By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – August 17, 2016) — As a kid growing up in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s (an era dominated by the actor Harrison Ford), there seemed to be two positions that my friends and I took in relationship to the two major motion pictures that Ford starred in: Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
Position one: you were a Star Wars freak, waiting in heavy anticipation for any — and all — news regarding the movies. In short, you liked science fiction. And position two: you were an Indiana Jones fanatic (as a recent documentary called, Raiders, demonstrates ). By and large, you were an action-adventure admirer with a slant towards science.
I was part of the later group, favoring Indiana Jones to Han Solo (who, was, incidentally, my favorite character in the Star Wars franchise). And for those who are familiar with the Indiana Jones movies know, he was a fictionalized archeologist who strutted around the world finding adventure, adoration, and artifacts. Though heavy on the fictionalized part of archeology, Indiana helped bolster something in me that I already loved: the scientific quest to understand our past. The love of archeology stemmed from my admiration of great archeological finds I read about in various magazines (King Tut, Terra Cotta Army, the Aztecs, and American Pueblo cultures, and the like).
Since the release of Indiana Jones I’ve made it a habit of following various discoveries that the archeologist pick, brush, and trowelhave unearthed, subscribing to magazines and reading articles and books on recent and important finds.
So when I moved back to New Mexico after a twenty-year hiatus in California, I was pleased to learn that one of the leading Biblical archeologists lived and worked out of Albuquerque—our very own Indiana Jones was in town! Dr. Steven Collins is best known for his important dig Tall-el Hammam — TeHEP . Many scholars believe this location in Jordan to be the ancient city of Sodom. And after meeting with Dr. Collins and hearing his rationale, writing articles , reading the book — Discovering the City of Sodom , and helping out on the annual pottery day, I can’t help to think these archeologistsand scholars are correct. Sodom has been discovered.
I caught up with Dr. Collins to get an update on Tall-el Hammam.
By way of reminder, Steve, in the last article you outlined the various reasons why you believe Tall-el Hammam to be the ancient city of Sodom.
As a recap, you said: “The Tall-el Hammam site has twenty-five geographical indicators that align with the description in Genesis. Compare this with something well known—like Jerusalem—that has only sixteen. Other sites have only five or six. So this site has a greater number of indicators than any other Old Testament site. That is truly amazing.
“Second, our findings — pottery, architecture, and destruction layers—fit the timeframe profile. Meaning we should expect to find items like what we are finding from the Middle Bronze Age. This is exactly what we are uncovering.
“Lastly, we have secured internationally recognized experts to review our findings. One such person is Dr. Robert Mullins; then there are our colleagues from the Department of Antiquities in Jordan. Dr. Mullins is an expert in Bronze Age pottery, and there are many others as well. My ceramic expertise also covers the Bronze Age. Their conclusions on the matter reflect that our findings are correct. Once again, this is incredible.”
“Though we are still digging and uncovering a plethora of material and artifacts, and much research still needs to be conducted, I feel that the evidence for this being the ancient city of Sodom is increasing by the day” .
With this in mind, is there anything in the recent dig that stood out to you; some new evidence that adds further confirmation that Tall el-Hammam is indeed Sodom?
“We now know that Sodom was a major player in Canaanite history. She (God calls her ‘she’ in Ezekiel 16) was a top-tier city for most of the Bronze Age, and thrived through periods when other civilization centers in the southern Levant failed. She was the largest city in the southern Levant from 2500-2000 BC, and in the top three down to the time of her destruction ca. 1700+/–BC. This season we’ve widened our look at her palace on the upper city acropolis. Some of the palace walls are 1.4m (about 5ft) thick (even wider when you add from 5cm to 10cm of plaster on each face). The palace terraces up several levels to the pinnacle of the site. It’ll take several more seasons to see the extent of it; but it’s big.
“Sodom thrived continuously as a major urban center from ca. 4000 BC down to the time of her destruction about 2,300years later. She suffered at least two major earthquake events: one ca. 3000 BC and another ca. 2000 BC. Her inhabitants re-built her larger and stronger after each of these destructions. She prospered on agriculture and textile production. Her people built and used the largest megalithic sacrescape in the ancient Levant, including over 1,500 dolmens, stone alignments, menhirs, stone ‘dancing’ circles, and henges. She had both warm and cool springs inside the city walls, and was wrapped around by two perennial streams, and likely took advantage of the spring inundations of the Jordan River (‘like the land of Egypt’).”
And you did find the gates, correct?
“Yes. Sodom’s defenses and gates were some of the most elaborate and complex ever built in the southern Levant, surrounding at least 62 acres (perhaps much more) of monumental and domestic architecture. Immense, wealthy, stable, and unconquerable (there are no evidences of military destruction in her long history), Sodom was obliterated literally in the blink of an eye by a meteoritic airburst of ‘biblical’ proportions. Flourishing one day. Gone the next. Along with all her satellite towns and agricultural fields. One day, a monument to human will and ingenuity; the next day, smoldering debris. Sodom (her people, culture, religion, politics, regional influence) erased.”
Was any of this information known to the larger scientific community before your excavation?
“Prior to the Tall-el Hammam Excavation Project none of the aforementioned was physically known from archaeological science. The sum-total of knowledge about the city of Sodom prior to TeHEP and its foundational research consisted of two marginally-existing southern Dead Sea sites that went out of business between 2600 and 2500 BC, hundreds of years before the time of Abraham, along with three other cemetery sites with no associated settlements, all in the wrong place according to the clear geography of Genesis 13. This unfortunate ‘identification’ led many scholars to conclude that the story of Sodom was an etiological myth with no basis in reality.
“The record about Sodom is now, finally, being set straight. During each excavation season the evidence continues to mount. Scoffers on both the right (wed to an impossible ‘Ussherian’ patriarchal chronology) and left (unwilling to logically process corresponding literary and archaeological data) still ignore or avoid the evidence. But this is the nature of science and the overturning of conventional wisdom. It takes time and rigor.”
Are there any developments in certain datableartifacts?
“We have determined that recently discoveredjars full of grain belong to the Late Bronze 2a period, contemporaneous with the arrival of Moses and Joshua on the Plains of Moab. Most scholars identify Tall el-Hammam as Abel Shittim (the location of the Israelite encampment). We’re also speculating that the LB2a building (actually a small ‘government’ complex; customs house?) is perhaps (ha)Beth (ha)Jeshimoth (the house of the desolation) which is mentioned along with Abel Shittim. Did Moses commandeer this facility as his command headquarters during their months-long stay in the area before crossing over to Gilgal and Jericho? We know that the Israelites crossed the Jordan in the spring, after the gathering of the area’s winter grain harvest. The fact that ‘our’ jars were full to the brim with grain suggests that the ‘tariff house’ was destroyed in the springtime. Did Moses burn down this facility upon his departure? There are many possibilities!
“The LB2a ‘tariff house’ sits right on top of the MB2 destruction stratum, and includes several storage installations. We also have a good section of one of its walls.
“In UA.7FF there was good news and bad news. The bad news was that what had appeared to be ‘tiles’ creating some sort of floor decoration turned out to be greenish and greyish mudbricks (we’re still sorting this out). The good news was the discovery of a wall foundation paralleling a mud brick wall we excavated. There was only a few inches separating the two walls. Why were the two walls built so close together in parallel? We don’t know yet, but we’ll soon find out. One colleague was excited because he found a small, intact MB2 ceramic vessel, the first whole vessel he’s personally excavated in five years at the site.
“The (UA.7HH square, where large pithos (storage jar) was found earlier in the season, continues to puzzle us. There are features of it that are rather easy to understand, and others that don’t make sense yet. But it’s interesting how most things become clearer as the work continues.”
What is the emphasis for the forthcoming dig? Is there an area that you hope to excavate further? And if so, what are you hoping to find?
“We’ll continue focusing on the royal palace on the upper city acropolis. We also want to know how that structure articulates with the defensive rampart surrounding the upper city. The royal palace is ‘artifactually’ rich.”
He went on to say, “Season Twelve will take place from January 29 through March 2, 2017. These are the actual dig dates. There are six dig weeks. The dig fee helps cover lunches on dig days, daily transportation, field trips on days off, and other team necessities.
“We also need as many volunteers as possible. Folks don’t need to have any experience, they get training on-site. It makes for a fabulous vacation. Many of our volunteers come back season after season. There’s nothing like digging up Bible history with your own hands! Season Twelve is going to be fantastic.”
To learn more about the Tall-el Hammam dig and opportunity, click here: http://www.tallelhammam.com/
Photo captions: 1) The Tall-el Hammam site in Jordan. 2) Discovering The City of Sodom book-cover. 3) Trinity Southwest University “Pottery Day” in Albuquerque. 4) Categorizing Sherds (Season 9) on Pottery Day. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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