The History of the Dead Sea and Dead Sea Salts
The Dead Sea is located in the Dead Sea Rift, which is part of a long fissure in the Earth's surface called
the Great Rift Valley. The 6000 km (3700 mile) long Great Rift Valley extends from the Taurus Mountains of
Turkey to the Zambezi Valley in southern Africa. The Great Rift Valley formed in Miocene times as a result
of the Arabian Plate moving northward and then eastward away from the African Plate.
Around three million years ago what is now the valley of the Jordan River, Dead Sea, and Wadi
Arabah/Nahal Arava was repeatedly inundated by waters from the Mediterranean Sea. The waters formed
in a narrow, crooked bay which was connected to the sea through what is now the Jezreel Valley. The
floods of the valley came and went depending on long scale climatic change. The lake that occupied the
Dead Sea Rift, named "Lake Sodom", deposited beds of salt, eventually coming to be 3 km (2 miles) thick.
According to geological theory, approximately two million years ago the land between the Rift Valley and
the Mediterranean Sea rose to such an extent that the ocean could no longer flood the area. Thus, the long
bay became a long lake.
The first such prehistoric lake is named "Lake Gomorrah". Lake Gomorrah was a freshwater or brackish
lake that extended at least 80 km (50 miles) south of the current southern end of the Dead Sea and 100
km (60 miles) north, well above the present Hula Depression. As the climate turned more arid, Lake
Gomorrah shrank and became saltier. The large, saltwater predecessor of the Dead Sea is called "Lake
Mount Sedom, on the southwest side of the lake, is a giant mountain of halite.In prehistoric times great
amounts of sediment collected on the floor of Lake Gomorrah. The sediment was heavier than the salt
deposits and squeezed the salt deposits upwards into what are now the Lisan Peninsula and Mount
Sedom (on the southwest side of the lake). "Geologists explain the effect in terms of a bucket of mud into
which a large flat stone is placed, forcing the mud to creep up the sides of the pail". When the floor of the
Dead Sea dropped further due to tectonic forces the salt mounts of Lisan and Mount Sedom stayed in
place as high cliffs. (see salt domes)
During 70,000 to 12,000 years ago the lake level was a 100-250 m higher than its current level. This lake
was termed "Lake Lisan", which fluctuated dramatically with rising to highest level around 26,000 years
ago, indicating very wet climate in the Near East. Sometime around 10,000 years ago the lake level
dropped dramatically, probably to levels even lower than today. During the last several thousand years the
lake has fluctuated approximately 400 m with some significant drops and rises.
The Jordan River is the only major stream flowing into Dead Sea. There are no outlet streams.
The northern part of the Dead Sea receives scarcely 100 mm (4 inches) of rain a year. The southern
section barely 50 mm (2 inches). The Dead Sea zone's aridity is due to the rainshadow effect of the
Judean Hills. The highlands east of the Dead Sea receive more rainfall than the Dead Sea itself.
The mountains of the western side, the Judean Hills, rise less steeply from the Dead Sea than do the
mountains of the eastern side. The mountains of the eastern side are also much higher. Along the
southwestern side of the lake is a 210 m (700 ft) tall halite formation called "Mount Sedom".
The human history of the Dead Sea goes all the way back to remote antiquity. Just north of the Dead Sea
is Jericho, the oldest continually occupied town in the world. Somewhere, perhaps on the Dead Sea's
southeast shore, are the cities mentioned in the Book of Genesis which were destroyed in the times of
Abraham: Sodom and Gomorra and the three other "Cities of the Plain". King David hid from Saul at Ein
The Greeks knew the Dead Sea as "Lake Asphaltites", due to the naturally surfacing asphalt. Aristotle
wrote about the remarkable waters. During the Egyptian conquest it is said that Queen Cleopatra obtained
exclusive rights to build cosmetic and pharmaceutical factories in the area. Later, the Nabateans
discovered the value of bitumen extracted from the Dead Sea needed by the Egyptians for embalming
Prominent personages linked with the Dead Sea and its surroundings are Herod the Great, Jesus of
Nazareth, and John the Baptist. Also in Roman times some Essenes had settled on the Dead Sea's
western shore; Pliny the Elder identifies their location with the words, "on the west side of the Dead Sea,
away from the coast ... [above] the town of Engeda" (Natural History, Bk 5.73); and it is therefore a hugely
popular though not uncontested hypothesis today, that same Essenes are identical with the settlers at
Qumran and that "the Dead Sea Scrolls" discovered during the 20th century in the nearby caves had been
their own library.
King Herod the Great built/re-built several fortresses and palaces on the Western Bank of the Dead Sea.
The most famous was Masada, where, in 66-70 AD, a small group of rebellious Jewish zealots held out
against the might of the Roman Legion, and Machaerus where, it has been argued from the Gospel
according to Luke 3:20, that John the Baptist had been imprisoned by Herod Antipas and met his death.
The remoteness of the region attracted Greek Orthodox monks since the Byzantine era. Their monasteries
such as Saint George in Wadi Kelt and Mar Saba in the Judean Desert are places of pilgrimage.
In Islamic tradition, the Dead Sea was about the land in which the Prophet Lut (Lot in the Hebrew
scriptures) lived. His tribe had done wrong and had therefore been given a punishment for such deeds.
The punishment arrived when angels were sent down by Allah to Lut. The angels raised the land where
the prophet's tribe lived and threw it back into the ground, causing the ground near the impact to cave in.
Thus, the lowest land on Earth was formed because of this punishment. The sinners were destroyed and
the followers were saved.
Bedouin tribes have continuously lived in this area, and more recently explorers and scientists arrived to
analyze the minerals and conduct research into the unique climate. Since the 1960s, tourists from all the
over world have also explored the Dead Sea region.
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