TeHEP is a joint scientific project between Trinity Southwest University's College of Archaeology & Biblical History (Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA) and the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Our website is designed to be enjoyed by all those interested in archaeology, whether casually or professionally.
The site of Tall el-Hammam is located in the southern Jordan River Valley, about 14 kilometers northeast of the Dead Sea. Surveys and excavations have revealed a long occupational history at Tall el-Hammam, including the Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods, the Early, Intermediate, and Middle Bronze Ages, and Iron Age 2. Minor Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic occupations are also in evidence.
Architecturally, the major contributors to the enormity of the site—spreading approximately one square kilometer—are the cities of the Early Bronze Age (3600-2350 BCE), Intermediate Bronze Age (2350-2000 BCE), and Middle Bronze Age (after 2000-BCE). The massive 6-meter-thick EBA city wall rings the lower and upper talls to an elliptical diameter of 500x750 meters. The same fortifications were refurbished and re-used during the IBA, and were later swallowed up by the construction of massive MB2 fortifications up to 50 meters thick, including the city wall, outer rampart/glacis with multiple (interior) stone stabilizer walls, and monumental gateway complex.
The MBA fortifications also include mudbrick ramparts rising above the lower city to a height of 20 to 30 meters, contributing to the 450x300-meter elongated oval footprint of the upper tall, and creating its 35-degree slope. The upper tall is topped by ruins from Iron Age 2abc, which are surrounded by a 3-meter-thick city wall, with a chambered gateway flanked by monumental towers.
By all comparisons, Tall el-Hammam must be considered the “Queen of the Southern Jordan Valley,” and her excavation will continue to shed important light on the history of the region for decades to come.
The objective of the multi-year Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project (TeHEP) is to study
the relationship of this immense and strategically-located site within its ancient period socio-cultural, economic, and political contexts, and to ascertain its position, function and influence within those contexts. In addition to this broader focus incorporating historical and archaeological data from neighboring sites in the southern Jordan Valley and beyond, TeHEP is studying the site as a microcosm of life and activity within its own local environment, seeking to determine its phases of settlement, urbanization and the reasons for its decline, destruction, and/or abandonment at archaeological period interfaces. Within this micro-context, TeHEP seeks to shed light on how the inhabitants of Tall el-Hammam adapted to the local environment and environmental changes, and utilized available resources, enabling them to attain levels of city planning and building on a resultantly large scale through several millennia.
Until recently, many archaeological sites on the east side of the southern Jordan Valley, immediately north of the Dead Sea, were unavailable for excavation due to the sensitive military nature of the area (Tall Iktanu and Tuleilat Ghassul being the notable exceptions). With the opening of the area to general access and tourism in recent years, the substantial archaeological richness of the vicinity is now available for scholarly investigation.
Because principal ancient highways, coursing both north/south and east/west, converged here, cities of significant size and regional importance arose, supported by arable, fertile land and ample perennial water from the Jordan River and numerous springs, as well as seasonal wadi flows. Even today, the area supports significant agricultural production.
At the cross-hairs of the main trade routes, and nestled on the south side of Wadi Kafrein, lies Tall el-Hammam. A sprawling, impressive site with a remarkable occupational profile, Tall el-Hammam certainly holds important keys to understanding the larger occupational history of the entire "Jordan Disk" (the biblical term used to describe the widened, "circular" area of the southern Jordan Valley north of the Dead Sea).
The seemingly mysterious demise of Tall Nimrin and all the other Jordan Disk sites toward the end of the Middle Bronze Age, followed by an occupational hiatus of at least five centuries, is certainly in need of further archaeological enlightenment. Tall el-Hammam may provide such from its Middle Bronze Age occupation and demise, followed by its own five- to seven-century occupational hiatus.
Neither the Early Bronze Age nor the Middle Bronze Age has been well-documented in the southern Jordan Valley on the east side of the river. The excavation of Tall el-Hammam is filling in significant elements in our knowledge gap for both the Bronze Age and Iron Age in the Jordan Disk. There is no doubt that in every period of occupation the inhabitants of Tall el-Hammam sat astride a strategic location commanding broad views of the southern Jordan Valley (lying almost wholly to the west), and were able to control and/or influence the flow of commodities traveling north/south along the main trade route on the east side of the river and along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, and east/west from the direction of Cisjordan Jericho and from the Transjordan Highlands. Any city, thus situated, would have had more than trivial impact on the local/regional economy. Indeed, during the Bronze Age Tall el-Hammam flourished at the epicenter of a major city-state with numerous satellite towns, villages, and hamlets within its hegemony.
The excavation of Tall el-Hammam is justified by at least three criteria:
1. The location and juxtaposition of Tall el-Hammam in relation to other sites and ancient regional north/south and east/west trade routes suggests its prominence in terms of local/regional socio-economic considerations.
2. The broad span of occupational chronology should provide greater insights into factors (climatological, ecological, political, military) leading both to the rise and demise of its various occupational phases, with possible implications for understanding similar regional phenomena.
3. The fact that Tall el-Hammam and other sites on the eastern half of the Jordan Disk are located precisely in the geographical area specified for the biblical "Cities of the Jordan Plain (Disk)" has turned out to be more than a coincidence, thus providing a geographical framework for the story of Abraham's nephew Lot and his escape from Sodom (set in the Middle Bronze Age), recorded in the Bible (Genesis 13-19) and in the Qur'an (VIII.7.84; XII.11.82; XIV.15.61-79; XIX.25.40; XX.29.40).
A cautionary word about "biblical" sites...
As active members of the community of Levantine archaeologists, the TeHEP team is quite aware of the prevailing sentiment among many in the discipline who feel that archaeology should not be used to "prove" components of biblical narrative. We certainly agree that objective archaeology should take us where the evidence leads; but we also understand the importance of ancient texts like the Bible that often provide an historical framework for the identification of geographical locations. Responsible archaeology uses every possible resource to gain a window into the past. Let us not forget that Jordanian sites like Heshbon, Aroer, Dibon, Nebo, Bethany Beyond Jordan, and many others, are principally identified because of their inclusion in biblical narrative.
Many have speculated about the locations of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 13-19) and the so-called "Cities of the Plain," but their location and identification have remained elusive in the minds of some scholars. Several have linked Sodom and Gomorrah with Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira, but unconvincingly—these sites are too early and in the wrong place. W.F. Albright—arguably the most influential Near Eastern scholar of the 20th century—and his protégé G.E. Wright thought the Cities of the Plain might be under water at the south end of the Dead Sea. Others, including Tristram, Conder, Merrill and Thomson in the late 19th century, following the major historical tradition, made a case for a location north of the Dead Sea in the southern Jordan Valley. Still others, such as Burton MacDonald in his excellent work East of the Jordan: Territories and Sites of the Hebrew Scriptures (ASOR, 2000), identify two separate geographical traditions, one north and one south, for the locations of Admah/Zeboiim and Sodom/Gomorrah respectively.
Not a few scholars, including TeHEP Director, Steven Collins, believe that the textual evidence strongly supports a northern location in what is called the "Jordan Disk," the 25-kilometer diameter circle of the Jordan Valley immediately north of the Dead Sea. [For a detailed presentation of the northern view see S. Collins and L.C. Scott, Discovering the City of Sodom (Simon & Schuster/Howard Books, 2013).]
The eastern side of the Disk encompasses at least fourteen named archaeological sites (and numerous others), and many of them have Middle Bronze Age occupation (Tall Nimrin, Tall el-Hammam and Tall Kafrayn have confirmed MB2 fortified occupation). Tall el-Hammam is the largest of these. Therefore, it would be unthinkable to ignore the likelihood that Tall el-Hammam (as well as Tall Nimrin, with its MB2
destruction and ensuing 500-year occupational hiatus) may be Sodom and Admah, respectively. Sodom is likely the larger of the two, Tall el-Hammam.
Once aware of these connections, one cannot deny the level of interest that is generated in the light of these possibilities.
Many scholars have also identified Tall el-Hammam as Abel-Shittim ("mourning place of acacias"), the location of the Israelite encampment before they crossed the Jordan into Canaan. It is also a distinct possibility that Tall el-Hammam incorporates at least part of the Roman city of Livias (built by Herod Antipas), the government seat of Perea, frequented by John the Baptizer, and Jesus and his disciples.
If rigorous scholarship and responsible, objective archaeology confirm a link between Tall el-Hammam and Sodom (or between Tall Nimrin and Admah) or other possible biblical associations, then so be it. If the same approach suggests that some such connections are not warranted, then so be it. But we must not hide from the possibilities because of bias one way or the other. As A. J. Ayer's verification principle requires of any assertion, we must state clearly the criteria whereby any hypothesis can be verified and/or falsified, then follow the evidence wherever it leads. This is the strict method of science.
On the one hand, it is intellectually dishonest to dismiss the Bible as a site-selection parameter. There is no doubt that the Bible remains one of the best ancient geographical texts available to archaeologists and historians. And particular interest is generated in certain sites because of potential biblical connections. This is reality.
On the other hand, doing archaeology solely from a biblical perspective can mean missing the larger reality of Near Eastern cultural milieus. A biblical (hermeneutical) bias might possibly influence the interpretation of data which, ironically, could otherwise be used to illumine the biblical narrative itself. In all archaeological endeavors, what we must strive for is objectivity. Indeed, sites with no clear biblical connection are just as important for determining the history of the region. Archaeological importance should never be equated with biblical importance. A careful assessment of all evidential avenues is the only reasonable approach to archaeology.
With the importance of empirical investigation understood, the pragmatic perspective makes the probable link between biblical Sodom and Tall el-Hammam a significant factor. At any rate, we would be irresponsible not to investigate such potential connections.