Archaeologists and other specialists are presently conducting research at five sites southeast of the Dead Sea which are possibly the “Cities of the Plain” mentioned in Genesis 13, 14, and 19, the best known of which were Sodom and Gomorrah. (For previous reports see the Summer 1974 and Winter 1977 issues of Bible and Spade.) During the 1977 season (May 23 to July 2), work started in the previous 1975 season was continued and much new work started. Additional field work is projected for 1981, 1983; and 1985.

Bab edh-Dhra Town Site

Bab edh-Dhra is the northernmost and largest of the five sites and may possibly be the biblical city of Sodom. Excavations were carried out in six different areas, three of which were new. Excavation and interpretation are particularly difficult at this site because of the extensive erosion that has taken place over the centuries. In one of the areas, a large building ca. four m. wide by seven m. long, is emerging. It dates to the Early Bronze (EB) III period (ca. 2600-2300 B.C.), the last phase of the city before it was violently destroyed, and is thought possibly to be a temple. At the western wall of the city a suspected gate area is being investigated. This is especially interesting in view of Genesis 19:1: “And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom; and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground.” The angels, approaching as they were from Mamre near Hebron to the west most likely would have entered the city from that direction, possibly at the gate the

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Looking north along the western town wall of Bab edh-Dhra. Archaeologists suspect that there is a gate complex in this area.

archaeologists are now uncovering. Other areas being excavated are a tower in the northeast corner of the city, an extensive mudbrick building on the north side and two occupation areas in the center of the city.

The Bab edh-Dhra Cemetery

Work was renewed in the cemetery with a special study of the skeletal remains being undertaken by the Smithsonian Institution. Some 33 burial chambers were cleared which yielded, in addition to the skeletal remains, 900 whole pots, seven new examples of clay female figurines, mace heads, stone jars, sections of wooden shafts, strands of reed matting, a wooden bowl and food remains including whole grapes and a peach pit.


Approximately 15 km. to the south is Numeira, possibly the site of biblical Gomorrah. Excavations were conducted here for the first time in 1977. It appears to be a one-period site (EB III period) with a limited depth of debris. So far, six squares have been opened through the center of the town and across the southern town wall. Outside the southern town wall an industrial complex comprised of a series of rooms and courtyards was found. Among the more

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interesting finds at Numeira were a seal impression around the shoulder of a large jar, and well-preserved plant seed remains including a batch of carbonized (burned) whole grapes. A heavy ash layer at the site gives evidence of the conflagration which overtook the city at the end of the EB III period, the same time Bab edh-Dhra was destroyed.

Special Projects

Additional efforts are being carried out to reconstruct the culture of these cities. These include a study of the present and ancient agronomy of the area, a determination of the geological profile of Bab edh-Dhra and the adjacent Wadi Kerak, and an investigation of the mud-brick industry. In addition, an analysis of pollen samples is being made to reconstruct the ancient ecological environment, and a surface survey of the region within three km. of Bab edh-Dhra has revealed a number of small settlements and campsites ranging from the Stone Age to Roman times, including several of the Early Bronze Age. Detailed maps of the Bab edh-Dhra area and of the ruins of Numeira are also being prepared.


One of the more exotic sciences being put to use at Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira is the relatively new one of paleoethnobotany.

The newly opened excavation areas at Numeira, looking north.

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This is the study of plants used or gathered by an ancient culture in order to reconstruct their agricultural system and diet. David McCreery of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary described the science and some of the results thus far obtained in a lecture at the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan early this year. McCreery explained that samples are collected during the excavation by isolating plant remains from the ancient soil and debris. This is done by floating them in water using a simple bucket and screen arrangement. Then a long process of sorting, identifying and interpreting the samples begins.

From the data he has collected and analyzed thus far, McCreery believes that the diet of the inhabitants of Bab edh-Dhra consisted of wheat, barley, dates, wild plums, peaches, grapes, figs, pistachio nuts, almonds, olives, pine nuts, lentils, chick peas, pumpkin, and watermelon. Of these, the almonds and fruit would have been imported from a higher altitude, perhaps only 20 or 30 km. away. He pointed out that the diet of these ancient people was considerably more varied than the modern inhabitants of the region. McCreery has also found evidence that the ancients raised flax and castor-oil plant. All of this points to the conclusion that the inhabitants of the Bab edh-Dhra were well-to-do and carried on trade with their neighbors.

It is quite certain that irrigation was practiced. Although it is believed that the climate was more humid in those days, McCreery stated that the annual rainfall would have to have been five times greater than it is now in order to practice dry-land farming. This, he believes, was unlikely. He also noted that the flax seeds he recovered are more than six mm. in size, which today is possible only with irrigation. (See our remarks on the irrigation of the area on pp. 75 and 76 of the Summer 1974 issue of Bible and Spade.)

In the biblical descriptions of Sodom, there is an emphasis on its abundant produce. When Lot looked over the region, it was described as “well watered everywhere (Hebrew: completely irrigated), … even as the garden of the Lord (the Garden of Eden), like the land of Egypt” (Genesis 13:10). It is no wonder that “Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan” and “dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom” (Genesis 13:11, 12). The grapes of Sodom and Gomorrah are referred to in Deuteronomy 32:32, and Ezekiel said that among the iniquities of Sodom was “fullness of bread” (16:49). Our Lord described Sodom in Lot’s day as a place

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“Escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed” (Genesis 19:17). These are the mountains of Moab east of Bab edh-Dhra, where the angels told Lot and his family to flee before judgement struck.

where “they did eat, they drank,… they planted” (Luke 17:28). The paleoethnobotanical studies being carried out at Bab edh-Dhra show that it was indeed an affluent city, thus strengthening the identification of the site with biblical Sodom.

(“Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira, 1977” by R. Thomas Schaub and Walter E. Rast, American Schools of Oriental Research Newsletter No. 6, March 1978; “New Science Helps in Search For Biblical City of Sodom” by Susan Balderstone, Jordon Times, March 1, 1978.)

And as it was in the days of noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. … Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot. … Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.

sLake 17:26–30

Bible and Spade 7:4 (Autumn 1978)