Biblical city of Sodom finally uncovered in Jordan Valley?

A general view of King Talal Dam near Jerash, Jordan © Muhammad Hamed
Not so destroyed after all, Sodom appears to have been uncovered by US archaeologists in southern Jordan. The city, which - together with Gomorrah - is traditionally associated with vice, was supposed to be condemned to a fiery death by God for their sins.

The find, if confirmed, is of utmost importance for archaeology. The lost Biblical city is expected to be a monument to Bronze Age greatness and a treasure trove of knowledge on how city-states formed and lived in the period between 3500 and 1540 BC.

A team led by Prof. Steve Collins of Trinity Southwest University in New Mexico thinks they’ve unearthed the ruins after a decade spent digging around Tall el-Hammam, in the Jordan Valley.

"The archaeological team unearthed a goldmine of ancient monumental structures and artifacts that are revealing a massive Bronze Age city-state that dominated the region of Jordan's southern Jordan Valley, even during a time when many other great cities of the 'Holy Land' region were either abandoned or in serious decline," Collins told Popular Archaeology.

The dig was in its tenth season. Collins has been working in the area since 2005.

"Very, very little was known about the Bronze Age in the Middle Ghor [southern Jordan Valley] before we began our excavations in 2005," he says. "Even most of the archaeological maps of the area were blank, or mostly so. What we’ve got on our hands is a major city-state that was, for all practical purposes, unknown to scholars before we started our Project."

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Having compared the finds to those of nearby ancient cities, Collins is certain he’s got the right place.

"Tall el-Hammam seemed to match every Sodom criterion demanded by the text,” he said.

Theorizing, on the basis of the Sodom texts, that Sodom was the largest of the Kikkar cities east of the Jordan, I concluded that if one wanted to find Sodom, then one should look for the largest city on the eastern Kikkar that existed during the Middle Bronze Age, the time of Abraham and Lot. When we explored the area, the choice of Tall el-Hammam as the site of Sodom was virtually a no-brainer since it was at least five to ten times larger than all the other Bronze Age sites in the entire region, even beyond the Kikkar of the Jordan," he explained.

The site, according to Collins, consists of a lower and an upper city. It features a 5.2-meter thick, 10-meter high city wall made of mud bricks. There are also gates, towers and a central plaza, archaeologists say.

Collins found that during the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1540 BC), newer construction replaced the older structure. A defensive rampart system fortifying the upper city is one of the added features. "It was a huge undertaking, requiring millions of bricks and, obviously, large numbers of laborers," Collins said of the structure rising above the lower city, and intended to protect the city’s wealthy elites from outside threats.

The lower city had a similar structure built, according to Collins. Together, the two ramparts rose 30m (100 ft.) and 60m above ground level respectively.

This evidence of towers and gates, together with some other pieces uncovered in late 2015, indicates that fortifications in the Middle Bronze Age were much sturdier than previously thought.

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The evidence also indicates that the city’s life came to an abrupt end sometime around the end of the Middle Bronze Age. This put an end to all life for a period of about 700 years, safe for scant habitation. Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as nearby cities, show a distinct lack of Late Bronze technology, while much of the later structures were actually built much later than the missing period.

Collins hopes further research and digging will uncover the mystery of life suddenly stopping.