Christopher R. Moore, Archaeologist and Special Projects Director on the Savannah River Archaeological Research Program and South Carolina Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina
As the inhabitants of an historic Middle Eastern metropolis now known as Tall el-Hammam went about their every day enterprise in the future about 3,600 years in the past, that they had no thought an unseen icy house rock was rushing towards them at about 38,000 mph (61,000 kph).
Flashing by means of the environment, the rock exploded in a large fireball about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) above the bottom. The blast was round 1,000 occasions extra highly effective than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. The shocked metropolis dwellers who stared at it had been blinded immediately. Air temperatures quickly rose above 3,600 levels Fahrenheit (2,000 levels Celsius). Clothing and wooden instantly burst into flames. Swords, spears, mudbricks and pottery started to soften. Almost instantly, your entire metropolis was on hearth.
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Some seconds later, a large shockwave smashed into the town. Moving at about 740 mph (1,200 kph), it was extra highly effective than the worst tornado ever recorded. The lethal winds ripped by means of the town, demolishing each constructing. They sheared off the highest 40 toes (12 meters) of the four-story palace and blew the jumbled particles into the following valley. None of the 8,000 individuals or any animals throughout the metropolis survived — their our bodies had been torn aside and their bones blasted into small fragments.
About a minute later, 14 miles (22 km) to the west of Tall el-Hammam, winds from the blast hit the biblical metropolis of Jericho. Jericho’s partitions got here tumbling down and the town burned to the bottom.
It all sounds just like the climax of an edge-of-your-seat Hollywood catastrophe film. How do we all know that each one of this truly occurred close to the Dead Sea in Jordan millennia in the past?
Getting solutions required practically 15 years of painstaking excavations by lots of of individuals. It additionally concerned detailed analyses of excavated materials by greater than two dozen scientists in 10 states within the U.S., in addition to Canada and the Czech Republic. When our group lastly published the evidence not too long ago within the journal Scientific Reports, the 21 co-authors included archaeologists, geologists, geochemists, geomorphologists, mineralogists, paleobotanists, sedimentologists, cosmic-impact consultants and medical medical doctors.
Here’s how we built up this picture of devastation previously.
Firestorm all through the town
Years in the past, when archaeologists appeared out over excavations of the ruined metropolis, they may see a darkish, roughly 5-foot-thick (1.5 m) jumbled layer of charcoal, ash, melted mudbricks and melted pottery. It was apparent that an intense firestorm had destroyed this metropolis way back. This darkish band got here to be known as the destruction layer.
No one was precisely certain what had occurred, however that layer wasn’t brought on by a volcano, earthquake or warfare. None of them are able to melting metallic, mudbricks and pottery.
To work out what may, our group used the Online Impact Calculator to mannequin eventualities that match the proof. Built by affect consultants, this calculator permits researchers to estimate the numerous particulars of a cosmic affect occasion, based mostly on recognized affect occasions and nuclear detonations.
It seems that the wrongdoer at Tall el-Hammam was a small asteroid just like the one which knocked down 80 million trees in Tunguska, Russia in 1908. It would have been a a lot smaller model of the giant miles-wide rock that pushed the dinosaurs into extinction 65 million in the past.
We had a possible wrongdoer. Now we wanted proof of what occurred that day at Tall el-Hammam.
Finding ‘diamonds’ within the dust
Our analysis revealed a remarkably broad array of proof.
At the positioning, there are finely fractured sand grains known as shocked quartz that solely type at 725,000 kilos per sq. inch of stress (5 gigapascals) — think about six 68-ton Abrams military tanks stacked in your thumb.
The destruction layer additionally comprises tiny diamondoids that, because the identify signifies, are as onerous as diamonds. Each one is smaller than a flu virus. It seems that wooden and crops within the space had been immediately changed into this diamond-like materials by the fireball’s excessive pressures and temperatures.
Experiments with laboratory furnaces confirmed that the bubbled pottery and mudbricks at Tall el-Hammam liquefied at temperatures above 2,700 F (1,500 C). That’s scorching sufficient to melt an automobile inside minutes.
The destruction layer additionally comprises tiny balls of melted materials smaller than airborne mud particles. Called spherules, they’re manufactured from vaporized iron and sand that melted at about 2,900 F (1,590 C).
In addition, the surfaces of the pottery and meltglass are speckled with tiny melted metallic grains, together with iridium with a melting point of 4,435 F (2,466 C), platinum that melts at 3,215 F (1,768 C) and zirconium silicate at 2,800 F (1,540 C).
Together, all this proof reveals that temperatures within the metropolis rose larger than these of volcanoes, warfare and regular metropolis fires. The solely pure course of left is a cosmic affect.
One remaining puzzle is why the town and over 100 different space settlements had been deserted for a number of centuries after this devastation. It could also be that prime ranges of salt deposited through the affect occasion made it not possible to develop crops. We’re not sure but, however we expect the explosion could have vaporized or splashed poisonous ranges of Dead Sea salt water throughout the valley. Without crops, nobody may dwell within the valley for as much as 600 years, till the minimal rainfall on this desert-like local weather washed the salt out of the fields.
Was there a surviving eyewitness to the blast?
It’s potential that an oral description of the town’s destruction could have been handed down for generations till it was recorded because the story of Biblical Sodom. The Bible describes the devastation of an urban center close to the Dead Sea — stones and fire fell from the sky, multiple metropolis was destroyed, thick smoke rose from the fires and metropolis inhabitants had been killed.
Could this be an historic eyewitness account? If so, the destruction of Tall el-Hammam could be the second-oldest destruction of a human settlement by a cosmic affect occasion, after the village of Abu Hureyra in Syria about 12,800 years ago. Importantly, it could the primary written report of such a catastrophic occasion.
The scary factor is, it virtually definitely will not be the final time a human metropolis meets this destiny.
Tunguska-sized airbursts, such because the one which occurred at Tall el-Hammam, can devastate total cities and areas, they usually pose a extreme modern-day hazard. As of September 2021, there are more than 26,000 known near-Earth asteroids and 100 short-period near-Earth comets. One will inevitably crash into the Earth. Millions extra stay undetected, and a few could also be headed towards the Earth now.
Unless orbiting or ground-based telescopes detect these rogue objects, the world could haven’t any warning, similar to the individuals of Tall el-Hammam.
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