According to the Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, ‘all efforts to locate the site of Sodom have been fruitless.’ Areas both north and south of the Dead sea have been proposed, but without conviction.
A fictitious city? The most sceptical regard it, and the biblical story associated with it, as entirely fictitious.
A lost city? Others think that its remains must have been lost under the encroaching waters of the Dead Sea.
South of the Dead Sea? Most scholars during the 20th century favoured a site near the South-eastern end of the Dead Sea, although without much conviction.
North of the Dead Sea? During the pioneering years of exploration in the 19th century, a site North of the Dead Sea was looked for. This was based on an examination of the biblical data – mainly Gen 13:1–12. They. For example, Abraham could see the destruction of Sodom from near Bethel (Gen 19:28), and this would only have been possible given a Northern location.
Since 2005 it has been possible to excavate the ‘Kikkar’ – Jordan ‘Disk’, which has been identified as the ‘well-watered plain’ of the biblical texts. These excavations have uncovered evidence of a striving Bronze Age civilisation in the area. Steven Collins has been site director at the site of the largest city on the eastern side of Kikkar – Tall al-Ḥammām – since 2005.
He and Latayne C. Scott have published persuasive evidence for a site to the north of the Dead Sea (Discovering the City of Sodom, Howard Books, 2013). Tall (or Tel) el-Hammam fits the bill in a number of ways:
According to Gen 13:10, Sodom was visible from Bethel and Ai (located in the ‘plain’ of the Jordan. When Sodom was destroyed, its smoke could be seen by Abraham from this vantage point, Gen 19:28. This rules out a site at the south of the Dead Sea, but is consistent with Collins’ and Scott’s proposal.
- the 8-year excavation has uncovered an impressive city with huge fortified walls, over 100 feet in places. An imposing gateway matches what is mentioned in Gen 19:1.
- charred walls and a thick blanket of ash confirm that the city was destroyed by fire. The site was not occupied again for several centuries.
- scorched pottery has been found which shows, on one side, the effects of intense heat followed by rapid cooling. Such effects have been found in material blasted by meteorite impact or thermonuclear explosion. This is consistent with the description in Gen 19:24-28.
According to the web site of the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project,
it’s remarkable that Tall el-Hammam and its neighbors (noteably Tall Nimrin, likely center of the city-state to Hammam’s immediate north) suffered a civilization-ending calamity, uniquely their own, toward the end of the Middle Bronze Age. While cities to the west (Jerusalem, Bethel, Hebron), north (Deir ‘Alla, Pella, Beth Shan), and east (Rabbath-Ammon, Tall al-Umayri, Nebo) continued in the Late Bronze Age, the cities, towns, and villages of the eastern Jordan Disk did not.
Researchers from seven different universities have been studying this sudden, local devastation event, and publications are pending. Collins thinks that the cause could be an aerially-exploding meteorite: this would leave no crater, but would cause intense local destruction. This would be consistent with the biblical account of fire and brimstone.
See also this article in Popular Archaeology.
For more details, see the website of the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project.
For criticism of this proposal, see here.