Genesis 23:26, says, "The sun was rising when Lot reached Zoar. Suddenly the Lord rained burning sulphur on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and destroyed them and the whole valley along with all the people there and everything that grew on the land. But Lot's wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt."
Putting aside this Biblical story and subsequent interpretation of events this short article considers some of the geological research that attempts to prove that Sodom and Gomorrah could have existed on the edge of the Dead Sea which today forms the border between Israel and Jordan.
Jonathan Tubb an Assistant Keeper, Department of the Middle East, at the British Museum began the research, with Professor Lynne Frostick a geologist from Hull University. Starting with the principle that it was doubtful that any significant population could survive in what is today an arid and inhospitable location they examined the Early Bronze Age period (1800 BCE-2350 BCE).
Archaeological work at Tell es-Sa'idyeh a site to the north of the Dead Sea produced evidence, in the shape of an Early Bronze Age olive oil factory, that sophisticated life had carried on during that period. It was positive supporting evidence for the research team.
Taking into consideration the Biblical story, which tells of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah they turned next to American forensic anthropologist Professor Mike Finnegan who had earlier studied the remains of three male skeletons found at Numeira close to the Dead Sea.
Finnegan said that the three men had died after receiving crush injuries, which could have been caused by an earthquake bringing down a stone building on top of them. Carbon dating of the remains of nearby wooden remains put their date at 2350 BCE - the Early Bronze Age.
Further work done by Israeli geologist Shmuel Marco established, because of local fault lines, that an earthquake of at least six on the Richter Scale was possible.
If Sodom and Gomorrah did exist why are there no remains for archaeologists to examine? Lynne Frostick outlined a phenomenon called liquefaction, a process where an earthquake drives underground water to the surface, turning it to water. Consequently any buildings standing on an incline would be swept away and vanish completely.
Despite the meticulous work carried out on the Dead Sea, no clear-cut confirmation that Sodom and Gomorrah did exist was uncovered. However there was enough hard evidence to show that it was possible for cities to function in this environment. So the debate on whether Sodom and Gomorrah were more than characters in a Biblical narrative continues.
Neil Asher Silberman a contributing editor at Archaeology, an Archaeological Institute of America publication, said, "This is Noah's Ark stuff. The real challenge for Biblical archaeologists today is not to search for long-lost cities, but to understand why the ancient Israelites formulated these powerful myths."
For those looking for further information, The Destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah and Jericho by Neev and Emery provides an in depth analysis of the archaeological research discussed in this article.