ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – An experienced archaeologist who has spent a decade searching for the ancient ruins of Sodom is now confident that his team has located the ill-fated biblical city and evidence of its sudden destruction.
Dr. Steven Collins is a distinguished professor of Archaeology at Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque and is also dean of the school’s College of Archaeology & Biblical History. In addition to writing dozens of scholarly books and journal articles, Collins frequently visits the Middle East, where he participates in ongoing archaeological research.
Since 2005, Collins has led excavations in the southern Jordan Valley in an attempt to find Sodom—the ancient city that was destroyed by God because of its sinful inhabitants, according to Genesis 19. Collins says he began his research by “analyzing the Biblical text regarding the location of Sodom.”
His investigation led him to conclude that one site in particular fit well within the biblical criteria. The site is named Tall el-Hammam, and it located in the southern Jordan River Valley, nine miles northeast of the Dead Sea.
“Tall el-Hammam seemed to match every Sodom criterion demanded by the text,” he said, according to a 2013 report in “Popular Archaeology.” “Theorizing, on the basis of the Sodom texts, that Sodom was the largest of the Kikkar (the Jordan ‘Disk,’ or ‘well-watered plain’ in the biblical text) 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.”
Collins says the Tall el-Hammam site was mostly untouched by scholars when his team began conducting research there 10 years ago. When they began digging, they found remains of elaborate city infrastructure, including gates, towers, plazas, at least one roadway, and a thick city wall. From all indications, the site was once a thriving, influential city-state with a strategic location and a powerful economy.
But then, disaster struck.
“Based on the excavated evidence, the city’s Bronze Age heyday seems to have nevertheless come to a sudden, inexplicable end toward the end of the Middle Bronze Age—and the ancient city became a relative wasteland for 700 years, for the most part void of human habitation,” reported “Popular Archaeology” last week.
In what experts describe as an “occupational hiatus,” the Tall el-Hammam site was evidently abandoned for centuries. As the researchers work to piece together the clues, Collins says his team has identified a distinct layer of ash at the site that dates back to the Middle Bronze period. The ash could be evidence of a fiery destruction, much like the one described in Genesis 19. Pottery shards that were exposed to extremely high temperature levels have been recovered from the site—another potential indication of a fiery disaster.
Is Tall el-Hammam indeed Sodom? Collins is increasingly confident that it is.
“Its massive size and remarkable fortifications, the monumental gateway, its attending satellite towns, and its violent, fiery destruction, all scream ‘Sodom,’” he says. “It’s compelling.”