The Latest on Sodom and Tall el-Hamman

Dr. Steven Collins, The Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project, Jordan; Dean of the College of Archaeology, Trinity Southwest University, has taken a few moments to drop a comment to my earlier post I wrote entitled The disputed location of the City of Sodom. In that post, I referenced an article published by Bible and Spade which made the case that the City of Sodom had to be south of the Dead Sea and compared it to the work performed by Dr. Collins who claims that the City of Sodom is a now-partially excavated site called Tall el-Hamman to the north of the Dead Sea. I wrote a second comment on June 4, 2006, entitled Why believe Sodom is located North of the Dead Sea? in which I concluded:

I will be interested to see how Dr. Collins' excavations of the site of Tell el-Hamman progresses and whether he finds more signs of a firey end to that city in the future. I will also be most interested in reading the entire Bible and Spade article that fills in the details about the 10 reasons that Sodom should be found south of the Dead Sea when they finally re-issue the original article. As for now, I reserve judgement, but I remain accutely interested.

Well, the time has come that more information on the site has become available following the excavation of the Tall el-Hamman site this past few months. Dr. Collins has written to update us on the status of the excavation, but since the comment to so old a post probably wouldn't be noticed, I thought I would bring the substance of his comment to the fore since he says that he is more confident than ever that the Tall el-Hamman site is Biblical Sodom.

To Interested Thinkers:

I've just returned from seven weeks in the southern Jordan Valley directing the Tall el-Hammam (Sodom) Excavation Project. I think it would be an understatement to say that TeHEP Season Two was a success.

With well over 100 participants, plus local workers, representing at least four continents and including countries like the USA, Jordan, Canada, England, Australia, Russia and Ukraine, TeHEP '06/'07 was one of the largest digs in Jordan in recent history (at least that’s what we were told by our Jordanian colleagues). I deeply appreciated the support and encouragement of the Jordan Department of Antiquities, four of whom served on my dig staff.

When you add in the local workers we hired for just over three weeks of the season, we looked quite like a busy bunch of ants scurrying over the top of massive Tall el-Hammam, which spreads over a square kilometer at the eastern edge of the Jordan Disk.
Of course, for quite a while now I have put forth the idea that Tall el-Hammam is likely the site of biblical Sodom. That it is in the right place, according to the biblical geography, is impossible to question on the basis of even a cursory textual analysis of Gen 13:1-12. But what about the factors of "right time" and "right stuff" necessary to reasonably nail down such an identification? Well, after TeHEP Season One about a year ago, we stated that the archaeology of the site was leaning quite suggestively in the direction of a pretty straightforward biblical chronology for Sodom.

That chronology goes something like this: founded (at least) during the Early Bronze Age (Gen 10); occupied into the Middle Bronze Age, and destroyed during the MBA (Gen 13-19); not re-occupied for at least several centuries [Moses calls the same area "the valley . . . where Pisgah overlooks the wasteland" (Num 21:20) during the Late Bronze Age]; perhaps re-occupied much later (after the area recovered from the ecological disaster that had put an end to the Bronze Age civilization of the eastern Jordan Disk during the MBA).

Now, after the completion of TeHEP Season Two, this occupational profile has been established quite firmly.

While Iron Age II is well-represented by at least four, and possibly five, strata, the Late Bronze Age continues to be systematically absent. Still largely theoretical at the end of last season (but many pottery sherds), the presence of a fortified MBA city is now dramatically confirmed in multiple ways, not the least of which is the discovery of a massive MB rampart/fortification system that dwarfs the 3m-thick IA city wall built over it for much of its extent.

Last season we had only gotten a look at the top of this structure, and I speculated then that it looked remarkably like typical MB mudbrick/earthen rampart construction. Then it was just an educated hunch. Now it's an archaeological fact. We were able to uncover it to a height of about six meters, which effectively exposed eight to nine meters of its sloping outer face. I estimate that to be perhaps half it’s actual height (the rest awaits us next season). But what is showing is pretty impressive, especially when you take a moment to extrapolate how it rings the footprint of the entire upper tall (about 400m east-to-west). The inner/internal construction seems to be a stepped structure of tightly laid mudbrick, faced on the outer slope by a meter or more of compacted earth/clay.

The footprint of the Iron Age city is smaller than that of the MB city. At a cool square kilometer, the EB city’s footprint is the largest at the site. This demonstrates how erroneous information about Tall el-Hammam is in almost every source available. That’s understandable, since we’re the first ones to excavate it, while everybody else was simply guessing. (K. Prag did some probing only on the lower tall about ten years ago while excavating at Tell Iktanu to the south.)

Factually, Tall el-Hammam was THE dominant city in the southern Jordan Valley during the Bronze Age (but unoccupied during the LBA and probably most or all of Iron I) and Iron Age II A, B and C. Isn’t it interesting that Sodom is the only major Bronze Age urban center mentioned in the Bible located on the eastern Jordan Disk, and that Tall el-Hammam is, in fact, the only major Bronze Age urban center on the eastern Jordan Disk? (There are at least five others within eight kilometers, but all a fraction of the size of TeH.) We must face the facts. There is no coincidence here.

From the macro (the massive MB rampart) in Field D to the micro (the classic MB piriform juglet) in Field B, we now know that Tall el-Hammam was a thriving center of civilization during the Middle Bronze Age when it seems to have met a fiery end. This event is attested by a meter of ash and destruction debris in Field B where the MB juglet, along with MB storage jars, were unearthed just a few weeks ago. The site then lay abandoned during the LBA, and probably most or all of Iron Age I, until a flurry of building activities in several phases turned the site into a significant city during IA II A, B and C.

At this point, I am willing to say that if Tall el-Hammam's identification as biblical Sodom is still denied after an examination of the growing body of evidence to that effect, then the identificaton of every single biblical site not confirmed by specific epigraphic evidence must me called into question.

That's it on a thumbnail. So now we have about 700 diagnostic sherds and many whole vessels to "read," and lots of organic analysis and C14 dating to do over the next several months as we assemble our first Preliminary Report later this year.

I'm also scheduled to present papers on the subject at several conferences this year, including ASOR and NEAS in the fall. And with Tall el-Hammam continuing to cover all the criterial bases relative to Sodom, I'll continue to argue in that vein until the doubters get hold of their senses.

By the way, I got a chance to present my case "live and on site" to quite a few visiting archaeological dignitaries during the season. In those instances, Tall el-Hammam itself did most of the "talking," almost defying anyone to deny her preeminence as the dominant Bronze Age city in the region (as Sodom was the dominant Bronze Age city on the eastern Jordan Disk in Genesis). After an on-site tour of Tall el-Hammam, with Gen 13:1-12 firmly in mind, the general response, minimally, was always something like, "Well, it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it." To which I usually responded, "Welcome to Sodom!"


D. P. said…
Thanks for the update! This is very interesting stuff.
Jason said…

Though on a completely incidental note, I'm confused as to why the terminology has now changed to 'Tall' instead of 'Tell'. Linguistic difference in the local dialect? Improved polishing to the English version of a foreign word? (ex. Qu'ran instead of Koran.) Archaeologist pun for really tall 'tells'?? {g} I know 'tell' _was_ the proper English representation for the term for hill or fort or whatever in the local Arabic dialect.

G.M. Grena said…
"Tall" has been the terminology used in formal Jordanian archeology publications since the mid-1990s. In footnote 160 on p. 69 of "The Search for Sodom & Gomorrah", Dr. Collins said, "In Jordanian archaeology, 'tell' has now been changed to 'tall,' which is probably more indicative of the actual Arabic pronunciation."
Jason said…
Thanks muchly!

Rayford said…
One of the most enlightening articles I've seen on Sodom.

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