Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Sodom and Gomorrah Excavated

By far the most interesting session at the recent Society of Biblical Literature Congress in San Francisco was one I wandered into by chance.  I am always curious about what is going on in biblical archeology, so one afternoon I decided to skip the dozen or so sessions dedicated to Bakhtinian Decontextualization of Identity Construction in Persian Yehud (I had to tear myself away) and go hear about the excavations at a certain site called "Tall-el-Hammam."  I had no idea what I was in for.  After about five minutes into the session, I realized that the archeological team assigned to this dig was convinced that they had found the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.  After another half-hour, it seemed they had most of the participants convinced as well.  The sites fit the geographical and temporal context into which Sodom and Gomorrah are placed in the biblical texts.  The cities at the site were suddenly and completely wiped out in the Late Bronze Age, which makes a reasonably good fit with the biblical accounts of Abraham and Lot.  The entire presentation was very convincing, but never once did they deal with the "elephant in the room": what caused the sites to be suddenly abandoned?  As soon as the session was over, I was the first to raise my hand.  "Did you find any arrow heads?  Signs of invasion?  What happened to them?"  The lead archeologist paused for a moment.  "I didn't want to go there," he said.  Another pause. "I'm preparing material for publication."  Pause.  "All I want to say 'on camera' is, they appear to have been wiped out in a 'heat event'."

A "heat event"!?  What?!

"If you want to know more, I'll talk after the session off the record."

I wish I could divulge what he said to a small group of us clustered around the podium after the session was over, but it would break confidence.  We'll have to wait for the official peer-reviewed publications.

Here's a link the dig's main website.

27 comments:

Fric said...

John, that's just plain teasing. And the link seems to be broken. This is just not in the Christmas spirit. :)

Seriously, though, when will the material be published and in what publication? I presume someone here on the Sacred Page will give us the low down?

Fred said...

http://www.tallelhammam.com/

Dr. Claude Mariottini said...

John,

The link is not correct. This is the correct link: or http://www.tallelhammam.com/


Claude Mariottini

Nick Childers said...

Heat-Ray, calling it.

Hans said...

Maybe the air-conditioning stopped working, and they all decided to move?

John Bergsma said...

Link is fixed. Sorry about that. I should have tested it. Sorry to tease, but that's all he was willing to say in public: a "heat event." I will try to find out when and where is further information is going to be published. It is really curious: we saw pictures of in situ scorched skeletons.

Luisa Zorraquin said...

Dr. Bergsma, thank you so much for this post. I find the information really fascinating. The teasing makes it more thought provoking.

Thomas Smith said...

For those interested there's an entire episode in Season 2 of A&E's Digging for Truth called "The Real Sin CIty" thats dedicated to the topic and digs (aired in 2006). As I recall, several layers down they found a 12 inch layer of compacted ash. It's been a while since I watched it. They also explore the pillar of salt event, Lot's cave, etc. Very interesting. $1.99 over at iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/the-real-sin-city-sodom-gomorrah/id178574819?i=175558100

Thomas Smith
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thedivinelamp said...

I want to hear more about the Bakhtinian Decontextualization of Identity Construction in Persian Yehud thingy. Do you have a website for that?

John Bergsma said...

@thedivinelamp: no, don't have a website for that, but go to any SBL congress and your desires will be fully satiated.

mattdabbs said...

What was the title of the presentation?

Gary J Sibio said...

It's amazing to me that so many Catholics try to prove that the early chapters of genesis are not historical only to have science show their accuracy.

Don Schenk said...

What amazes me is the number of people who try to prove that the first chapter of Genesis is a literal science text, but deny the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John--because they "know" that God could never be THAT powerful.

John Bergsma said...

@mattdabbs: I don't remember the exact title of the presentation at SBL, but it was something bland like "Ongoing Excavations at Tall-el-Hammam." They were really downplaying the potentially sensational nature of their finds. Hershel Shanks was there, however, so I imagine this is going to get into BAR within the year.

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz said...

"Heat event." Hmmm, sounds like "wardrobe malfunction." And since Hershel was there, don't expect it to be in BAR within the year. It's more like the next issue.

Susan Archaeology cat said...

I'm glad to see them affirm their commitment to basing conclusions on the archaeological evidence and not trying to find evidence for theories. Unfortunately this can happen in all archaeology, but I think one needs to be even more careful with Biblical archaeology. I look forward to hearing more about this dig.

Susan Archaeology cat said...

Ddn't subscribe to comments before

bbmoe said...

I'm from Texas. "Heat events" are so last summer.

Oh, oh, oh: the word verification is "untru"!!

Dr. Steven Collins said...

Hello, Sacred Pagers:
My name is Steven Collins, co-Director and Chief Archaeologist of the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (a joint scientific project of Trinity Southwest University and Jordan Department of Antiquities). Someone gave me this link and said that the discussion was (at least) fair, and that some of the posters had, in fact, seen our TeHEP presentation at the SBL annual meeting last November in San Francisco. I and members of our excavation team were invited by the SBL to provide that long session since Tall el-Hammam is providing a perfect “test-case” in examining the relationship between archaeology and the Bible. We were glad to do it. We’d also done basically the same presentation at the SBL international meeting in London the previous summer (although our staff senior anthropologist was unable to present in San Francisco). While I have been both applauded and crucified in various sectors of the blogosphere for my theories regarding the identification of Tall el-Hammam as biblical Sodom, one thing I’ve always been careful about is not to be sensationalistic about any of it. The fact of the matter is that there’s a lot of wacky pseudo-archaeology going around, and that kind of (often sanctimonious) gobbledygook ought to be separated out from strands of legitimate scholarly discussion and debate on such subjects as the location of the Cities of the Kikkar of the Jordan. What must be discussed is the body of factual data deriving from text and ground (and myriad lines of evidence from ancillary disciplines). Surely, there isn’t anything wrong with speculation enlightened by the thoughtful analysis of rigorous research and excavation, but it has to be done with care. That’s why, at our SBL presentation last November, I didn’t want to field questions about the possible nature of the terminal MB2 destruction of Tall el-Hammam in any official manner. What I can say is that our data collection in this regard is ongoing, and some hard analysis has already been performed in an objective laboratory setting. (In this regard, I insist that all of our analytical processes be performed in a multiple-blind format---even textual analysis; for example, every one of our thousands of diagnostic pottery sherds from excavated contexts go through a triple-blind reading process under three separate sets of expert eyes in three different locations, two in Jordan and one in the States, and then some pieces go through a fourth stage of further cross-comparison with regional ceramics when disparate reads remain unresolved by the third pass. Everything has to be done with this level of care, or I’m uncomfortable with it.)
continued in additional posting...

Dr. Steven Collins said...

continuing...
On our terminal MB2 event, what I can say is that multiple lines of evidence continue to confirm that not only massive Tall el-Hammam, but also its many satellite towns and villages on the eastern Kikkar, suffered some sort of fiery, civilization-ending cataclysm toward the end of the Middle Bronze Age, with the selfsame, well-watered-in-abundance area remaining devoid of settlements for the next 600 years or so (amazing when one considers that the Bronze Age Kikkar cities and towns thrived right through the end of the EB3 and IBA when the vast majority of sites in the Levant met their end due to catastrophic climate change!) when cities and towns in areas surrounding the Kikkar of the Jordan waltzed right into and through the Late Bronze Age. The entirety of Tall el-Hammam’s MB2 footprint is covered in heavy ash (from .5m-1m thick), ash filled destruction debris, and other conflagratory indicators that will be published in appropriate venues. Sometimes it takes decades to finalize full publications of excavation data. We have three journal articles coming out in ADAJ 55 this spring (the previous was ADAJ 53). Some high-profile publications are also in the plans for this year. While I can’t control the wild speculations and nonsense that, like so much vomit, get spewed across the Internet by people who have no real idea what they’re talking about, I do have appreciation for more serious-minded blogs, like this one seems to be, that are willing to wait for the real scientific data and analysis to appear. Is Tall el-Hammam biblical Sodom? Well, if it isn’t (and I say this with complete confidence in what I know to be the facts of the case), there are going to be a lot of people with a lot of ‘splainin’ to do, Lucy! In the meantime, I welcome rational discourse pro and con (emphasis on rational!).
Steven Collins

Thomas Smith said...

Thanks, Steven for that detailed update. Very exciting work you are doing and thank you for helping us separate the wheat from the chaff.

John Bergsma said...

Dr. Collins: Thank you again for sharing this further information with us. I did want to attract attention to your work in my original post, without breaking confidence or unfairly sensationalizing your discoveries. I hope I succeeded. In any event, I have a follow up question: is there any associated destruction layer at Jericho from this same time period?

John Bergsma said...

nfm

Dr. Steven Collins said...

Yes, John, there is. The terminal MB destruction at Jericho seems to be of similar date (17th/16th century BCE). Still needs a lot of study. Our ceramic assemblage is very similar, perhaps identical. It seems reasonable that Hammam and Jericho, along with the rest of the towns in the Kikkar, went down together. Jericho was re-occupied by around 1400 for a brief period. The eastern Kikkar didn't recover at all until about 1000 BCE when a few Iron 2 walled towns sprang up.

John Bergsma said...

Thanks, Dr. Collins. That's extremely interesting, to say the least, considering all the attention that's been paid to Jericho in various reconstructions of the "conquest" or "settlement" or however one wishes to describe it. Is anyone actively working at Jericho right now?

Alexander said...

Gary ....um what are you talking about? I'm a Catholic and the Catholics I know don't argue the bibilical historical events such as Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact the Catholic church welcomes science as a cherry on top for its teachings on events in Holy Scripture. If you care to discuss this further I will speak about the Church's early first Doctors and Fathers. Also all the universities that the Catholic church built in western civilization (science/universities).

rose white said...

As the entire S&G area is covered with nodules of 98% sulphur with 2% magnesium that burns really well it is obvious that the reason for the destruction is just as the Bible states - punishment for its perversities.