New York Times, Sunday, 17 December 1995, p. 13

Geologists Zero In on Sodom and Lot's Wife

LONDON, Dec. 16 (Reuters) - Geologists say they have pinpointed the probable site of the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and worked out a theory of why Lot's wife was reported to have ended up as a pillar of salt.

The findings by two British geologists working in Canada were printed in the Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology on Friday.

The geologists, Graham Harris and Anthony Beardow, analyzed local soil and rock to conclude that Sodom and Gomorrah were probably located on a Dead Sea peninsula.

While the rough location of the cities has long been suspected, the authors said they used the latest geological thinking to trace them to a specific peninsula and work out the reason they vanished around 1900 B.C.

"This is an attempt to use modern geological perspectives to look into a very racy story, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and solve a fascinating historical problem," said Peter Styles of the Journal staff.

According to the Old Testament, the cities were destroyed by fire and brimstone in retribution for the sinfulness of their residents. Since Lot was considered a good man, he was warned of God's punishment. However, his wife disobeyed the sole condition of not looking back and was transformed into a pillar of salt.

The geologists said.that Lot's wife did not appear to turn into a pillar of salt because she dared to look back but because of the briny nature of the Dead Sea. But the research shows it was more likely a case of mistaken identity. Mr. Harris said by telephone from Canada that the Dead Sea was full of salt floes that might have been thrown up by surging water to resemble a female outline." Hence legend is created out of what can now be explained as a simple geological phenomenon," he said.

Saturated soil and highly flammable bitumen, rather than God's wrath, was apparently behind the demise of the cities, the report said.

"The area is made up of rock types which, when subjected to a large earthquake, will actually liquefy, like shaking up a bottle of sauce," Mr. Styles said. "Theirs is a great story but if, as they suggest, the whole city was destroyed and collapsed into the sea, I don't know how much would be left to dig up."

[MAP] The Dead Sea is divided into two basins. El Lisan Peninsula, where the geologists believe Sodom was located, separates the basins at the sea's narrowest point.

Their analysis suggests it was used as a crossing point to ship salt to the Mediterranean and Egypt. Locals were also involved in risky bitumen mining, according to the Journal, meaning fire would have been a constant hazard in what was an earthquake zone. That would help explain the biblical references to the fiery destruction of the two cities.

Mr. Harris said it was impossible to tell if an earthquake set off the so-called liquefaction process he believes swallowed up the cities, but he said archeologists and engineers should join forces to put the 4,000-year mystery to rest.

"The enigma will never ever be resolved until artifacts can be rediscovered that can be positively identified to those cities," he said.