Dec 24, 2010

Russian-Jordanian Research Project - Update on Sodom

I just received this update from Gary Byers our Assistant Dig Director concerning more details on the Russian proposal to work under the Dead Sea. There will be more official news to follow in the media shortly with the Jordanian press hitting our site on Sunday. Unfortunately I will be in the air flying in so will miss the event but hope to be there when Dr. Ziad from the Jordanian Department of Antiquity visit this coming week. Very exciting times at Tall el-Hammam. This should be the best season thus far. Byers state on Dec 23rd:
When Dr. Collins and the first part of our team arrived in Jordan in early December, they heard from the DoA about a coming joint Russian-Jordanian research project planned for underwater research in the north end of the Dead Sea. The Russians said they had some specialized equipment and new information about the location of Sodom under the sea there. So, on Wednesday this week there was a joint press conference at the Dead Sea to announce the project.

Unfortunately the Jordanian side, represented by the DoA, was not at all prepared for what the Russians announced. To their astonishment, the Russians said we have found Sodom under the waters of the Dead Sea! The DoA was blindsided by such a statement because it was untrue—the Russians have done nothing in the water yet—and because the belief in the DoA is that the location of Sodom should be found north of the Dead Sea, not under the water. I don’t know how much of this information is out there in the media, but we got an inside scoop because a member of our dig staff was representing the DoA at that press conference (and he was very angry about it).

So that afternoon, Dr. Ziad, the new Director General of the Department of Antiquities, called Dr. Collins and discussed the historical data related to the subject prior to a live evening broadcast on Jordanian television. I think the department felt they needed to say something about the events surrounding the press conference (damage control). That night Dr. Ziad spoke about the Russian project and said we always welcome new research, but the DoA believes the historical data available places the ancient city of Sodom north of the Dead Sea, and then he spoke about the joint TSU-DoA Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project.

Then on Thursday, Dr. Collins and Hussein Aljarrah (Co-Director of TeHEP and DoA Director for the Southern Jordan Valley) had a meeting with the DoA in Amman for dig-related business. As they were leaving the building they ran into Dr. Ziad coming in. Even though he had a scheduled meeting with Dr. Collins and Hussein on Monday to finalize our new 10-year joint TeHEP dig agreement, he asked them to stop and he called an impromptu meeting in his office—while other scheduled appointments had to wait outside!

At this meeting, Dr. Ziad said that our joint TeHEP research is a DoA priority. Calling it “perhaps the most important archaeological discovery in history,” he noted that the story of Sodom is one subject that Christians, Muslims, and Jews all hold in common in their respective scriptures. We already have key DoA personnel on our dig staff, but he committed himself and the department to keeping TeHEP a priority.

Then, after the meeting was over and Dr. C and Hussein were on their way back to the Dead Sea, Dr. Ziad’s office called Hussein on the phone and said that Jordanian television will be at the site this Sunday to film the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project in action. While previously scheduled, Dr. Ziad is also making his first official visit to Tall el-Hammam this coming week (he took his position as Director General of the DoA back in July). This is a pretty incredible place to be right now—Merry Christmas to me!

TeHEP probably owes a debt of gratitude to the Russians. I think it is fair to say that making the kind of announcement they did, blindsiding the DoA, really got Dr. Ziad and the whole DoA focused on the Sodom issue. And having Dr. Collins and our team assembled in the field really made communications and planning much simpler. Just months into his new position, Dr. Ziad is setting a course for the DoA for years to come, with TeHEP clearly in the center of his focus.
Gary Byers, Assistant Director, Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project
My next post will be from Jordan! Merry Christmas

No comments: