In the Middle Bronze Age (about 3,600 years ago or roughly 1650 BCE), the city of Tall el-Hammam was ascendant. Located on high ground in the southern Jordan Valley, northeast of the Dead Sea, the settlement in its time had become the largest continuously occupied Bronze Age city in the southern Levant, having hosted early civilization for a few thousand years. At that time, it was 10 times larger than Jerusalem and 5 times larger than Jericho.
“It’s an incredibly culturally important area,” said James Kennett, emeritus professor of earth science at UC Santa Barbara. “Much of where the early cultural complexity of humans developed is in this general area.”
A favorite site for archaeologists and biblical scholars, the mound hosts evidence of culture all the way from the Chalcolithic, or Copper Age, all compacted into layers as the highly strategic settlement was built, destroyed and rebuilt over millennia.
But there is a 1.5-meter interval in the Middle Bronze Age II stratum that caught the interest of some researchers for its “highly unusual” materials.
In addition to the debris one would expect from destruction via warfare and earthquakes, they found pottery shards with outer surfaces melted into glass, “bubbled” mudbrick and partially melted building material, all indications of an anomalously high-temperature event, much hotter than anything the technology of the time could produce.
“We saw evidence for temperatures greater than 2,000 degrees Celsius,” said Kennett, whose research group at the time happened to have been building the case for an older cosmic airburst about 12,800 years ago that triggered major widespread burning, climatic changes and animal extinctions.
The charred and melted materials at Tall el-Hammam looked familiar, and a group of researchers including impact scientist Allen West and Kennett joined Trinity Southwest University biblical scholar Philip J. Silvia’s research effort to determine what happened at this city 3,650 years ago.
The results have been presented in the Nature’s article entitled: “A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea”
Salt and Bone
“There’s evidence of a large cosmic airburst, close to this city called Tall el-Hammam,” Kennett said of an explosion similar to the Tunguska Event, a roughly 12-megaton airburst that occurred in 1908, when a 56-60-meter meteor pierced the Earth’s atmosphere over the Eastern Siberian Taiga.
The shock of the explosion over Tall el-Hammam was enough to level the city, flattening the palace and surrounding walls and mudbrick structures, according to the paper. The distribution of bones indicated “extreme disarticulation and skeletal fragmentation in nearby humans.“