The biblical city of Sodom was destroyed by "brimstone and fire," as the book of Genesis tells it. Now scientists say it's possible that story is the written down version of the oral tradition of what befell an ancient Middle Eastern city now called Tall el-Hammam, which they've determined was obliterated by a space rock some 3,600 years ago. Per a study in Scientific Reports, archaeologists who spent 15 years excavating the remnants of the city's destruction found bone fragments and a 5-foot-deep layer of melted metal, mudbricks, and pottery. Everything from volcanoes to lightning to warfare was ruled out as a cause. Where they landed: It was the result of a cosmic airburst even larger than the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia.
The Conversation describes what researchers believe happened after the meteor, traveling toward Earth at about 38,000 mph, exploded some 2.5 miles above the town. "The blast was around 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb," for one. Anyone who looked at it would have been blinded, not that they would have survived the other impacts: air temperatures skyrocketed to 3,600 degrees and clothing and wood caught fire. Then, seconds later, a shockwave slammed into the city, bringing winds unlike those of any tornado ever recorded. The buildings were destroyed; the inhabitants' bones were "blown apart," as the Times of London puts it.
And another biblical city was impacted, with the Conversation noting that roughly a minute after the airburst, winds from the blast hit Jericho some 14 miles away in the Jordan valley. "Jericho’s walls came tumbling down and the city burned to the ground." The study states that the airburst resulted in an influx of salt (possibly from the Dead Sea) covering the area that inhibited agriculture and saw as many as 120 regional settlements abandoned for some 300 to 600 years. In the book of Genesis, Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back at the destruction of Sodom. (Read more archaeology stories.)