To Dig or Not to Dig – That is Never the Question!

On Thursday evening (12/10), my wife and I are flying to Jordan for the fifth season of excavation at Tall el-Hammam, on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River Valley. 

When we left the site last January, we had dug a 7-foot wide, 100-foot long trench to expose an area from the city wall up into the city. While on the surface we could see evidence of the 13-foot wide stone-build city wall and a few house-sized stone wall foundations, we had no idea what was beneath. When we were finished, about 7 feet down along the full length of the trench, we had excavated the most interesting things I have ever discovered after 12 seasons of digging 4 different sites.  

That stone city wall which we could see on the surface actually went five feet deep in our trench and we found that it was constructed on top of about 3 feet of ash and mixed debris. At that point (about 8 feet deep), stones of an even earlier city wall began to appear. I can’t wait to see what that is going to turn out to be!

Further up the trench, beneath the stone foundations of house walls which we could see on the surface, we dug through over 3 feet of ash and destroyed mudbrick debris. Beneath this destruction stuff (now down over 3 feet) we found mudbrick walls from earlier houses built along the same lines as the stone foundations we saw on the surface. It was amazing.  

In the Biblical world, houses were generally built with sundried mudbrick walls over stone foundations. It was way too costly to procure enough fuel to fire bricks in a kiln, so bricks were formed and left out in the sun to dry. The walls were built and then plastered to keep them waterproof.

In our 100 foot long trench (but only 7 feet wide), we think we had rooms and courtyards representing 2 or 3 houses. The walls were over 2 feet wide and still standing to almost 4 feet. They sat on stone foundations about 1 foot high. We got down to the floors of these rooms and even came on two doorways between rooms, complete with the door socketstones.

Ancient doors (both houses and city gates) did not turn on hinges (the Proverbs 26:14 reference to “hinges” is not a good translation). Instead doors were solid wood and attached directly to a post which turned in two socketstones – one in the floor and the other in the ceiling. When the post turned in the stones, the door opened and closed. In one of the houses, we actually found the lower socketstone in place and the upper socketstone fallen nearby.

The pottery on the floor dated this house before 2000 BC. One day the excavators stayed down in the hole to eat their lunch and it was pointed out that no one had eaten a meal in that house for over 4000 years! As an archaeologist who has specialized in domestic architecture, it doesn’t get much better than this. This year, I want to stop and dig out the rest of this house…but I wonder what else we may find if we go ahead and dig even deeper?

I got into archaeology to understand the Bible and the people of the Bible better. And what better way to get to know people than to look around their house! Now I don’t think archaeology proves the Bible, but it does demonstrate that the Bible can be trusted for history. And, if you can trust it for the past, I would suggest that you can trust it for the future. And if you are going to trust it for the past and the future, how about being willing to trust it for today? Just for today…one day at a time.


Pastor Gary Byers

Spiritual Life Director