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Could the biblical description of the destruction of Sodom be explained by an exploding meteor?
A research team including East Carolina University's Dr. Sid Mitra, professor of geological sciences, has presented evidence that a Middle Bronze Age city called Tall el-Hammam, located in the Jordan Valley northeast of the Dead Sea, was destroyed by a cosmic airburst.
Archaeological excavation of the site began in 2005, Mitra said, and researchers have been particularly interested in a citywide 1.5-meter-thick destruction layer of carbon and ash. The layer, which dates to about 1650 B.C.E. (about 3,600 years ago), 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.
"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."
The site includes a massive palace complex with thick walls and a monumental gateway, much of which was destroyed.
The researchers developed a hypothesis that there had been a meteorite impact or bolide - a meteor that explodes in the atmosphere. The researchers compared the airburst to a 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, where a 50-meter-wide bolide detonated, generating 1,000 times more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
Researchers in a variety of fields were called upon to analyze evidence from the site, including Mitra, whose lab focuses on the analysis of soot.
The paper, titled "A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea,"
also speculates 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."