Malham Salt Cave near the southern tip of Israel’s Dead Sea is a labyrinthian maze of dark passageways, tunnels and salt spires. The ancient cave under the biblical Mount Sodom has now also been dubbed the world’s longest salt cave, following an extensive mapping of its inner network. Until now, the coveted titled was held by Iran’s four-mile-long (six kilometres) Namakdan Cave, which was charted in 2006. However, Israeli researchers announced on Thursday, March 28, Malham’s twisted tunnels stretch across a much longer six miles (10km) in length.
The detailed survey of the Mount Sodom cave was commissioned by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, with support from international volunteers.
The expedition was led by Boaz Langford of the University of Jerusalem and Bulgarian cave explorer Antoniya Vlaykova.
Mr Langford said: “What’s unique about this cave, as opposed to other salt caves in the world, is that it’s the longest in the world.”
But how is the incredible discovery linked to the Bible’s Old Testament and the tragedy of Sodom and Gomorrah?
In the Bible, the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorra were destroyed with brimstone and fire as punishment for their wickedness.
The tale is outlined in the Old Testament’s Book of Genesis 19:24 and is also referenced in Jewish and Muslim theology.
In the tale of Genesis, God ordered Abraham’s and Lot’s family to flee the city after Abraham failed to find 10 righteous people living among them.
Upon evacuating the doomed cities, Lot’s wife looked back at the chaos behind them despite being told not to and was turned into a pillar of salt.
The incredible biblical tale was immortalised inside of Malham Cave where a particular salt pillar near the entrance was named “Lot’s Wife”.
The caves are estimated to have formed about 7,000 years ago, which predates the Old Testament by many thousands of years.
This in-and-of-itself does not prove the Old Testament true but the site of the world’s longest salt cave is an important biblical landmark.
Salt caves like this are a rare geological feature because salt rapidly dissolves when exposed to water.
However, incredibly dry regions like the lands surrounding the Dead Sea, have the perfect conditions for salt caves to form and thrive.
The Dead Sea and Mount Sodom are believed to have formed over millions of years as a result of tectonic activity when the Earth’s plates moved at the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley in the Middle East.
Over these millions of years, successive flooding of the area deposited vast layers of salt, which are seen today in Sodom’s salt cave.
Geologist Amos Frumkin said: “The salt layers are squeezed out from the sub-surface, where they are deposited a few kilometres underground, and while being squeezed out they form a mountain, which is rising still today, at a rate of about one centimetre per year.”
And Efraim Cohen, a cave explorer from the Hebrew University, said: “All the stalagmites and stalactites, their beauty, their colour—they’re really white, they’re shining, they’re amazing.”