Found: the world's wickedest city

If geologists are right we may soon be digging up dead Sodomites, writes Steve Crawshaw

"PERHAPS we will discover objects from the city itself. Maybe the 'No Chariots' sign, from outside Sodom town hall."

The geologist Graham Harris is almost serious. He and his colleague Anthony Beardow are convinced that, 4000 years after its destruction, they have located the original Sodom, on the edge of the Dead Sea.

Quite simply, "the jigsaw puzzle now fits," according to Mr Harris. The biblical story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he says, is based on geological reality, not myth. "The biblical story can be rationalised. Instead of something like Atlantis, or the old Norse legends, we can show that rational geological thinking corroborates the story."

In short, Sodom could be the next Pompeii - a catastrophe unearthed. (Together with Gomorrah, which is rarely allowed a separate existence, and is remembered only as an ampersand in sin. Nobody, after all, has ever been accused of practising gomorrahy.)

Mr Harris believes that the ruins of Sodom could be lying buried under the mud and debris ("like London, after the Blitz"). He even suggests that there might be some dead Sodomites still lying there, encased in mud.

Until now, the location of Sodom was vague. There is a Mount Sedom, located at the south-western tip of the Dead Sea, which has salt pillars - at least one of which has traditionally been named after Lot's wife, who as The Bible memorably relates, was turned into salt for taking one last, forbidden, look back as they fled the burning city.

Archaeologists assumed that Sodom was somewhere in the shallow southern part of the Dead Sea, an area that was previously a saltpan. But the British geologists are scornful of this version. Mr Harris says: "No planner worth his 'salt' would have built a town in the middle of a saltpan, away from fresh water. Secondly, what did the town live from?"

In the Journal of Engineering Geology, published by the Geological Society of London, the authors come up with their own answer, based on their studies of the geology of the region. An area of the Dead Sea further north produced bitumen, a valuable commodity at that time. According to Genesis, the Vale of Siddim, where Sodom and Gomorrah lay, was "full of slimepits" - in other words, bitumen pits. Mr Harris suggests that the bitumen meant that Sodom probably "stank like a present-day oil refinery. But the Sodomites made a good living out of it: where there's muck..."

The geologists suggest that Sodom was on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, just north of the Lisan Peninsula, in an area now under water, which they believe has been inundated since biblical times. Detailed measurement of the underwater contours of the Dead Sea could, they suggest, pinpoint the town's location.

The Book of Genesis vividly describes the destruction of the cities. "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground..."

The geologists say that the literal reality may not have been so different from the Old Testament version (though the flames might have licked up into the sky, instead of raining down from the Lord). There are many documented cases of ground collapsing, in a kind of internal landslide. The creation of the Cheddar Gorge is one example of what Mr Harris describes as "the roof falling in", geologically speaking.

In Greece in the 4th century BC, a town was destroyed, when it was swallowed up because of "liquefaction", or collapse of soil, in an earthquake. In Kansu, in China, a huge area was lost because of liquefaction, in 1920. Crucially, the eastern shore of the Dead Sea lies along a geological fault, where earthquakes have been frequent.

A large earthquake, say the geologists, could have caused liquefaction on a scale large enough to swallow the city of Sodom, with room for Gomorrah to spare. In addition, the highly flammable bitumen would have created a blazing inferno worthy of a Hollywood movie, as Sodom vanished into the ground. In the words of Genesis, surveying the scene on the morning after: "Abraham looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace."

Now, the geologists are confident that they have pointed the archaeologists in the right direction, in searching for the rubble of the burnt-out furnace. And the archaeologists, it seems, are eager to try their luck. Already, some have contacted the authors of the academic paper, to learn more about the missing city, the world capital of bad behaviour and a byword for wickedness for thousands of years. Soon, the message from the Dead Sea may be: Welcome to Sodom. Please Dive Slowly.

Suggested Topics
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine