Time and expense made it was difficult to send messages from my Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project dig in Jordan. I wrote this to you, but it didn’t get to you. So here it is now.
Happy New Year to you all! We had a special New Year’s Eve celebration here at the Movenpick Dead Sea Resort and Spa with a very special buffet meal and live entertainment. My wife, Gayle, and I ate until we were full and then left about 11 PM. She was awakened from her sleep when the hotel next door to us set off fireworks at midnight – we are such party animals!
Then on New Year’s Day we took a field trip to visit Khirbet Batrawy on the outskirts of the modern city of Zarqa. It has a wall and gate that looks a lot like ours dating from the same period. Then drove to the border and picked up the diggers coming over from a tour in Israel. It was close to a 2 hour drive and we tried to find a place to go to the toilet and eat. We couldn’t find a suitable place until we got to the border area, so we are all ready to recommendation to the king that they could really help tourism if they put a few shops with food, drink and toilets at strategic locations in the country! While Jordan is making great strides, it still has a long way to go to become tourist friendly.
We picked up the leaderless tour group from Israel (see my last few messages) without incident and got them safely to our hotel, stopping along the way at Tall Deir Alla, an 8th century BC tell, where archaeologists found a substantial building with a plaster inscription on its walls recording the prophesies of Balaam the son of Beor. This is the same Balaam who was brought to the hills around our site and told to curse the Israelites camped on and around Tall el-Hammam – called Abel Shittim in the Biblical text. I think the wisemen who saw a star in the east and decided to go to Jerusalem find him born king of the Jews used his prophesy in Numbers 24 as the basis of their trip.
Another group who had been excavating at Khirbet el-Maqatir, my other dig site in the West Bank, arrived yesterday. They had their own issues in Israel, including having their vans broken into and computers, cell phones and passports stolen. The guest house where they stayed also didn’t want to accept them – because of differing international views about digging in the West Bank. Then the security company, which provides the official security guards required to dig in the West Bank, went out of business! But Scott, who directed the dig, persevered and got the dig going. They were excavating the site’s Byzantine monastery and had some wonderful architectural and artifact finds. They will be able to compare some of their discoveries with things they will be digging in the Roman section here at Tall el-Hammam.
My favorite part of archaeology is finding architecture, and this week we have been uncovering the foundations of a house (or two) from the days of Abraham and Lot. In yesterday’s excavation, we also found 2 dead guys within one of that house. This is the level which we believe should be identified with the destruction of the city of Sodom. We covered them back up last night and cleared them off again today. Dr. John has been recording the details of our find and dig conservator Heather treated the exposed bones with a “liquid plastic” to help preserve them. Since we didn’t get the full extent of the skeletons exposed we covered them over again tonight. Our job as archaeologists is to determine the circumstances of their death in that location (CSI kind of stuff). Then the bones will be removed, analyzed and reinterred somewhere else.
Also, in the dolmen field, Ken and company continue to find some that have never been opened before. Last year we opened the first one and found 21 restorable vessels. Yesterday, they started excavating another one. They didn’t finish, so a couple of the local workmen spent the night guarding it for us. We have some pretty good friends here in Jordan! Today they cleared the chamber out completely. They only found 4 vessels and we were so disappointed. Imagine that – disappointed with only 4 vessels from that one location. I have dug full seasons and not had 4 vessels from the whole site.
This is a wonderful opportunity and we have an international team of great people here digging with us and more will still be coming later this week. All the special things that happen here are not because of good luck. Your prayers and support make a difference, and also make you an important part of our dig team. Thanks so much – and don’t stop now!
Pastor Gary Byers