Did An Asteroid Destroy A Biblical City? Take These Claims With a Pillar Of Salt


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A recently published paper is making the bold claim that there’s evidence that an ancient, bronze age city was destroyed by an asteroid air burst. It’s got a lot of attention because this is being linked to a story in the Hebrew Bible which is a core text in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However, many scientists with expertise in the field are unconvinced.

This is the paper in question, published in ‘Scientific Reports’ the open access side of Nature with lower bar for entry than the flagship publication.
A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-97778-3

There’s a related paper from some of the authors talking about another city in a similar location also destroyed by an airburst.
Evidence of Cosmic Impact at Abu Hureyra, Syria at the Younger Dryas Onset (~12.8 ka): High-temperature melting at 2200 °C
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-60867-w

Many of the criticisms I’ve cited are shared via twitter, since it’s the fastest way to respond to the popularity of this article.
https://twitter.com/MarkBoslough
https://twitter.com/ChrisStantis
https://twitter.com/petrabonegirl
https://twitter.com/MTB_Archaeology

The airburst map animation is from the B612 Foundation
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldNbkWKbvs0

And the full Phoenix Wright animation is here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_OT42VaIbo

Comments:
  1. Kasyidie Kasman

    Well, back then there were no Bruce Willis to save the day.

  2. Rursus

    Whenever the word “biblical” appear, put on your skeptic eyeglasses!

  3. David Hutton-Potts

    A good example of why it is HARD to write an academic paper and almost impossible to write it for popular consumption. Keep up the good work Scott.

  4. Jared Kennedy

    It’s interesting that both you and Anton Petrov released videos about the same paper within hours of each other, with such a different take on things. His video seemed to take things more at face value.

    I’d love to keep an eye on this to see how it develops in the future. Maybe with the publicity this is gaining it’ll get some more in depth attention.

  5. Anders Juel Jensen

    “[sic] that an unbiased observer is unlikely to reach the same conclusion”… So you’re saying we should just shut down Facebook and Twitter because when properly trained scientists can’t get it right then Joe Sixpack and Karen Klonkhead are bound to get it wrong?

  6. David Marsh

    It’s amazing how much stuff makes sense while you’re inside a pub. It’s almost at bistromath levels

  7. StYxXx

    “Generating a lot of news” – hmm not where I live. At least not in reputable medias. So this is the first time I heard of this. But yeah, especially for religious people this might be compelling and a topic for popular science journals if linkes to some biblical stories. Although the authors only said “could”. The bible also is a remake of various older scipts like the Epic of Gilgamesh.

  8. Eric Nævdal

    The paper reports large concentrations of iridium in a particular sedimentary layer. That usually means that a meteorite has been involved one way or another.

  9. Graham Billing

    Thanks Scott, no doubt I’ll be hearing about this from god botherers

  10. Micah Horton

    I wish an influencer could attack the disagreements without coming off condescending

  11. Arnaud MEURET

    “[…] suggests there is some bias involved” pretty much sums up every single “fact” authors of bibles have chosen to lay down in words. 🤣

  12. Thomas Andrews

    Hhhhmmm
    I can see the shocked Quartz happening , depending on how close the explosion was to the ground.
    If it explodes like 100 yards from the ground, then ya shocked Quartz I can see it happening.
    I like your videos
    Please don’t stop 👍👍👍
    It also comes down to your beliefs
    I for one believe in Ancient man , a lot older then we are taught, a lot older

  13. Cirkmann Zirkel

    “For somebody holding a hammer, every problem becomes a nail” – best explains selection and confirmation bias

  14. Patrick Poe

    10:22 “That desire to fit things to your worldview can be quite compelling.”
    Truer words have rarely been said. Be careful; this is the sharpest of double-edged swords!

  15. Odysseus Rex

    It sounds like there is some valid scientific debate going on, which is a good thing. I will be more interested in peer reviewed responses than Twitter posts though, regardless of the credentials of the twitterer. The fact this same team has reached the same conclusion about a different, nearby site though, does suggest that they have a hammer and are looking for nails.

  16. Pro Runner

    all the arguments seem to be like this: ‘well I don’t believe it, I have a bad gut feeling about this.’
    I’m not saying the paper is right or wrong but the responses weren’t any more convincing

  17. KM Crafting

    Not in a million years would I have expected to see Scott Manley discussing my field of study (archaeology/Bio-arch). Haven’t had the chance to read the paper, but it does sound like a little bit of bias. Although, there are historical mentions from that area (near east) of an event that matches up with an air blast. Thankfully the Scientific process will do it’s job and all the evidence will be properly sorted for a more sound conclusion!

  18. Patrick Durham

    When the only tool you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.

  19. John Cashwell

    But remember Scott, never just trust anything that anyone says. Without Scientific Evidence or Well Vetted Published Scholarly Research any statements made by anyone are just Opinions. Just blindly relying on something one or even a handful of people have commented on as reliable, no matter who they are, is not very scientific, is it. In fact, you should be even more wary of comments such as those because they do tend to come from those who are fishing for publicity, in my opinion.

  20. The Rogue Wolf

    “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” – Sherlock Holmes, _A Scandal in Bohemia_

  21. Vincent Groenewold

    This is how the scientific process works, isn’t it wonderful!? It’s also a bit surprising to me (having worked in science for a long time) that preconceptions, emotions and other non-relevant (to the science) things contribute to the thought process.

  22. bruce bagnoli

    By enabling a faster peer review and access to insights and observations by others, science uses the internet to accelerate the scientific cycle. Although popular media multiply these stories like a PCR machine, you use the web to deftly assemble scientific questions about an interesting hypothesis and demonstrate the value of multidisciplinary evaluation of a hypothesis and the data underlying the work. Bravo. Good story structure as well.

  23. Dave Land

    I know virtually nothing about any of the disciplines involved, but in reading the paper late at night recently, I found myself feeling skeptical. I found the sections on diamondoids to be confusing in an disturbingly familiar way (i.e., it reminded me of how I wrote when I had little support for a position in a paper).

  24. PbPomper

    For me it’s the incredibly small change of such a rare event happening exactly on of the biggest cities of those time in the world that raises red flags. Of course it could have happened. But those chances are probably less than 1 in a million.

  25. Eric Ganz

    I would not dismiss this paper so quickly. I find the paper fascinating and very impressive. Certainly some of the details will need to be checked, but this is the scientific process. If we focus on the question of whether Tall el-Hammam
    Was destroyed In an air strike by an asteroid, this is convincing.

  26. jpdemer5

    What seems to be missing are the controls – samples from contemporary sites showing the presence (or not) of shocked quartz and spherules. Their case is a lot stronger if the evidence is uniquely associated with Tall el-Hammam.

  27. Zorro9129

    Interesting that as our understanding of history grows, the historicity of certain religious texts only increases.

  28. BlitzKreg

    2021: Ah yes, it’s an air blast
    1680: By the Gods the sky is on fire.

  29. Ugly German Truths

    The thing that gives away the game is that they regularly will find “Sodom” but nobody has ever claimed to be sure they found GOMORRAH first and Sodom would still have to be found.

  30. H P

    Great to see you and Anton Petrov giving an interpretation of the same incident. Plus the addressing of confirmation bias. Thanks.

  31. Royal Kenny

    When I hear that a city was destroyed by fire and brimstone I think of a volcano, if an android had exploded it is more like a drum, shout or horn to describe a loud bang, The Book of Job has a better description by calling it a angel falling to the ground killing all around and burning Job so badly that he almost died.

  32. Chris Henniker

    Even someone like myself who believes in a spiritual element to the world, and human existence, can definitely see this would become an allegory for a society that became decadent.

  33. Andrew Magdaleno

    Great video mate! Like that level headed approach.

  34. Yorkshire_Tea_innit

    With a hypothesis that fantastic, who wouldn’t fall prey to a bit of confirmation bias?

  35. dsracoon

    Thanks for an intellectually honest discussion of the paper. There’s author bias but there’s also a lot of review/criticism bias (including strawmen arguments)

  36. John Davis

    Fascinating explanation Scott. There seems to be a lot to sort out here before the truth is uncovered.

  37. erroltheterrible

    If all you have is an asteroid air burst, then every ancient city looks like an impact site?

  38. superhavi

    This is the Chiemgau impact hypothesis all over again.

  39. Rean Schwarzer

    Cool hypothesis…more research required. I’d argue that even if this paper is wrong, the publicity could be a good thing. The scrutiny will lead to new knowledge in the component fields even if the initial hypothesis was wrong. It also brings up new ideas to fields that wouldn’t have considered it.

    An example for a case of something like this being correct is the famed Great Wave off of Kanagawa. This rogue tsunami lacked a local earthquake. It was eventually linked to an earthquake recorded in the mythology of the Pacific Northwest of North America. A large quake in the region or Oregon and Washington created a tsunami that made it across the whole pacific. This realization has caused scientists in multiple fields to reexamine old events, and find new insights. Even if this wasn’t an asteroid impact, looking at what we think we know with a fresh perspective generally teaches us something new. That’s the beauty of science.

  40. Deamon93IT

    On one hand I’m skeptical about this theory, on the other even if it gets debunked it highlights the importance of having multiple fields of science and human understanding work together.

  41. Ancient History

    Very interesting episode (as always) and paper, and quite valuable objections/concerns about the conclusions. I might have to make my own episode about this paper.

  42. George Lionon

    Indeed, however disregarding of finding a specific site, generally speaking I find it statistically quite plausible that over the course of human history a tunguska like event happened on inhabited place… and did make it it into stories.

    But as biblical stories go, you can’t take them too literally at all. The old testament is actually more of a story collection of many stories that were floating around and collected them into one “standard story framework”. The base of that story might have happened who knows where and was changed many times over as it was told and repeated and finally made it into the collection.

  43. Thomas Oliver Pryce

    Surprised and pleased to hear Scott discussing my discipline, I work in archaeological science but not in the Near East. I too am highly sceptical about the claims but would put a lot of that down to our constant jostling to get into high impact reviews. You aren’t going to make it there with boring run-of-the-mill interpretations – ergo, I haven’t! What I would dispute though is claims of weakness in archaeology’s transdisciplinarity. The discipline must attempt to encompass the entire human experience through the material record, so there will obviously be a great many specialities needed. Those specialists not necessarily understanding each other is a team management issue. Fun content and thanks to Scott for all his efforts!

  44. Richard Bull

    Scott Manley takes on confirmation bias. Scott, we need people like you more than ever now!!

  45. Eri Deimos

    “Once we left the pub, it didn’t make sense.”

    Sort of a one sentence novel right there.

    As to another nearby city also being blasted, the story of Sodom specifically includes the destruction of nearby Gomorrah at the same time.

  46. Doug Gale

    That bit at the end was brilliant. I am convinced that you are quite unbiased.

  47. Rob Allen

    This team discovering two ancient cities in the same region both destroyed by airburts just thousands of years apart certainly smells like a hammer seeing an unlikely number of nails ;).

  48. Space Elf Downlink

    on layering of a city, Hell even young cities like New York they find remains of older stuff back to when it was New Amsterdam. I think London has find old roman stuff and ships. I suspect total clean sweep of a site is a fairly new practice in the grand lens of history when talking new structures.

  49. Travis Collier

    Seems like they might have been wiser to publish all their analysis without any speculation about Sodom… Then follow it up with the “Biblical archaeology” stuff in a second paper.

  50. J Fess

    “Fitting evidence to fit their preconceived conclusions.” I try to blame everything on my Wife’s cats. I am working on a theory that involves them and the destruction of Sodom and Gamorrah, but I have not published anything yet.

  51. machinegun20

    Scott finally out here dissing and spitting fire on to the believers! I guess I should day mashalla, but that would be inappropriote🤷‍♂️

  52. stephen hennesy

    Ancient alien theorist would describe this in a manor of this: “This is proof of ancient nuclear weapons.”

  53. Christian Woodland

    I totally appreciate this video. Going surface level without checking too deeply into sources/claims isn’t a good thing for sure. Thanks for the great video! 😁👍

  54. mVm MotoVlogMusic

    Inspiring words from an amazing mind.

  55. Chester Liwosz

    This is one of those times it’s great to see an interdisciplinary, crowd-sourced response. At least that bogus paper brought us all together!

  56. ariscop

    ‘Fire and Brimstone’ seems an unusal way to describe an airburst

  57. Dug6666666

    Never let facts get in the way of a good story.
    Unless you are a scientist.

  58. R B

    Similar thoughts when hearing the initial report. You dug in and went deeper than I.

  59. Moses Zero

    I am HIGHLY suspect of anyone claiming to link a historical place to a holy event. It is clear that many religious events were storified versions of real events. But so many people want to prove that X happened so they can claim Y is true.

  60. Stephen Cowell

    They’re angling for a Templeton Prize, obviously.

  61. CyborgOctopus

    regardless of all the hullabaloo it’s still a very interesting archaeological site! if it turns out that there was indeed an airburst event that destroyed the city, then they’ve found a very significant thing that will be in the history books. if not, (two cities just happening to be right under an airburst in the same region found by the same people is pretty sus) then they still have a city with loads of information to find. good either way i think.

  62. CHARLES LORD

    I love this! Keep digging. Science rules!!

  63. Andrew Blucher

    Having laid out their argument, I’m … not convinced …
    Er, yeah. We got from the sceptical “lay out”!
    😂🤣😂🤗
    Love your work Scott!

  64. iamzid

    in my experience when speaking about religion, science often takes a back seat. this also tends to be the case with politics.

  65. Bramble451

    Reminds me of a story I heard about the review of a PhD dissertation on Bronze Age horse training. The archaeologists said that the archaeological aspects of the dissertation were wrong, but they couldn’t say anything about the horse training. Horse trainers said that the horse training parts of the dissertation were wrong, but they couldn’t say anything about the archaeology.

  66. Matthew B

    Everyone ready for the ULA Atlas V launch on Monday? I’m guessing the marine layer is going to be hiding all the fun.

  67. Hamish Blackie

    I don’t have a problem with Scientists reading about an event written (or handed down) by a culture or surrounding cultures to an area, investigating, examining and trying to work out what happened or if anything happened at all. It’s part of doing science and for many disciplines this is stock and trade, and sometimes the evidence corroborates with the theory and sometimes it falsifies the theory or leads in a way that no one had ever dreamed about.

  68. Qbert1969

    Flawless… The nicest stern talk I’ve ever heard. Well done sir, well done.

  69. Stephen Ford

    Fascinating … and the objective analysis from the wisdom of mature experience from Scott plus the ‘cynics’.
    However, every process starts somewhere and who knows what the outcome might eventually be ?

  70. BenGman

    Wowzers, that sounds like an asteroid shotgun. Just like a meteor shower, but wider 😬

  71. GUNNER67akaKelt

    There’s no reason there couldn’t have been both an airburst and smaller impacts from the debris to create the shocked quartz. All that’s required is something solid, hitting something else solid (quartz), at a really high speed. The meteorite could even have had smaller pieces break away during entry and those pieces impacted while the main body airburst.

    It’s almost like further studies should be done.

  72. RedClaw9979

    I was just having a discussion today about the odds of 2 ancient cities being destroyed by airburst. Thanks for the backup Scott ;)

  73. I C Aleinns

    Nice one, Scott. The claim of shock quartz at the site created by an airburst had me a little dubious, too.

  74. RraMakutsi

    I actually went to college with Matt Boulanger… never would have guessed that I would see him mentioned in a video by Scott Manley, but pretty cool to see his work/analysis being recognized!

  75. ReshiramUndRayquaza

    Honestly, a really funny coincidence that you and Anton Petrov released a video about the same topic/paper just a few hours from one another.
    I just love the YouTube Science-Community!

  76. FortiiFly

    This makes me wonder if are there any ancient apocalypses or myths that could be explained by an asteroid or other astronomical event. Even it isn’t the case for this site.

  77. Jimmy Swenson

    10:20 “Once we left the pub, we realized that it didn’t make sense” ahh yes, the wheels of science keep on spinning

  78. Britpoint

    “I’m not saying you’re wrong, I am simply suggesting your evidence and logic is so flawed that an unbiased observer would be unlikely to reach the same conclusion.”

    Man can’t wait to drop that one in the next pineapple on pizza debate

  79. Roy Sigurd Karlsbakk

    Interesting – it reminds me of Fimbulvinter – the three year old winter before Ragnarok. Currently it is known this happened in 535 Ce after some volcano erupted and killed a lot of people in Europe and then probably made its way into the mythology.

  80. Desmond Hawkins

    7:30 “they didn’t even try to differentiate between human and animal bone fragments” – this is clearly explained in the paper: “dozens to hundreds of broken and disarticulated bone fragments have been found in each of the 100 squares but these were too small to be conclusively identified as human or animal.” *edit:* they were _very_ small: “The destruction layer was found to contain ~ 19 bone fragments per kilogram, weighing 3.2 g/kg. The largest bone was ~ 2.1 cm long × 0.8 cm wide (average size of bones = 0.6 × 0.2 cm)”

  81. sbfcapnj

    Hey, Scott. Theologian here. Love your channel. Been watching for a couple of years now. This video and the paper make me feel compelled to speak up, though. There are a few things that we theologians have done a bad job at communicating with the rest of the world when it comes to stuff like this, so here goes:

    I want your audience to know that generally speaking, interpreting written narratives from the ancient primary sources through an historical-literal lens is a bad idea. Readers who engage ancient sources literally, as if it were addressed to them, set themselves up for failure. The story in question was written thousands of years before the idea of ‘history’, which is to say that intentional, formal separation of objective exposition from esoteric metaphor, was invented. Most written written sources from the ancient world other than simple things such as receipts, ledgers, lists or tallies, are going to be at least somewhat esoteric in nature because writing was still considered a magical art back then. Astrology, astronomy, theology and magic, which were *the* topics in the ancient world, had yet to be formally separated out. Any written account involving the Gods, celestial bodies, ‘supernatural’-sounding events etc. are going to be pregnant with subtext and metaphors the original meaning of which can no longer be interpreted reliably by modern readers. So, to engage the Sodom and Gomorrah tales under the assumption that the narrative contents are in any way original or “accurate” or that the “historical” events that the narrative describes actually occurred is to fall for the naïve literalism of our modern time.

    A simple hermeneutic experiment: Ask yourself what is more likely; that a one-in-a-billion, megaton-yield asteroid scored a direct hit on a modestly-sized ancient city and that an eyewitness actually survived the explosion and then recorded or dictated their account of the event such that it somehow ended up smack dab in the middle of one of the most highly esoteric, magical texts in the ancient world in reasonably objective historical terms *or* that we are reading a story from a place that is so far removed from its particular cultural localization that it is no longer possible for readers in our world to grasp its original intended meaning? We are not this story’s original intended audience. To assume that we are is to mishandle it as a text.

    TLDR; don’t go looking for history within ancient magical texts. The original intended usually symbolic meaning of most ancient texts is almost certainly lost forever either because of how far removed from the text’s cultural locality we are as modern readers or due to translation issues. Reading ancient texts under the assumption that the events contained within them actually occurred will force you to jump through some *very* strange logical hoops in order to arrive at any semblance of uncorroborated objective historical proof; think ISIS / the Taliban / Christian fundamentalists or any other scripturally-based extremist movement. Some sort of fire probably *did* occur in some ancient city somewhere. *Why* it would make sense for an ancient author-magician to describe the events of this fire in terms of God’s cleansing holy flame, people turned into pillars of salt etc., though, we will probably never understand. The original symbolic meaning is lost and we can only reasonably interpolate so much.

  82. Jason F

    I’m here for two things, to learn about what Scott is telling me, and where did he get that t shirt. Because I need one.

  83. Mr Doohickey

    Great deconstruction. I did a hatchet job on a 1950s Osteo-Donto-Keratic “Bone-Tooth-Claw” cultural interpretation of a mostly Pleistocene Hyena cave assemblage of bones in Northern UK site back in the 1980s. Heuristic bias is always there in archaeological interpretation. Unfortunately it is NOT rocket science. Love the vids. Any more subscribed. and we would be engaged… fnarr fnarr!

  84. Ezis9

    “take these claims with a pillar of salt” XD Thanks for a good laugh Scott! That was funny!

  85. Ben S

    “The desire to fit things into your world view” is the quote of the decade.

  86. Hal Schirmer

    “…something that would have a pretty devastating effect on a bronze-age city” – well, pretty much ANY city, any age; unless you’re living in one of the underground cities in Cappadocia like Derinkuyu (basically, LOTR “the great realm of Dwarrowdelf”)

  87. Matthew Chenault

    As for some of the things being claimed, the one female archaeologist in question is most likely referencing Tel Megiddo and the coastal plain settlements of the region. It should be noted that the assumed site of Sodom is located within the Jordan River Valley, away from the coastal plain settlements, and would most likely have different burial traditions compared to Tel Megiddo. Not all settlements in the region have the same burial methods because, just as is stated in the Bible, the region was divided between different city-states with their own customs and allegiances compared to the others.

    I’ll need to read into the archaeological work on the site to see if they did find a separate cemetery section. If they did, then the criticism would be rendered invalid.

    It should also be noted that the Tall el-Hamman was suddenly abandoned for well over 700 years, during the Middle Bronze Age, around the same chronological time that Abraham (and Lot) would have been dated as having existed. The fact the settlement was abandoned for 700 years in a region where abandoning settlements for extensive periods of time was rare is also an indicator for a major, traumatic event occurring at the settlement. It also should be mentioned that Zoar, which is one of the cities of the plain that was spared from destruction, does exist and is still occupied to this day.

  88. Don Sample

    Of course it wasn’t an asteroid.

    It was aliens.

  89. Jason Goodman

    I read this paper closely, I’m a planetary scientist but definitely not an impact specialist. For me, the biggest questions are, “is the `shocked quartz’ actually shocked quartz?” Are the glass microspherules actually glass microspherules? Most of the other evidence can be explained away by natural processes, but these two, in tandem, should be enough to confirm a high-energy impact. But I don’t have the expertise to assess the microscope images. I’m not too worried about whether an airburst could shock quartz: the paper’s authors describe a sort of “hybrid” event with lots of small impactors reaching the ground, creating salty ejecta and small craters, rather than a pure airburst. I was also less convinced by the presence of fragmented human remains in building ruins, and more intrigued by the claims of human remains splattered with molten glass and salt. *If* that’s actually what that is, it’s hard to explain as a mundane event.

    I agree with Scott that everyone should be suspicious about this one, but I’m not ready to dismiss it. For me, the biggest red flag was that it was *too* perfect. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but they had *everything*: the shocked quartz, the spherules, the platinum-group elements, the bones splattered with molten rock: any evidence of an impact you could ask for was there. Usually science is done in bits and pieces, with holes that get filled in over time, but this paper is suspiciously complete.

  90. tnexus13

    Phil Harding, a trowel and a pint would have this sorted out in three days.

  91. Cotton Jones

    I would agree with you, except you don’t explain the finding of shocked quartz, and from what you say, and I also have heard there are only two ways they can exist; meteorite shock, and atomic bomb shock. Hiroshima exploded above the surface of the earth, did that incidence leave evidence of shock quartz? If it did then explosion above the surface by meteorites can do the same. Just a side note…and of course the religious view God kill them all with an atomic bomb, smile.

  92. James Mayes

    What I find interesting is that this proposed event has a close proximity in time to the Mediterranean bronze age collapse.

  93. Jon Salsberg

    Look, a city destroyed by an airburst. Hm. Sounds interesting. Oh yeah? Then here’s *another* city destroyed by an airburst. Reminds me of Douglas Adams’ description of Kirp’s 2nd two-headed fish, which on closer examination turned out to be two fish badly sewn together. Which not only failed to generate any new enthusiasm for two-headed fish, but also called into question the veracity of the first one.

  94. David Kaye

    The video title made me do a double take, very good.

  95. M B

    Really recommend reviewing the work of the Comet Research Group. Interesting stuff

  96. Touay

    Actually, i happen to know for a fact, that the mess in my flat was caused by an air-burst impact 13000 years ago …. prabably.

  97. JS 2K

    Nice video! It’s important in science to be willing to be skeptical.

  98. Franco Contreras

    It would be so awesome to meet the young scott in a pub. Talking about asteroids and stuff. Im scott manley, drink safe

  99. JS 2K

    Regardless of this event, could shocked quartz come from the actual material of an impactor?

  100. Larry de March

    I heard the author interviewed a couple of hours ago on the CBC Radio show “Quirks and Quarks”. It’s an interesting interpretation.

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