I want to burn down a city completely. Nothing must remain, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Even though I'm a supernatural being, I want this to happen in a natural way. I also want the destruction to not leave any traces that can be used by humanity 4,000 years later to identify what exactly happened. The event may however leave traces that make them guess what happened, but it should definitely not lead to the exact cause.



  • Burn down a city completely (read: destroy, I like fire however).
  • The city is situated above sea level in a semi-arid climate.
  • The event may not leave any clues. This means that humanity 4,000 years later cannot exactly identify what happend. The destruction may however leave traces that make people wonder about what exactly happened. The main point is that the city itself should become a legend, meaning that the destruction site should not leave any traces that can prove the existence of the destroyed city. It's however fine if people get to know that some sort of nature disaster happened, but preferably they won't exactly know what type of nature disaster.
  • Time of the event: 2,000 B.C. (approximately).
  • Preferably the destruction happens within 24 hours.
  • Preferably the destruction method can take down a city that is built mainly with rock and clay like substances.

What are my options? Any natural disaster that can be of use? Is this even possible in a natural way? Please be creative.

I was thinking about "fire from above", but a meteorite impact would be visible for more than 4,000 years.

Edit 1: I removed the following requirement, to make more answers possible:

  • The area is not volcanic active or seismographic active.

Edit 2: The amount of answers and comments is overwhelming, thanks! I have rewritten the requirements/details to make things a little bit more clear. I also added the word "preferably" to two of them, meaning slightly more answers should be possible. Just keep in mind "preferably"...

Also note that this question was first talking about two cities. I changed this to one city because: if it works for one city it will probably work for any amount of cities.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – James Apr 6 '18 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ One point that I think will help when considering the various answers is to remember that the most recent estimates of the global human population in 2000 bc is around 72 million. "City" might not mean what comes to mind, so a relatively small event may be sufficient to obliterate a site sufficiently to meet your needs. $\endgroup$ – Stephan Apr 7 '18 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ Some clarification might be helpful. What about something that wipes out the city so completely its memory is lost to time, even if we know what happened at the site? Like the Chicxulub crater? If there was a city at an impact site like that, we wouldn't know about it because it was so thoroughly destroyed. Or a massive volcanic eruption, like happened to the Minoans, except on the island they were on? Or some massive earthquake that swallows the city into the molten lava below? (Etc.) $\endgroup$ – HopelessN00b Apr 7 '18 at 3:39
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    $\begingroup$ Multiple catastrophes: A meteorite to get the show started. Earthquake to reduce everything left to ground level. Volcano to melt it, burn it, mix it with ash. Glacier to spread it out over miles and miles. Drop the land level to let it sink beneath the sea. $\endgroup$ – Tony Ennis Apr 8 '18 at 17:07

32 Answers 32


I have much academic experience with some of this, especially the second part of your question. I'll address a few different sides of things.

The most drastic way I can think of that could ostensibly be caused by some natural occurrence would be a low altitude meteoric air burst similar to the Tunguska event. Such an event would cause a lot of surface damage without necessarily leaving a crater or other easily identifiable visible mark.

As you've removed your restriction against volcanic activity, you might consider pyroclastic flows as one possible means of destroying your city, with conditions less like those experienced at Herculaneum and more like those at Saint-Pierre.

However, natural disasters on a city-destroying scale generally leave telltale signs behind. So if the air burst notion doesn't fly for you, and if you truly need it to be impossible to determine what caused a city to be burned to the ground, I would suggest staying away from something like a volcanic eruption and perhaps finding a more mundane way to explain a massive fire. Something as common as a bolt of lightning could very well start a fire that spreads out of control, if the conditions are right. Not very exciting, but it could get the job done.

Now specifically to the second part of your question: Many large settlements have been totally wiped out by fire. What you're describing, though, where literally nothing is left 24 hours later but ash, is somewhat more problematic. When something that big burns down, it can leave pretty noticeable remains for a very long time, especially if the area is relatively undisturbed. (Researchers can identify things like tiny campfires older than the time frame you're describing.)

But, say, if the area was abandoned after the catastrophe and later re-inhabited, then evidence of the event could be very difficult to come by. Disastrous episodes or not, people tend to tear down the old and rebuild over it with the new. Additionally, with whatever you do find, it can be problematic knowing whether it was disturbed or altered in some way by more recent inhabitants, adding to said uncertainty.

Likewise, as others have pointed out, water is great at eroding evidence, but it still can leave some traces, which you may find desirable (i.e, your stated "clues that make them wonder" aspect). The nature of the flooding itself, such as whether it's a permanent feature (e.g., a lake), etc., can make a lot of difference. The evidence that is left behind for people to find might depend largely on the nature of the flood itself. (On a related note, you mention your city is above sea level. If that's not a hard requirement, it would be simple to explain a flood if your city was below sea level.) I won't belabor this here; if you want more information specifically about this particular facet, just let me know.

Letting nature run its course will help obliterate much of whatever evidence is left. A semi-arid climate may not be as ideal for obscuring evidence as, say, a jungle, but weather effects and natural geologic processes will certainly contribute to eliminating material remains left after the city's destruction.

If ultimately your chief concerns are to totally annihilate a city and have it be hard for people later to determine exactly what happened, then if you can relax the requirement on a complete "ashes to ashes" situation, you can in fact achieve a realistic scenario that meets your goals: Even if you don't completely demolish the city to the point of literal ash, you can easily meet your requirements for not leaving many traces behind by simply having the area be re-inhabited by people later, or having the site be covered by water. Flooding aside, allowing nature to run its course will generally do much to cover the catastrophe's tracks.

Additional Info - Regarding your question specific to an air burst (moved from comments):

With Tunguska, the object causing the explosion itself left virtually no traces behind. It was essentially completely vaporized. Even in-depth analysis of the soil doesn't really tell us much. So, if we're talking about finding any tell-tale indicators of something like that in the archaeological record thousands of years later, in a semi-arid climate, with all the natural processes present there? Then yes, it's extremely unlikely we'd be able to tell anything about the object that exploded, per se.

The one thing I wonder about is the blast pattern it might leave behind. But as long as the city isn't sprawled out over a ridiculously a huge area, most of the force of the blast would impact structures vertically rather than horizontally, and that's a plus. If the building materials are things like mud bricks, I'm thinking things could be pummeled so badly by the blast that in 4,000 years, you'd be left with little more than rubble to dig up, with the occasional large chunks. Things further out from the center will be affected less, but on the scale we're talking about, pretty much nothing would be left.

And, yes, there would be lots of fire.

Anyway, to sum up, without totally obliterating the surrounding geography with an obvious crater, I think people might suspect the city was demolished in some way, but it'd be near impossible to tell anything for sure. If you want to toss in some extreme weather in the aftermath, I'd lean toward tornadoes, to further muddle things up.

  • $\begingroup$ thanks for your answer. I clarified the question a bit, the most important part is making sure people can't prove the existence of the city that has been destroyed. And preferably people can't exactly be sure what type of nature disaster happend. Some parts of your answer seem to match these requirements quite well. I like the option about something similar to the Tunguska event. Is it possible to wipe out traces of such an event a bit more by corroding the site with rain or wind (sand storm)? $\endgroup$ – Rolf ツ Apr 5 '18 at 7:15
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for mentioning the archaeological remains of fire. I was going to post an answer detailing how fire might not be best but you put it far better. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 5 '18 at 8:21
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    $\begingroup$ "Soil is a complex build-up of material that is affected by many types of past activity. One of the most common is burning: this can take place for a variety of reasons - deliberately or accidentally; in one location or spread across an area of crop or woodland. Burning permanently changes the magnetic properties of the surrounding soil by altering the magnetism of tiny iron particles" see pastperfect.org.uk/archaeology/magneto.html any burning leaves archeological evidence $\endgroup$ – Vorsprung Apr 5 '18 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Vorsprung +1 Very true. The air burst scenario would be much preferable to a volcanic event in this regard, in that although we'd know there was a fire there, the cause of the fire would be essentially impossible to detect from the soil itself. Volcanic activity leaves very noticeable traces. $\endgroup$ – Dan Apr 5 '18 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer others are not much accurate. Also if OP wants to to something more subtle but keep drama just do a long lasting sand storm to bury the whole city in a sea of sand. Unless someone starts to dig in the rigth place there's no way do tell it was here. After found archaelogist can be baffled to find too many bones. The conclusion the city was buried in any short as a day will not come that easy $\endgroup$ – jean Apr 6 '18 at 14:22
  • Rock and clay don't burn well, leaving you with a lot of dressed stone lying around to say there was once a city here.

  • Fire from above implies volcanoes, as we learned from Pompeii, that's actually a great way to preserve a city so that 4000 years later we know exactly what happened, down to what specific individuals were doing when it hit, so that's out.

  • Semi-arid means you can't dump a forest over the top to hide it but also not dry enough to blow a desert over it.

Your best bet is to level the city and then rebuild a city on the same spot. There's nothing like thousands of years of human activity for masking human activity and if the features that caused the original city to be a place of note still exist, someone will rebuild in the same place.

As an example of this, look at Har Megiddo (a.k.a Armageddon), it's an ancient city, built on an ancient city, that was built on an ancient city, etc. The further down you dig the older the city you find, the continuous building of cities on the same spot creates the tel. The location provides control over the land trade route between Europe and Africa so it was always a good place to build. We know there were consecutive cities on that location for thousands of years, but we don't really know what happened to each one. Note the amount of "citation needed" and "dubious - discuss" across the entry.

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    $\begingroup$ Troy is another example. The famous troy of Illiad legend was one of several versions of the city on that site (numbered Troy I to Troy IX). Then it was eventually abandoned and lost as legend and myth until frank calvert found the site in 1870 (wikipedia says that heinrich schliemann was a con man). Obviously this took much longer than the OPs stated 24 hours :) $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Apr 4 '18 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps: Did the destruction take more than 24 hours? I don't recall, its been awhile since I've read the Illiad (but I wouldn't be counting the 10 year siege if that is what you were referring to...). $\endgroup$ – sharur Apr 4 '18 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ @sharur, oh I was talking about the several versions of the city on the site and then the eventual abandonment and passing into legend. I don't know how long the actual sacking of illiad troy was or how complete it was. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Apr 4 '18 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ Could you include earthquakes after volcanic activity to help with the rock/clay issue? If the structures were first broken down, then burned, would that be enough to prevent the archaeological aspects as easily (given a sufficiently large earthquake)? $\endgroup$ – Anoplexian Apr 5 '18 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ I particularly like how the fact that the Wikipedia article is so poorly cited only makes the answer more compelling. $\endgroup$ – Ethan Apr 6 '18 at 14:23

How about a catastrophic flood?

Have the city built on a large river. A landslide further up blocks the river and causes an enormous lake to form (also cutting off water supply to the city causing hardship for the inhabitants).

When the dam fails...it really fails and a wall of water rushes down the valley wiping out the city and thoroughly destroying it, leaving only oddly shaped rubble scattered along the river's path.


Or for something even bigger have a glacial-ice dam containing an even larger body of water. That would fail with no warning (not even a drop in river level) and is a genuine threat to some areas in the real world from climate change.


The most dangerous are lakes formed in main valleys dammed by tributary glaciers. Failure can occur by erosion of a drainage tunnel under or through the ice dam or by a channel over the ice dam.

For a concrete description of how much damage these sort of events can cause check out this: http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=2918360&page=1

The water crashed down the valley, sweeping trees, rail cars and entire houses in its path. By the time the 20 million tons of water reached Johnstown, it was carrying even more debris. The mass hit the city, flattening everything in its path, until it was stopped by an immense stone bridge at the far end of town. The stone bridge held, but created a disaster of its own. It acted like another dam, causing the water to back up over the city. Then the entire mass of wires, wood, rail cars and bodies caught fire.

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    $\begingroup$ This is the best idea, imo. Mud and clay don't burn, but they do wash away. My first thought was a rift valley that stretches wide enough to be flooded by the ocean. Unless someone checks the bottom of the ocean there's not a good way to tell that there was a city there. $\endgroup$ – bendl Apr 4 '18 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ Nevermind... "above sea level" $\endgroup$ – bendl Apr 4 '18 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ @bendl Well one of my thoughts was to have the land level drop below sea level, it's not needed though. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Apr 4 '18 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ One side effect that is hard to cover up is absence. As has been pointed out in other questions on this site, if all direct evidence of human civilization were wiped from the earth, there would still be evidence from the natural resources that were used up: Gold veins emptied, nearby sources of ore exploited. That's where flooding or a landslide help, covering up all the evidence. $\endgroup$ – jeffronicus Apr 4 '18 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps a river like the Yellow River in China could work - in the past it regularly silted up, flooded, and dramatically changed course, meaning that the city might not be rebuilt because the city's location was irrelevant. $\endgroup$ – Josiah Apr 6 '18 at 1:14

Moved from comment to answer because I've done more research.

Try the biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah, believed to be near the coast of the Dead Sea . The cities were destroyed by means of volcanism (fire and brimstone), and 4000 years later we still don't know where they are for sure.

As an argument for the effectiveness of this approach, there is even debate as to whether the cities actually ever existed.

The Dead Sea region is (in)famous for its sulfur (brimstone) smell. One of its names over the centuries was "The Stink Sea" because of it.

While the region has been tectonically active in the past, there are no active volcanoes in the area in recent times. Igneous rocks are the norm around the dead sea, as are old volcanic craters.

To achieve your ends using this example, you are looking for a pyroclastic volcanic event that has a sudden onset, creates pyroclastic projectiles sufficient to smash stone and clay homes to rubble, but does not have an associated lava flow or leave a new crater.

It must maintain a temperature high enough to cremate bodies, but not so high as to fire the clay into ceramics, without deoxygenating the atmosphere for sufficient time to allow thorough cremation of the bodies. A short lived lava plume, which originally powered the eruption, sits beneath the two cities, raising their temperature for the duration of the event.

This is distinctly different from pompei, where the environment was preserved by ashes and lava flow.

Edit: Summary of some concerns raised in comments

The veracity of the biblical account is not part of this discussion. For that, go to one of the religious (Christianity, Judaism, etc) or archaeology SE sites.

This is not an attempt to prove that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by volcanic activity. It is an observation of a recorded event in a real location (Dead Sea valley) that matches the OP's question, and uses the real world geology of the area to establish a plausible natural event that a deity could use in the manner that OP requested.

Setting aside the questions that are bigger than this discussion and off topic for worldbuilding, this event comes to mind because:

  1. The buildings in the area have been rock and clay for most of history, matching OP's scenario

  2. The only eyewitness account of their destruction says they were destroyed by fire and brimstone, matching OP's scenario of destruction by burning

  3. The area has been relatively quiescent tectonically for some time, so there was no visually obvious risk factors

  4. City is situated above sea level - failed - the Dead Sea is below sea level

  5. City is in an semi-arid area - The humidity of the air hardly exceeds 40% and it drops in the summer to an average of 23%. (https://www.deadsea.com/articles-tips/interesting-facts/the-dead-sea-weather-and-climate/)

  6. The Jordan valley, which includes the Dead Sea area, is a part of the Great Rift Valley that extends from Lebanon into Africa. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Rift_Valley) Tectonic activity is expected to a geologist but not to a casual observer. At present, it is believed that a super-plume of magma is widening the african end of the valley (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-superplume-is-the-reason-africa-is-splitting-apart/), so occasional localized magma plumes are a reasonable natural occurrence (especially if receiving an assist from OP's diety)

  7. The dead sea area is pockmarked with quiescent volcanic craters, providing plenty of camouflage for the event, provided it is of a sufficiently small scale, matching OP's requirement that clues to the event must be well hidden

  8. As was noted in comments, destruction by brimstone (sulfur) would leave a strong sulfur smell. The entire dead sea valley south of Jericho is noted for its sulfur smell. At some points in history it was known officially as the Stink Sea, matching @RonJohn's observation that destruction by brimstone would leave a smell.

  9. City was destroyed about 2000 BC - match

  10. Destruction left limited clues that have left people guessing - match - some people wonder if the cities existed, others wonder which of several candidate cities whose period names are unknown might be the cities in question. (http://etzion.org.il/en/parashat-vayera-sodom-and-gomorrah)

  11. Deity intervened to trigger an event to look like a natural disaster - speculative, but matches the eyewitness account, and allows for the precise range of violence that would match OP's requirements .

So, 10 passes and 1 fail out of 11 criteria.

The event itself must be in a precise range of violence on several fronts to achieve OP's ends. Fortunately he specified that a deity was in control of the event, so this is manageable. It is even semi-plausible without intervention of deity.

  1. Temperature in the cities must reach 900 degrees C to guarantee complete incineration of organic remains, but must not exceed 1200 degrees C or there would be glazes and ceramic remains of the buildings. Heat as low as 600 degrees C can do the job given enough time, but 900 degrees guarantees cremation in about an hour.

  2. The oxygen levels in the affected area must remain high enough to allow for combustion of organics. There can be no significant ash fall.

  3. The buildings must be broken apart to leave no clues. Heat alone will not do this, but bombardment with pyroclastic rocks would do so. Said rocks would blend into the background of the igneous rubble and clays native to the area (from which the buildings were originally constructed).

  4. A new crater cannot be formed, since that would leave clues. An event the scale of Mount St. Helens would leave traces all over the continent. Fortunately, there are plenty of old craters in the Dead Sea valley to use for this purpose.

And the crude map that sums up the hypothetical scenario ...

Given this hypothetical map, you could achieve this goal:

How to roast two cities with volcanism but not leave traces

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Apr 5 '18 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ Good thoughts, but one big issue is your explanation for building destruction. Stratigraphically, people 4,000 years later would see a stark deposit of volcanic materials along with the city's destroyed remains that doesn't jive with the typical surroundings. They'd have to conclude a major volcanic event took place at the time of it's destruction. $\endgroup$ – Dan Apr 6 '18 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ Good point - it would have to be extremely limited to fully fit the billing. Introducing the hand of OP's deity helps. This answer and the discussion generated have stimulated me to become very interested in the volcanism around the dead sea - it's very interesting ongoing study. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Apr 6 '18 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ Another thing I wonder about is whether you could achieve total cremation. The temperature levels are there, but I'm not sure they would last nearly long enough to break down skeletal remains. I believe the ambient temperature could never stay high enough for a long enough time under natural circumstances, could it? $\endgroup$ – Dan Apr 6 '18 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ 900 degrees C for 1 hour, 600 degrees C for a longer (but unspecified) time. OP specified over 24 hours. I think there would have to be significant venting of volcanic gasses right at the cities to hit the temperatures, but I agree sustaining them would take a bit o work. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Apr 6 '18 at 23:09

Scale it up - you thought "a meteor strike is too visible". Good! If your impact crater is deep enough, people are going to think "valley", not "crater".

Hit them with 3-or-more meteors in a row, and dig that crater deep. It'll grind that city to dust, and bury it under rocks! Then let the basin flood, and all your evidence is hidden at the bottom of a lake...

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    $\begingroup$ Meteor sizes can be adjusted to deliver just the right amount of energy to destroy the city. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_event has information that could prove useful for determining how big of a meteor you will want. $\endgroup$ – Anketam Apr 4 '18 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ A large number of smaller meteors lets you focus the energy and area-of-effect though. You can deal Chicxulub level damage in a tight radius without wiping out all the other cities too... $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Apr 4 '18 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ He’s a supernatural being. Doesn’t need Wikipedia to tell him what size. :-) $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Apr 4 '18 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ Scale it up some more and people will think Gulf of Mexico instead of a crater....... $\endgroup$ – Thorne Apr 5 '18 at 3:27
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    $\begingroup$ Wont the meteor leave traces of what happened that don't include the crater. Like specific rock that forms when a meteor happens? $\endgroup$ – DickieBoy Apr 6 '18 at 12:54

It doesn't necessarily have to be a natural disaster in the traditional sense. It could be that a natural/weaponised biological plague tore through the population making them go completely mad. They then tore and burnt the city down.

There are several historical references of ancient cities being conquered and razed to the ground by the victors, leaving no stone standing upright (normally over a short period of a few days). Ancient Athens springs to mind.

You could have the plague mess with the city inhabitants heads. Making them a huge uncontrollable angry mob and demolish everything in site. The city is torn down/ fires rage/foundations pulled up/ worked stone either geound into sand or even carried off into the countryside. They can then flee the city and either die or recover. Out of fear no one wants to build a city there ever again.

Believing themselves to be rational civil people they won't believe they would have done something like that, at least not without reason. Rumours and local propoganda will take hold and no one will know the original catalyst that caused the mob. Over the years many theories have been put forth but none realise that it was actually a biological poison from their enemies/lead lined pipes/local plant life/freak conjunction of a low pressure weather system and volcanics spreading natural toxic gases affecting a previously unknown genetic marker/ even from the toxic metal from a recent meteorite found in a local field and brought into the city for inspection (flame from above) etc.

4000 years later:

  • the site is destroyed
  • the site has no one determining characteristic of what caused the damage, making determining the one overall cause impossible to find
  • the historical record is full of inaccurate conspiracy theories
  • no evidence of the original biological contaminate survives


There are several historical references to ancient cities being lost to legend. The Illiad Troy comes to mind, as well as King Solomon's mines and even Atlantis. Please bear with me :)

Even though the city of Troy was rebuilt several times after the famous Illaid sacking, the location of the site was eventually lost. The last city built on that site was around 500AD. It was only in 1870AD that it was 'probably' found. It was only lost for around ~1500 years, much less time than your 4000 year time period, and still it holds many mysteries as to what happened over the years and if it is even the site of the famous Illaid.

King Solomon's mines have not been 'found' yet. Although the Great Zimbabwe Ruins are thought by some, to be the origin of that legend. I believe there are more than just Christian Bible sources 'confirming' or mentioning the existence of Great Mines somewhere in Africa.

The existence of Atlantis is still hotly debated, with locations ranging from the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Crete, or even in the Indian Ocean. I think I even once saw a theory about it being in the Pacific Ocean. With no specific location to search, no exhaustive search of the area can be taken to prove/disprove the city existed. As mentioned in my original response, historical documents are not the most accurate resource.

What I'm trying to say, is destroying the city is just the first step if you want the city to be lost to history. You also need to destroy the historical references to it's location. This will obviously take longer than the initial destruction of the city.

Troy is actually a good example. The location of ancient cities are normally referenced in relation to other cities etc not on their actual physical location ie co-ordinates. Inaccurate map making with an inability to correctly determine longitude combined with natural erosional processes can change the landscape over 4000 years. I believe it was described in the Illiad, as being situated on the coast, past certain physical landmarks, with a river on one side. So over time the river shifted courses many times leaving many dried up riverbeds to be eroded to various degrees. The coastline shape also changed. Natural landmarks such as swamps, hills and forests can change with changing climate/erosion and/or man's actions. Newer cities can be created ontop of the old site with different names/cultures and neighbouring cities can fall, new cities can take on old or similar names and create confusion as to historical origin.

So, as a further expanded answer to take your edit into account I would suggest you make your Ancient recorded location of your cities be dependent on features that are not permanent, such as the Trojan Example. Then, when the historical descriptive map/records points to certain features, your modern day explorers will be looking in the wrong locations and will not be able to determine once and for all if the Lost City of your Ancients even existed, such as the Atlantis Legend. Even if there are multiple different sources claiming that the city and it's people where real, such as King Solomon's mines.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for using people instead of natural events. Relying on inhabitants' imagination to destroy their own city is likely to be very efficient and is a fertile ground for mystery. Not sure it can cope with the 24h delay however. $\endgroup$ – Uriel Apr 8 '18 at 11:44

The inhabitants of the city developed some building materials which seemed like a good choice back then, but chemistry eventually expletived them up.

The rocks and clay of the city were rich in iron oxides, specially red iron, and aluminium. Other composites in the sand, clay and rocks kept this fiery duo from reacting in a Goldschmidt process.

Until one day, an alchemist/architect/healer/whatever came into town, made a concotion that had the catalyst it took to turn the ground and walls into thermite, and accidentally dropped it.

The whole desert lit up in an extremely fast chain reaction. The people evaporated and rained as black droplets. Some parts of the city did not become ash, but turned into lybian desert glass instead. These crystaline leftovers were scattered by the wind throughout multiple countries over the ages, and can still be unearthed to this day.

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    $\begingroup$ I was initially going to suggest that the city was built on and of hematite-laced rocks, and with with lots of aluminium tools & decorations - essentially the same principle! (Pure aluminium is fairly hard to find in nature, so it's more likely to be something they've processed rather than in the soil/rocks) $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Apr 4 '18 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ Alternatively they could have used tin ore as bricks later metallurgical societies would have been happy to strip an abandoned city made of tin ore down the the ground, like the world's easiest strip mine for making bronze. they stripped the marble off the pyramids afterall. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 4 '18 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting idea, but there are practical obstacles to making it plausible. Normally aluminum in rocks is in oxide form. Even if you did have solid seams of aluminum in your building materials, it wouldn't be powdered so it wouldn't have the surface area for the kind of reaction speeds you get with normal Thermite like we've seen on Mythbusters or whatever. $\endgroup$ – Peter Cordes Apr 6 '18 at 3:53

The city is is a city of potters and glazers and they make a lot of money off their bright hard orange and yellow pottery and green glass. So much so that one of the merchants gets greedy and decides to stockpile the raw material for the glaze creating a grand wearhouse to store the gray lumpy rock called pitchblende used in making it, hoping to corner the market. To save space he starks having the rock pummeled into powder and stuffed in sacks before filling the silo. Sure the slaves working with the rock and filling the silo keep getting sick but who cares about slaves.

Then one day the a bad storm sets the wooden roof on fire and the building burns collapsing the roof and floors of the warehouse, forming one giant rain soaked mess of powdered pitchblende. Then there is a blinding white flash and the city and its inhabitants are gone leaving a large glassy crater in its place.

Depending on the technology 4000 years later they will have no idea the poor mechant just built the world's first nuclear bomb without realizing it. Many early cities were quite small. Sadly this will not work in real life, so it depends on hard you want your science fiction. Although as Someone Else pointed out a radioactive fire could kill everyone in the town, then let erosion do the rest.

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    $\begingroup$ Or, someone imports a large amount of graphite, stacks it in the wrong place, and one of the natural nuclear reactors goes supercritical... $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Apr 4 '18 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ I'm 100% sure this won't work, and I'm a physicist. It takes an absurd amount of purification to get to the "flash" level of self-sustaining chain reaction. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Apr 4 '18 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ My initial thought upon reading the question was nukes, until I kept reading and found that is was supposed to be a natural disaster. But here, you've done it. Not that this has any chance of actually working- you have to enrich uranium at least a little bit before it'll work in most nuclear reactors, let alone bombs- but I still like the idea. More plausible: The pitchblende silo burns down, spreading radioactive dust all over the city, and then everyone dies of radiation poisoning. Or maybe the uranium gets into their water supply; that'd work too. $\endgroup$ – Someone Else 37 Apr 4 '18 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ @John: Oklo was enriched compared to today's natural uranium because it was 1.7 billion years ago, when the concentration of U-235 relative to U-238 was four and a half times greater than it is today. Unless the city you're destroying is on a planet much younger than Earth, a natural fission reactor won't work. $\endgroup$ – Sean Apr 4 '18 at 23:30
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    $\begingroup$ Neat idea, but I think this would, at best, make a lot of people really sick. There's a huge difference between a natural chain reaction and a detonation capable of wiping out a city. Nuclear detonations require an incredible amount of precision to prevent their destroying themselves before releasing any substantial energy. $\endgroup$ – Joel Keene Apr 5 '18 at 3:32

Burn down two cities, right next to each other.

When people find the remains of the other city they won't be able to distinguish it from the first.

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    $\begingroup$ Essentially hiding in plain sight? $\endgroup$ – Rolf ツ Apr 5 '18 at 7:06

Change the locale climate.

Just because there's no local volcanic activity (using your original limitations) won't mean you can't still use volcanoes & plate tectonics to effect your city. Throw up new mountain ranges in strategic locations hundreds of miles away to alter the course of rivers away from the city, put the city in rain shadow & change weather patterns.

Deprived of water for agriculture & transport the people will leave & the city will die, let the desert creep in & bury it in sand.

If burying it isn't enough for you just make sure your activities elsewhere ensure weather patterns that encourage tornadoes & sandstorms in your new desert so over the centuries they'll sandblast the buildings into new sand rather than bury it.

Or you might go the other way, throw up new mountains elsewhere to block the areas rivers & routes for water to drain off, turn the area into a new lake or inland sea (or at least a swamp).

If you toss the right ingredients in the air elsewhere for acid rain (yup, more volcanoes) where the weather patterns will make it fall over it (or trickle in) over centuries the stones will dissolve.

You can then let the acidity dilute until fish can live in it, or breach the distant damns with more seismic activity & let it drain, or just leave it acid.


High Recycling Value

Ensure that your rock and clay like substances from which all buildings are constructed have a high recycling value during the first few centuries after the destruction event. The event itself becomes less important, but I suggest a massive flood from a busted dam, made of this same material.

For example, your substance could be a rich metal ore which requires some moderate amount of work to dig up from the ground. The original inhabitants didn't know or care about metals, and just made buildings out of the raw ore (cut into bricks, or finely ground and mixed with some organic binding substance).

Place your city near a mountain pass or other naturally occurring "road". The availability of this building material was key to settling of this city, and supported its growth through the construction of dams to stabilize the water supply. The area is not otherwise rich in resources. Bursting of the largest dam could be part of the destruction event.

At the next major regional war, years or decades later, the ruins alongside the road become an easy target for recycling of the valuable material. It's a godsend for the army that takes it: the ore has already been dug up from the ground and cut into neat little blocks, ready to be melted down!

All the easily-available valuable material is depleted before the end of the war. That will prevent formation of a new settlement in the area, as the armies move on to their next strategic objectives.

Similarly, all smaller artifacts such as cooking pots and utensils, should be made of this same material which begs to be melted down and turned into weapons.

Travelers and treasure hunters will continue to extract whatever they find in the area, but will not resettle, due to the lack of a reliable water supply and insufficient materials to build a new dam. The exact location will be forgotten over time but the legends will live on and treasure hunters will continue to search along the road. Evidence from the area's use as a road and army supply route will further obscure the true history of what happened.

In much less than 4,000 years, all evidence of what was previously there or what happened, is gone.


I suggest a terrifyingly strong windstorm, blowing directly across a wide deposit of diatomacious earth and/or fine pumice in front of the city. This will literally erode the entire area into a multi-mile dust plume. Anything weaker than, say, bronze is going to be completely atomized.

It might take longer than a day to erode all traces of the city, but I don't think it's unreasonable to say everyone might be dead by the end of the first day.

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    $\begingroup$ I was also thinking of sand blasting the city. It would still leave the building foundations behind, or, actually under a lot of sand. But, you need the god's powers to keep that wind storm going for so long. $\endgroup$ – user9981 Apr 6 '18 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ Nope. I've lived a few places that got crazy strong wind storms, strong enough to permanently destroy auto glass (winds up looking like waxed paper). You see significant erosion on anything raised, and-- as has already been pointed out by other contributors-- cities tend to be rebuilt on older cities, leading to a gradual increase in height (in archaeology, this is apparently known as a "tell"). So the net effect for a lot of topographies is pretty deep scouring. $\endgroup$ – breakpoint Apr 9 '18 at 2:21
  • $\begingroup$ Oh-- see also "katabatic winds". These are very forceful cold air masses that come rocketing down glaciers, large icebergs, etc., like clockwork. $\endgroup$ – breakpoint Jul 1 '18 at 4:06

So, if sinking into the ocean is not a possibility, this question just got a bit more complicated. Forest fires can reach, in extreme cases, 800° C, but brick doesn't melt until 2200° C. Brick also does not catch fire in an all-oxygen environment. This can generally be extended to rock.

However, in the event of a "firestorm", which is due to a natural chimney effect from particularly intense fires, which builds a wind system that feeds the fire until no remaining fuel remains, temperatures can easily exceed that in spite of the fuel source.

Their exact causes aren't always understood, but it often involves ideal weather conditions, some fuel source (not always trees), at least 16% oxygen, and the formation of a column of smoke exhaust. After that, winds can reach around 270 kph and nothing remains unburned. These fire tornadoes are about as close to nuclear destruction as nature gets.

Depending on how big your city is, if you have a viable fuel source present and the firestorm goes on long enough, this unlikely-but-possible event will destroy it.


You're a deity, but it sounds like you're not all-powerful. You do like your fire, though.

You've got one extra tool in your tool chest over the average deity of your class -- you're under the control of a story author who can make certain arrangements to make this destruction more fun for you and more mysterious for future generations.

Have your people build their city on the side of a gentle slope. Nice fertile soil for grapes and olives, trade routes through the mountains, lots of good story reasons why they might do that.

Several paths come to mind:

(1) Moderate fire triggers cataclysmic limestone collapse

If they are building with rock and clay, presumably the rest of their tech matches. So no seismological testing was done on the city. Nobody is aware that the nice sloping hill is full of limestone and limestone caves. One day towards the end of harvest season there's a perfectly normal fire, but with all the dry crops around, it spreads -- oil presses, thatched roofs, floor rushes, it all burns. Your normal typical urban disaster... except that the heat and the collapse of structures stresses weak points in the rock and the caverns start to collapse, which in a stroke of immense bad luck triggers a landslide. City pours into caves, hillside pours in afterwards. It will take thousands of years for tech to advance to the point where any forensics can be done, by which time the whole area has settled and overgrown, and the story has long since been dismissed as myth.

The book "Natural and Anthropogenic Hazards in Karst Areas" available on Google Books has a few examples of real-world limestone collapses, though none on a city scale. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=W0j67ucuKR4C&pg=PA17&lpg=PA17&dq=limestone+caves+collapse&source=bl&ots=FbTj1-URrk&sig=v4kx1TnVIgjzBMYNjn5lV-imi1g&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwijiPnzzKfaAhXIvI8KHewnD74Q6AEIwgEwFg#v=onepage&q=limestone%20caves%20collapse&f=false

See also https://www.uky.edu/KGS/water/general/karst/kgeohazard.html for more technical discusssion of "karst cover collapse" a/k/a "cover-collapse sinkholes". You'll need some deity-level help to get these natural events up to city size.

(2) Sinkhole of burning natural gas

You want fire, how about the Darvaza gas crater, a sinkhole in an oil field that's been on fire (burning natural gas) since 1971: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darvaza_gas_crater

It's only 69 meters wide, and 30 deep, but a few adjustments from your magic powers and you could swallow up a decent-sized town into the flames. It's only in myth that it's grown to a whole city. (The fire burned out after a few hundred years, leaving nothing but ash to identify. Natural processes have since obscured most of that.)

(3) Moderate fire triggers cataclysmic permafrost sinkhole

If you really want the disaster city-size, trigger a sinkhole in melting permafrost, the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batagaika_crater is a km long and growing, big enough to eat a fair chunk of ancient city.

Again, slosh around enough rocks and mud and dirt for a few centuries and nobody will be able to untangle quite what happened and how much of the myth is true, beyond being certain that something terrible happened here.

None of this is as flashy as the pyroclastic flows described in other answers, but I kinda like the idea of a city that has annoyed a deity sinking into a pit of fire ;-) Cover the evidence with a nice "natural" avalanche and the myth will take over from there.


This is a really cool question. How you destroy it is up to you, but erasing it from history is pretty easy: apathy, or even better, malevolence.

Many people have mentioned Pompeii as an example of a perfectly preserved city, but it's not really an accurate parallel. For one, Pompeii was buried only half as long ago as your city. The eruption happened in the 1st Century AD, 2000 years ago as opposed to the 4000 you're planning.

And second of all, it's pretty damn lucky Pompeii is so well preserved. I'm not a historian so I don't want to go into too much detail that might misinform you, but in addition to the actual luckiness of the physical conditions, there are several times in history where the city could have been disturbed earlier.

Finally it's also incredibly luck there was interest in preserving it. You can easily erase or confuse the evidence of a disaster by having humans get rid of it for you.

One way this could happen is through colonialism and settler indifference towards archeological remains. Place your city in the "New World" or in other colonized areas. Since many early colonizers and explorers considered the people already living in the places they "settled" in to be inferior or "savages", they didn't really give any thought into the preservation of archeological remains of societies existing there. Take, for example, the North American city of Cahokia, which was a Mississippian city larger than London located out the outskirts of modern day St. Louis.

The Mississippian culture and civilization was massive, but both historical (i.e. Manifest Destiny) and relatively modern (i.e. the Federal government building a highway through it in the 50's) apathy and aggression erased most of it from history. In modern day we're beginning to actually learn more about native history, but much of it has been lost to time, not simply due to natural wear but also do to deliberate acts (the Canadian government continued its "assimilation" programs until 1996). Even the technology around at the time of colonialism would have better preserved much of native cultures.

To summarize, if you want to erase evidence of city for 4000 years, have humans keep it that way on purpose. I can see a colonialist power purposefully eradicating historical evidence of a "lost city" in order to suppress protest from native cultures.


If you were to have a water source (such as a river) near the area it could really help your case, especially since you are above sea level. If a volcano was to erupt you would get your death by fire but leave behind evidence in volcanic rock. If the lava flow redirects the flow of natural water source(s) to the former site of the town erosion should destroy evidence over the years. It would be a double benefit by also ensuring that no primitive man discovers any evidence until scuba gear is invented. By that time all evidence will be downstream.


My first thought is to submerge it. If you look at the ruins of the Titanic, as an example, which sunk only a century ago, you'll find that it's on the verge of complete decay. Within a couple of decades, it will be completely gone.

This is mildly different from a massive flood, as floods drain with time. Additionally, in spite of the fables of Atlantis/Lemuria/Mu, continents can't just sink, at least not without an equal and opposite reaction. For this, there would have to be some kind of massive seismic event which would permanently change the terrain.

After that, just let the salt water do its thing, and a few centuries later no trace would be left.

Additionally, you might consider looking up the archaeological history of Ur, which I believe to be the oldest city we know of (3800 BC). It might give you a notion of how ancient cities are found.

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    $\begingroup$ " King of Swamp Castle: When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. And that one sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, and then sank into the swamp." $\endgroup$ – jeffronicus Apr 4 '18 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Not continents, no, but islands can easily be destroyed by natural processes (look at Krakatau, which I'm assuming was @Victor-stafusa's inspiration). $\endgroup$ – Sean Apr 4 '18 at 23:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Sean Graham Island is a great example of that. The thing is, once something goes down, it's like pushing an ice cube underwater. Something else, somewhere, is going to be compelled to pop back up. $\endgroup$ – Michael Macha Apr 5 '18 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelEricOberlin interesting approach, but is this really going to work? The Titanic was made of metal. The metal in combination with the circumstances at the bottom of the sea made it corrode rather quickly. But will the same circumstances corrode away a city that is preferably made mostly out of rock and clay like substances? $\endgroup$ – Rolf ツ Apr 5 '18 at 7:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Rolf In 4000 years, I would think primitive building materials would wear down rather thoroughly. Erosion does wonders in that much time. $\endgroup$ – Michael Macha Apr 5 '18 at 7:13

Alright, we have established that you're a supernatural being, probably a god or a demon. We have established that you want to destroy the city within 24 hours. We have also established that you don't want to have any clues that allows humanity from 4000 years later to identify.

I shall assume that you want the city to be completely wiped out from the face of the Earth within 24 hours and nobody will come across it in the future to notice that there was a city on that site.

So you have several options:

  1. Explosions - Many explosive compounds in our modern world can be used to reduce a city to nothing but rubble. Proper positioning of the explosives can completely demolish a city. You'll need plenty of small-sized explosives, depending on the yield, but you can't go crazy and go with large bombs.

    If the explosives are too big, the effects will be visible 4000 years later. If you do it right, your city of clay and rocks will be dust. Wash it down with heavy rain for several hours right after you're done, and nobody will ever know there was ever a city there. It's not that it can't be traced, it's just that there will be no trace 4000 years later.

  2. Firebombs - A combination of city-wide firebombing accompanied by heavy rain and winds for several times within 24 hours will turn your city into nothing but quicklime. We humans can't do this, but you're a supernatural being, so it's not outside the realm of possibility.

    What you do is basically bomb the city first, then drop the firebombs, then while the city is still hot, pour in the rain. The temperature needs to be sufficient and the rain needs to be significant, though. You can combine this technique with number 1.

  3. Flood - If the city is build by the side of a mountain, a continuous heavy rain can easily wash away the majority of the city. What you have left is the site of a city, but it's not really untraceable. The city is gone, but the bricks, the furniture and the roads will still be there, only buried in mud. This is the least reliable method.

If you are a supernatural being with enormous power, such as a god, you can use the above methods together, from 1 to 2 to 3 instead of picking one. You need the explosives to destroy the city, you need the fire to turn the bricks and stones into dust and you need the rain to wash it all away.

  • $\begingroup$ I like your style. Combining different methods seems to be a valid option, especially if one of the methods is used to wipe out traces of the previous method. $\endgroup$ – Rolf ツ Apr 5 '18 at 7:02

Have it literally swallowed by the ground. Edges of tectonic plates sometimes fold underneath each other. Usually it happens on non human timescale. Make it happen overnight. Remains are buried so deep they can't be dug up. People can take a guess at what happen and the city will be a myth.


Extending Dan's excellent answer:

We have a two-stage disaster.

First, there is a Tunguska event except the rock was part of a binary pair. The main effect will be blown down trees--but even if there are trees around to be blown down (how many would there be in such a situation? Trees = firewood!) they would be harvested by those nearby.

The blast wave will start a bunch of fires, in 2000 BC there will not be effective firefighting and such cities were very flammable. (You can't make a clay roof, they would be wood & thatch.) A firestorm could easily result--and a firestorm normally burns everything in the area.

The second rock is much more solid--it survives to impact--and plows into a lake upstream of the city. It's energy is mostly expended on throwing the water out of the lake--and a wall of water comes tearing through the remains of the city.

Archeology can figure out there was an impact event somewhere in the vicinity but can't pinpoint it. Some bits of pottery and the like will be found--but there would have been people upstream also, this won't pinpoint the city.


I don't really know how you would get hydrochloric acid from a natural phenomenon. But, if you are a god, you get it from somewhere and put it in a cloud floating above your offending town. Assuming its buildings are made of rocks, they would melt if enough acid rains upon them. People would probably die from fumes in the first few minutes of your heavy acid rain. Oxides and salts in the rocks would react to the strong acid. Once you had enough of it, throw some lightning bolts on the ground.

  1. Have an undersea dormant volcano with a peak just above water, making it a desertic rocky island with steep terrain and few resources other than the seas.

  2. Make some people build a village there, living as fishermen and maybe as sea merchants or pirates. They uses the abundant local rocks as a resource for its construction.

  3. Make the volcano explode and erupt violently.

  4. Have lava flow over the village, burning everything that could burn, killing everyone and burying everything with layers of ashes and igneous rock.

  5. The volcano causes some earthquakes and tsunamis that fracture its peak (i.e. the island), making the island sink under the ocean, in pieces.

  6. The pieces of the former island that were closer to the coastline ends resting deeper in the ocean than those that were more closer than the center of the island. Since the villagers were fishermen, this means that the burned rubble of their houses and the fragments of their bones will land in deep ocean floor, covered by a lot of rocks from of the island interior, by newly formed rocks from lava eruptions and also from sand carried out by sea waters.

4000 years later:

  • Oceanographs and geologists might evetually figure out that there is a volcanic sunken island. Getting details though would be very expensive, so its unlikely that they'll study further.

  • Getting some evidence from the disaster is somewhat hard and expensive, as getting evidence from seafloor is costly. Further, seafloor is covered by a lot of corals, sand and rocks.

  • The island was rocky, so there is no surprise that there is a lot of rocks scattered in ocean floor everywhere around the underwater volcano.

  • They might even find in deep ocean floor, vestiges of the burned scarce vegetation that once existed in the island and maybe bone fragments of a few animals... If those are lucky enough to survive for 4000 years in the ocean floor and in the cone of an unstable volcano quakeing, tsunaming and landsliding several layers of lava and rock over it.

  • It is extremely unlikely that they will ever discover vestiges of human presence there.


So no flood, no volcanism, no earthquakes. Without some natural disaster, you need combustible material and/or arid climate for a fire to rage. If it's a huge forest in a very arid area, you could have a massive forest fire that burned long enough (old growth trees maybe? or a sudden aridity that dries up a lush forest) to incinerate all organics. The rock and clay infrastructure could then be buried under layers of topsoil, with 4000 years of forest growth hiding the evidence.

  • $\begingroup$ Earthquake is still a possibility - if you have 1 tectonic plate sliding under the other to create a mountain that the city is built at the base of then you can have 3 actions at once: The shaking knocks buildings over, the plate that the city is built on creeps under the mountain-plate, and a rock-slide from the mountain buries the city. If this happens every 100-200 years, the city might be easy to find for the first 500 or so, but gets more & more buried as time goes on. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Apr 4 '18 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ Volcanism is also still a possibility, if we're going Krakatau-style (like @Victor-Stafusa suggested) rather then Vesuvius-style. $\endgroup$ – Sean Apr 4 '18 at 23:32

4,000 years is a long time, you don't necessarily have to destroy the whole city at once. Nature in general does an excellent job digesting remains once people aren't there repairing things all the time.

For example maybe winds combined with sand, frequent flooding or basically any form of erosion could effectively level the city to leave the precise amount of clues you want to leave behind.

It could even be that the area used to be a different climate entirely or shifted through a climate that caused it.

Especially for a supernatural being who is presumably immortal, letting nature take its course to digest the remains would seem like an appealing option.

  • $\begingroup$ Nature does a poor job at masquerading ancient buildings. The oldest buildings on Earth are around ~6,800 years old. They are still recognizable as buildings. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Apr 4 '18 at 18:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Renan but how many are there? If we can count 100 locations of 6800 year old buildings, we have no idea whether there weren't 100000 across all Earth $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff Apr 4 '18 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ That's true, it depends on the environment. Undisturbed caves have drawings on them from eons ago but if say a river was diverted across a city it might be gone in a matter of centuries. It also depends on how seasonal the area is. Areas that freeze over annually for example will be more torn up than steady climates. And you can still start with a major event and let nature do the rest. $\endgroup$ – Jane Panda Apr 4 '18 at 19:33

What if a bomb blew up a sand dune and created (or just happened to appear) a tornado so powerful that, with all the sand in the air from the blown up dune, it eroded the clay and rock buildings, along with every lifeform that was on the surface? It's silly and probably impossible but kind of a good idea when you think so.

  • $\begingroup$ This is what I would call "creative", although the answer is short and has not much details (might be a nice thing to improve). You get my up-vote. $\endgroup$ – Rolf ツ Apr 5 '18 at 7:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Rolfツ Thanks, I didn't expand it because it's just a crazy idea and to let the details for you (like what kind of explosion or what kind of dune or a side story for the tornado, all of them depending on the civilization that was there, the context of the disappearance, the climate and so on). $\endgroup$ – c3r38r170 Apr 6 '18 at 0:07

The question and details do not mention this, but there are many assumptions that the construction materials of the city are rock and clay. The original stories in Genesis Chapters 14, 18, and 19 do not seem to allude to their construction either. What if the city dwellings were thatch or sticks? Then you face a situation where the fuel from the fire creates its own weather, like with a forest fire. Examples that come to mind are the Tokyo bombing, Fire of London, or the Peshtigo Fire. In the last example there was nothing recognizable when the farmers returned to their farms.


How about a freak storm that rains accelerant or some form of hydrocarbon? Then a lightning bolt ignites it. Kaboom!

I realize this streches suspension of disbelief, but there are moons in our solar system that have hydrocarbon rains. Chalk it up to some tornado coming across oil seeping out of the ground and picking it up. There's certainly crude oil that is light enough that this might be feasible.

  • $\begingroup$ You can have the ground burp lots of natural gas. I know of a mine somewhere in Pennsylvania which has been burning for many decades. $\endgroup$ – user9981 Apr 9 '18 at 6:41

Everyone else seems to be focusing on burying the city, but perhaps the best idea would be to blow it sky high! What you want is a geological event similar to Mount Saint Helens on May 18, 1980. The blast removed 1300 feet from the peak of the mountain, flattened trees for miles, and flung earth-moving equipment around like scraps of paper, among other things. Any city located at that location would be scattered in tiny pieces of the countryside. Even a few years of normal weather after that would completely destroy anything remaining - not that there would be enough to piece together the city in the first place.


A: Bury the city in a sandstorm. This fits with your semi-arid scenario. If you have it happen at a time of greater dryness, then in the wetter modern time, grass has stabilized the sand.

B: Major ash fall. Mt. St Helens dropped feet of ash nearby. And St. Helens was small. Just concentrate the ash on the city with your deity-ness.

C: Caldera explosion -- Yellowstone does quite a number when it goes off, making whole states uninhabitable.

D: Break an ice dam. The Clark Fork river was dammed by a tongue of ice in what is now the Cabinet Gorge in Montana. When it let go, 15,000 cubic miles of water drained out in a few days. At Palouse Falls, the stream was 20 miles wide, 700 feet deep, moving at 70 miles per hour and moving boulders the size of houses.

E: Solar flare on a clear day. At one point this was hypothesized as the cause of the Libyan Glass a section of desert with a fused surface. Flares tend to be overkill: You're quite likely to glaze half the planet, and cause no end of other mischief boiling the surface of oceans.

F: Less natural: Convert all of the potassium in the rock to K40. This is makes the place both thermally too hot, and radioactively too hot to survive. Pick something that would give a dose of radiation that would be lethal in a few minutes. A true "Curse of the City of the Dead" As a side effect food left there wouldn't rot, nor would there be rats, flies, and other scavengers.

G: Unstable mud. The city is built on one of those clays that turns to liquid with the right shock. The entire foundation of the city flows away into a canyon.

H: Poisoned water. Connect a here-to-fore unconnected aquifer to their water supply. Say one that runs 20 ppm arsenic. This is another City of the Dead. City is there, but visitors don't last long.

I: The lake nearby collects CO2 and H2S and SO2 from deeply submerged volcanic. fissures. The gas disolves under pressure. An upwelling causes some gas to come out of solution, lowering the density of the water column. This spreads rapidly. This actually happened in south America, and the river of CO2 killed a village. This leaves the city intact. A sufficiently active fissure keeps the valley full of unbreathable air.


No real, physical event is required. You could make the city completely mythical, a pure legend - the city never existed in the first place. A story grew over time, culminating in a full fledged legend that sounds true but isn't. You could have a few random volcanic clues or rubble that seems tantalizingly close to the story but are purely red hearings.


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