Unraveling the Story of an Ancient City Obliterated by an Asteroid Impact 3,600 Years Ago

The sudden abandonment of Tell el-Hammam city led to a ripple effect, leaving over 100 nearby settlements deserted for the next 300 to 600 years.

During excavations at the Tell el-Hammam site, archaeologists unearthed a layer of sediment dating back to the Middle Bronze Age (around 1800-1550 BC). This layer contained a plethora of melted clay artifacts, charred wooden beams, grain, bones, and charcoal. Furthermore, all structures, including the grand palace, were razed to their foundations. Scientists theorize that the city met its demise due to an asteroid impact.


An ancient city was destroyed by an asteroid: Everything you need to know

The Tell el-Hammam settlement

On the territory of modern Jordan in the Jordan Valley, there is an archaeological site called Tell el-Hammam. Excavations at this place, which are still ongoing, began in 1975-1976. The oldest settlement on this territory dates back to the Chalcolithic era (around 4300–3600 BC), but the city flourished somewhat later, in the Bronze Age.

Biblical city of Sodom

At the beginning of the III millennium BC, large-scale fortifications were erected around the city – a city wall of stone and brick 5.2 meters thick and up to 15 meters high, as well as an earthen rampart. Some researchers suggest that Tell el-Hammam is the biblical city of Sodom.



The city-state, located on the territory of Tell el-Hammam in the early and middle Bronze Age, did not suffer, unlike neighboring Northern Mesopotamia during the drought of the XXII century BC, but, on the contrary, flourished. However, in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, it, along with a number of nearby villages located in the Dead Sea region, was abandoned for several centuries.


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Middle Bronze Age layers of Tell el-Hammam

Ted Bunch from the University of Northern Arizona, together with scientists from the United States, conducted a study of the archaeological site of Tell el-Hammam. The researchers focused their attention on layers dating back to the 2nd millennium BC – the Middle Bronze Age (around 1800-1550 BC). In addition to the usual finds typical of ancient cities destroyed by wars and earthquakes, archaeologists have found very unusual materials: ceramic shards with outer surfaces melted into glass; bubbling mud-brick fragments; partially melted roofing tiles.

Burned and melted objects

Archaeologists found that the 1.5 meters deep layer was in stark contrast to the layers above or below. In addition to burnt clay products, they found everyday objects, charred pieces of wooden beams, charred grain and bones, as well as limestone stones that were burned to chalk

Stone foundations

Scientists noted that on the stone foundations related to the Middle Bronze, there are practically no adobe brick superstructures. All the walls were torn down, including those of the massive palace complex, which probably reached 11-15 meters in height.

What happened Tell el-Hammam 3,600 years ago?

The investigated layer turned out to be filled with charcoal. Archaeologists noted that about 3,600 years ago, the city was unexpectedly abandoned, and more than 100 neighboring settlements suffered a similar fate. They remained uninhabited for the next 300-600 years.

Theories and conclusions

Archaeologists have come to the conclusion that the only plausible mechanism for the formation of such deposits and destruction is the fall of an asteroid, which, among other things, could explode in the air. Scientists estimate the explosion power at 22 megatons in TNT equivalent, which is comparable to the scale of the Tunguska catastrophe.

Abnormally high salt content on the territory of Tell el-Hammam

According to the authors, the discovered finds melted at a temperature of 1300-2500 degrees Celsius. In addition, the studied layer had an abnormally high salt content, which is consistent with an explosion near the Jordan River or the Dead Sea. Salinization of the territory has sharply limited the ability to engage in agriculture here for a period of about 600 years.


Was this event related to the well-known Biblical accounts?

The researchers added that the description of the catastrophic event 3,600 years ago may have come down to us as a biblical account of the destruction of Sodom. However, there are no other sources other than the Bible that would describe the destruction of the city as a result of an explosion or a meteorite fall.

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