29 October 2021

Cosmic Airburst and Genesis

Then the Lord caused to rain upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and He overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. (Genesis 19:24&25)

Welcome back. A recent study by 21 multidisciplinary investigators affiliated with 17 academic and research institutions presented evidence that Tall el-Hammam, a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley, was destroyed about 1650 BCE by a bolide--a meteor that explodes in the atmosphere.

Location of Tall el-Hammam in the Middle East, north of the Dead Sea (NASA Space Shuttle image from www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-97778-3).
Proving or disproving that the event was the source of the biblical story of Sodom was beyond the scope of the study; however, the researchers did consider whether the details recounted in Genesis matched the details of a cosmic event. Equally important, Tall el-Hammam was possibly the earliest site with an oral tradition that, after being passed down through generations, was written down.

Tall el-Hammam Study
Archeological excavations at Tall el-Hammam began in 2005. After 11 seasons, the excavations reached a stratum that revealed evidence of a catastrophic high-temperature event with a consistent SW-to-NE orientation. Concurrent with the event, 15 other cities and more than 100 smaller villages across the lower Jordan Valley were also abandoned.

The site excavators speculated that the cause of the destruction may have been a cosmic impact or airburst. They enlisted the study’s researchers to determine the processes involved.

Along with field investigations, the researchers conducted a wide range of analyses using a variety of analytical approaches. Given the multidisciplinary and complex nature of the work, they presented the evidence in eight major sections:

- Evidence for high-temperature burning of the city
- Melted construction materials
- High-pressure shock metamorphism
- High-temperature melted minerals
- Human bones in the destruction layer
- Implications of high salinity for agriculture
- Coeval destruction and burning of Jericho
- Analogous destruction events

Study Conclusions
After identifying 10 possible causes of destruction, including volcanism, warfare and tectonism, the researchers assessed 14 major lines of evidence: high-pressure shocked quartz grains; pottery melted above 1500°C; mudbricks and roofing clay melted above 1400°C; high salt concentrations in sediment and melted salt crystals incorporated into melted mudbricks; diamond-like carbon (diamonoids) formed at high pressure and temperature; soot, charcoal and ash, indicative of high-temperature fires; iron- and silica-rich spherules, some of which melted above 1590°C; titanomagnetite, chromite, zircon, quartz, platinum and iridium, melted respectively from about 1550°C to 2466°C; and low remanent magnetism, a counter-indicator of lightning strikes.

Melted pottery from Tall el-Hammam: potsherd of 6-cm-wide storage jar showing (c) an unaltered inner surface and (d) the highly vesicular outer surface (from www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-97778-3).
The only two mechanisms of destruction that could account for the entire range of evidence were a crater-forming impact or a cosmic airburst. With no known or observable crater in the area, the latter was favored and estimated to be more powerful than the 22-megaton airburst at Tunguska, Siberia in 1908.

The data suggested an airburst occurred southwest of Tall el-Hammam. The airburst produced a high-temperature thermal pulse that melted exposed materials, followed by a high-temperature, hypervelocity blast wave that leveled the city and caused widespread deaths.

Effects of hypervelocity blast wave shown on excavated section of Tall el-Hammam palace wall; yellow dashed line indicates NE wind direction of blow-over; blue arrows (4) mark intense wind abrasion of wall top (from www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-97778-3).
One significant observation was that, although local sediment melts about 1300°C, that is a minimum not a maximum temperature; embedded minerals melted up to about 2500°C.

Another was that the anomalously high salt content in the debris matrix was consistent with an airburst above either high-salinity sediments near the Jordan River or the hypersaline Dead Sea. The airburst distributed salt across the region, severely limiting agricultural development for up to some 600 years.

Wrap Up
The researchers note there are no known ancient writings or books of the Bible besides Genesis that describe what could be construed as the destruction of a city by a cosmic airburst or impact.

To keep us on our toes, they add that small but devastating cosmic events are expected to recur every few thousand years. The risk is low, yet the potential destruction is high, encouraging monitoring and mitigation strategies.

Cover your head and thanks for stopping by.

Study of Tall el-Hammam in Scientific Reports journal: www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-97778-3
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/931092
Sentry: Earth Impact Monitoring: cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/sentry/

1 comment:

  1. Really nice job of summarizing the results. Thanks, Warren.