do. Almost immediately, the entire city was on fire. The combustion was followed by a massive shock wave moving at about 740 mph. The upper 40-feet of a four-story palace were sheared off and blown into a nearby valley. All of the 8,000 people living in the city were killed in the event.
The storm traveled 14 miles across the valley, toppling the walls of the city of Jericho and burning it to the ground.
The devastating effects of the asteroid were so intense that the left behind shocked quartz, finely fractured sand grains that form at 725,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. The destruction layer also contained microscopic diamonoids transformed from the wood and plants by the fireball’s high pressures and temperatures. Tiny spherules made of vaporized iron and sand were formed at about 2,900 Fahrenheit.
With such evidence indicating temperatures higher than man-made sources or volcanic activity, the researchers concluded that the only natural source that could account for the destruction was a cosmic impact.
But this left the researchers with another mystery. At the time of the catastrophe, there were roughly 50,000 people living in the area of the Jordan Valley. The entire region which had been fertile and heavily settled, supporting flourishing civilizations continuously for at least 3,000 years before the catastrophe, was abandoned after the asteroid strike for the next 600 years. 120 regional settlements within a 25-kilometer radius survived the impact but were abandoned. The report did not conclusively answer that question but the researchers theorized that the explosion may have vaporized or splashed toxic levels of Dead Sea saltwater across the valley. Located in an arid region, it would take several centuries until the minimal rainfall could wash away enough of the salt deposits to allow a return to agriculture.
Radiocarbon dating dates the destruction to within 50 years of 1650 BCE.
The researchers suggested that the Biblical account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah may have been the result of eyewitness accounts of the asteroid strike.
“It’s possible that an oral description of the city’s destruction may have been handed down for generations until it was recorded as the story of Biblical Sodom. The Bible describes the devastation of an urban center near the Dead Sea – stones and fire fell from the sky, more than one city was destroyed, thick smoke rose from the fires and city inhabitants were killed.
“Could this be an ancient eyewitness account? If so, the destruction of Tall el-Hammam may be the second-oldest destruction of a human settlement by a cosmic impact event, after the village of Abu Hureyra in Syria about 12,800 years ago. Importantly, it may the first written record of such a catastrophic event.”