Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Deep history - the thing that fell on Tall-el-Hammam

How often does a history blog get to use scary images like this?

Ancient cities destroyed by fire are a common enough find for archaeologists. But excavators at Tall-el-Hammam, north of the Dead Sea in what is now Jordan, have determined that the catastrophe that obliterated their site 3600 years ago involved a fire hotter than the inside of a volcano. It fused materials in the ruins into diamond-hard fragments and flung chunks of debris into the next valley. Nearby communities, including historic Jericho, 22 km distant, were hit by a shockwave that toppled the walls and set the town ablaze.

After its destruction, the community was not rebuilt, and the area around it seems to have been uninhabitable for about 600 years after. The researchers report in The Conversation 

It appears that the culprit at Tall el-Hammam was a small asteroid similar to the one that knocked down 80 million trees in Tunguska, Russia in 1908. It would have been a much smaller version of the giant miles-wide rock that pushed the dinosaurs into extinction 65 million years ago.

But it was big enough. Tall-el-Hammam, they conclude, is a human settlement from early historic times that took a direct hit from an asteroid and was entirely obliterated. They speculate about preserved memories of the event in Middle Eastern culture: 

It’s possible that an oral description of the city’s destruction may have been handed down for generations until it was recorded as the story of Biblical Sodom. The Bible describes the devastation of an urban center near the Dead Sea – stones and fire fell from the sky, more than one city was destroyed, thick smoke rose from the fires and city inhabitants were killed.

Other settlements destroyed by extra-terrestrial impact have been found,  they acknowledge, but those relate to an impact about 12,800 years ago that seems to have had global consequences. Poor Tall-el-Hammam is a real disaster-movie scenario: one city, one asteroid, boom. 

I note happily that the principal author of the article in The Conversation is Christopher Moore, a new entry among my occasional discoveries of my doppelgangers doing cool things. 

Update, September 23: The Tall-el-Hammam article appears in the American edition of The Conversation, not the Canadian one that comes up by default in Canada. The Conversation is an international consortium of national blogs subsidized by universities. They publish only accredited academics on matters of public interest. History is not one of the subject headings in The Conversation. In Canada, Active History seeks to fill something of the same academics-writing-for-the-public role for historical subjects.


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