The Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project (TeHEP) is a joint scientific project between Trinity Southwest University's College of Archaeology & Biblical History (Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA), Veritas International University's School of Archaeology & Biblical History (Santa Ana, California, USA) and the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Join VIU and TSU as a Volunteer to Unearth Biblical History!
Volunteers are needed to excavate Sodom! We are going into our 16th season this year and continue to focus our digging in the Middle Bronze Age (MBA) palace on the upper tall. Find out more about this opportunity at tallelhammam.com. As one who has experienced excavating at this site, it is a life-changing adventure in biblical history. On Fridays, the dig team goes on tours of biblical sites in Jordan (Petra, Jerash, Pella, Umm Qais, etc...). From the Sodom site you can see Mt. Nebo, a glimpse of the northern Dead Sea, Jericho in the distance, the plains of the southern Jordan Valley, and the flickering lights of Jerusalem in the evening.
World-wide media interest in the site has not diminished. In addition to numerous news reports and articles, National Geographic has filmed two separate documentaries at the site (Ancient X-Files and Buried Secrets of the Bible with Albert Lin) featuring VIU director of MA/PhD in Archaeology programs, Dr. Steven Collins. See his book Discovering the City of Sodom (Howard Books, 2013) that describes this remarkable journey to identifying the most storied and mysterious place on earth.
At the site, we have unearthed a Middle Bronze Age city-state that was at the cross roads of two major trade routes (making the city very wealthy), catastrophic debris layer containing mud brick, pottery, bones, jewelry, homes, tools, carbonized food, weights and measures, fixed features, and much more. Pottery has been discovered that has been melted in excess of 20,000 degrees F, and soil that has turned to glass due to its exposure to a high heat flash event that destroyed the region during the MBA. I encourage you to get involved - academic credit is available as well.
Location, Setting and Features of the Site
Keeping up with the many exciting discoveries at and around Tall el-Hammam is a big task due to the large-scale nature of the Project. The site's Bronze Age city-state territory spreads into the hills to the east and south, northeast up the Wadi Kafrein (Kufrayn) for several kilometers, north to it's 'border' with the neighboring kingdom centered at Tall Nimrin, west to the Jordan River, and southwest to the Dead Sea. From the western acropolis of the upper/inner city, where the Bronze Age palace complex was located, the kings who ruled from Tall el-Hammam had direct line-of-sight contact with virtually all of the nearly 200 square kilometers (125 sq. miles) of their domain.
With massive Hammam-proper as its geographical and socio-political center, this Bronze Age kingdom dominated the southern Jordan Valley (the Jordan Disk, or Kikkar), indeed, the entire region, continuously for nearly 1,500 years, beginning about 3000 BC. At that time (Early Bronze 2), the first fortification system was constructed around the perimeter of the city. The site had begun (at least) during the 4th millennium BC, thriving for at least a thousand years as an open agricultural community (Chalcolithic through Early Bronze 1). But at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC, dramatic disruptions in the relative peace of the region occurred, causing the inhabitants of Tall el-DISC to construct a formidible defensive system that included a stone-and-mudbrick city wall 5.2m (17 ft.) thick and up to 15m (50 ft.) high, for a linear distance of over 2.5km, encircling the city. A wide, packed-earth/clay roadway followed the outer perimeter of the wall. Replete with towers, multiple gates, and (likely) crenellations (battlements built on to wall), these defenses were impressive, to say the least. Possibly due to a severe earthquake around 2700 BC, the original Early Bronze Age (EBA) city wall was 'deconstructed' down to its most stable mudbrick courses (in places, down to its single-course stone foundation), then strengthened with a solid stone foundation (through its entire 5.2m thickness) 5 courses high, and topped with a mudbrick superstructure to its full width. This EB3 city wall rebuild served the Hammamites well for the next 750 years; of course, with periodic patching and refurbishing.
Recently-excavated balk sections intersecting the outer face of the EB2/3 city wall and exterior roadway reveal that this wall and street continued in use until a new, even more massive fortification system was commissioned toward the beginning of Middle Bronze 1 (ca. 1950 BC). This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that from the surface of the EBA/IBA roadway upward to the preserved height of the associated city wall, the area is covered by multiple layers (indeed, piles) of engineered fill of varying composition, comprising a base (substrate) for enormous MB1/2 city wall and earthen/mudbrick rampart defenses with a horizontal thickness of up to 33m (over 100 ft.). (The MBA fill materials covering the roadway contain EBA, IBA, and MB1 pottery fragments, with no evidence of erosional deposition, signaling continuous use of the wall and roadway from the time of its construction until buried by the later MB1 defensive system.) The MBA builders preserved a good portion of the previous 6m-thick city wall as a 'foundation' for the heaviest portion of their sloping, outer rampart/glacis (abutting their new 4m-thick city wall), then added three more 'embedded' stabilizer walls into the mostly-mudbrick structure of their stepped, multi-sloped rampart. As large and impressive as the 'original' city wall had been during its seven-century lifespan, the MBA defensive system swallowed up its predecessor within its colossal dimensions. The main, monumental gateway system leading into the city through these fortifications was first discovered during Season Seven in 2012.
Within these sprawling defenses, the kings of the Tall el-Hammam city-state built their palaces, temples, and administrative complexes. Beginning literally at the flanks of Hammam-proper and radiating out to a distance of up to 5km, numerous Bronze Age towns, villages, and hamlets dotted a fertile and well-watered agriscape. Tall el-Hammam itself hugged the southern edge of the perennial flow of the Wadi Kafrein at the eastern edge of the Jordan Disk (Kikkar), with the Wadi Hisban/Ar-Rawda a few hundred meters to the south. The core population of the city-state, at Tall el-Hammam, also enjoyed at least two springs located inside the city walls (one warm, one sweet), with several others in the immediate vicinity. It's quite evident that the utilization of water resources was a principal consideration in the placement and development of the city.
Each of Hammam's satellites (Tall Iktanu, Tall Azeimah N., Tall Azeimah S., Tall Mwais, Tall Rama, Tall Kufrayn, Tall Barakat, Tall Tahouna, and myriad un-named villaged and hamlets strewn between them) was similarly situated at a major water source (generally Wadi Kafrein or Wadi Ar-Rawda and their tributaries). In antiquity, during each spring flood season, the Jordan River overflowed its banks north of its mouth (at the Dead Sea's northern end), providing a wide-spreading inundation not unlike what occured in the Nile Delta during its annual inundation (of course, on a smaller scale, but hydrologically identical). Local farmers from the Hammam city-state no doubt took advantage of the annual Jordan flood cycle, planting crops behind the receeding waters in the fresh alluvial silt deposits. With so many reliable sources of water, not to mention localized winter rains, the kingdom flourished with up to three harvests each year in its below-sea-level, sub-tropical environment. Thus, it isn't at all surprising that the flourishing Bronze Age civilization on the eastern Jordan Disk, dominated by Tall el-Hammam, served as the foundation of the "Cities of the well-watered Disk (kikkar) of the Jordan" tradition in the book of Genesis (10-19).
Given its apparently long and stable history as the region's dominant city-state (even flourishing through the catastrophic climatological changes that brought an end to the Levantine Early Bronze Age, ca. 2500 BC), it's remarkable that Tall el-Hammam and its neighbors (noteably Tall Nimrin, likely center of the city-state to Hammam's immediate north) suffered a civilization-ending calamity, uniquely their own, toward the end of the Middle Bronze Age. While cities to the west (Jerusalem, Bethel, Hebron), north (Deir 'Alla, Pella, Beth Shan), and east (Rabbath-Ammon, Tall al-Umayri, Nebo) continued in the Late Bronze Age, the cities, towns, and villages of the eastern Jordan Disk did not. In fact, from the time of their destruction toward the end of MB2, the eastern Jordan Disk sites remained unoccupied for the next five-to-seven hundred years. The phenomenon resulting in the destruction of MBA civilization on "the well watered plain (= kikkar, disk) of the Jordan" and repelling re-occupation for so many centuries is now coming to light through analyses performed by 'impact' researchers from seven participating universities (multiple publications pending). That the most productive agricultural land in the region, which had supported flourishing civilizations continuously for at least 3,000 years, should suddenly relinquish, then resist, human habitation for such a long period of time has begged investigation. Research results concerning the "3.7KYrBP Kikkar Event" are presently being compiled for publication and presentation.
We are entering into our final season in 2023 and continue to focus our excavation in the Middle Bronze Age (MBA) layers.