Professor's digs may be key to discovering infamous cities
By María Cortés González / El Paso Times
Article Launched:10/27/2006 12:00:00 AM MDT
Getting to join a dig in the Holy Land may sound like a dream for anyone who has some Indiana Jones tendencies.
But it's a very attainable goal being offered by Stephen Collins, an Albuquerque biblical archaeologist, who said he has uncovered the definitive site of Sodom and Gomorrah in Jordan.
Collins, who has done one of seven planned excavations, will have a seminar in El Paso to discuss his excavation on the Sodom site, known as Tall el-Hammam, and how others can join him in December on his next trip. He will speak Sunday at St. Clement's and bring his mobile museum of biblical artifacts.
The dean of archaeology and biblical history at Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque, Collins said he became interested in researching the Sodom site after repeatedly giving archaeological tours in the late 1990s and taking people to the traditional site on the south end of the Dead Sea.
"I looked at passages in Genesis (Chapters 13:19) that had to do with Sodom in preparation for taking some students, and I just didn't see any text
that said it was at that end," he said.
But it wasn't until a few years later, about 2000, after finishing excavation work of another Israel project, that he began to research in earnest.
"It bothered me sufficiently that I started looking into it É and I found that there was so much geographical data embedded in the Bible and that no one was paying attention to the text," he said.
Collins created a theoretical map based on his research, and the map eventually led him, along with a professional team, to an unexplored area north of the Dead Sea and east of the River Jordan.
Through digging and reading pottery pieces, analyzing data for chronology and geography, Collins said, "we could tell that there were occupations at these sites that were from the time of Abraham in the Book of Genesis, which is the Middle Bronze Age, between the year 2000 B.C. to 1600 B.C."
According to the Old Testament, Sodom and Gomorrah were among the five cities of the plain that were destroyed by brimstone and fire because of the perverse sexual practices of its people.
Through his excavation, Collins said, he has found artifacts in that private land -- that spans about a kilometer in length --Êthat show these cities existed in that area. He has also found ash and partly fired mud brick, which relate to the nature of the violent destruction of the site.
Among the artifacts that Collins found were pieces of alabaster, pottery shards and roofing materials -- all of which will eventually be displayed in Jordanian museums.
He also found a spring bubbling in the middle of the site, which would explain why people built there.
But his most exciting find is a shard of pottery with a glasslike surface that looks like trinitite, a substance formed at the Trinity Site atomic bomb test near Alamogordo in 1945.
William Fulco, the National Endowment for the Humanities professor of the Ancient Mediterranean Studies Department of Classics and Archaeology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said Collins is an honest and respected scholar.
But Fulco, who is on Collins' advisory committee, still believes in playing devil's advocate for his friend.
"If he is out to prove that Tall el-Hammam is north of the Dead Sea, then that is most logical place to try," he said. "But I still want to see more. My job is to keep challenging him, and he welcomes that. I want him to find an early Bronze layer from 3,000 to 2,000 B.C., and I want to know if there are layers of destruction that ended the Bronze period."
Collins doesn't claim to be the first to have found the site. From his research, he knows that other explorers, such as W.M. Thomson, speculated about the location of the ancient ruins about 1881. But he does believe this is the first time archaeological techniques are being used to examine the site.
Collins, who has special permission from the Jordan Department of Antiquities, said this excavation is probably the most significant dig in his lifetime.
"It's not just because we think it might be Sodom but that we can learn how people lived and what kind of crops they were growing and what kind of language if we discover inscriptions," he said. "We can get a real understanding of 5,000 to 6,000 years ago and how people came and went."
Collins said his findings contain evidence of a 500-year gap from when the cities were burned down to when they were rebuilt in the Iron Age.
"It's all exciting É This next season we may be looking at new things that nobody has seen in thousands of years," he said.
Both Collins and those who believe the Bible is historically accurate say his excavation helps give credibility to the characters and quality of the sacred book.
"A lot of people don't believe that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were historical figures," Collins said. "And you can't prove or disprove that. But the Bible has so much credibility, historically and geographically, that to doubt the personalities represented in the text is foolish."
El Pasoan Marcy Oglesby, who met Collins in September during a visit to his museum, said his findings validate her beliefs.
"To me, it just makes the Bible come alive," she said.
Oglesby, who is excited about joining the next dig, said the trip will enhance her faith. Volunteers will be trained to dig and can stay with Collins, who will be excavating for seven weeks.
"Our former bishop told me I would come back with my faith renewed and strengthened and that I must go if possible," she said.
Beyond her faith, the trip would be a dream fulfilled. "That has been my lifelong dream -- to go on an archaeological dig," she said.
María Cortés González may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6150.
Topics should range on anything like Shroud of Turin, Noahs Ark, Ark of the Covenant, Exodus Red Sea crossing, locations of newly found digs, Dead Sea Scrolls etc...
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