Tell el-Hammam

23 July 2013
Archaeology

The New Chronology Yahoo site has some emails circulating on Tell el Hammam,  a massive ancient city in the famous plain near the Dead Sea. In the 4th millennium BC, and earlier, it was an open agricultural community. In the 3rd millennium BC, the Early Bronze Age, it was ringed by a formidable defensive system, a stone and mudbrick city wall 17 feet thick and 50 feet high. An earthquake at the end of EBII led to a major deconstruction and rebuild process. It was strengthened with a solid stone foundation five courses high, topped with a mud brick superstructure the entire length of the wall – 2.5km. The EB city lasted 900 years (with periodic patchwork and refurbishment). Inside the walls were built the palaces and temples of the elite – and two springs of fresh water supplied the needs of the citizens. Each of its satellite towns had a string of hamlets and in antiquity, during each spring flood, the Jordan river overflowed its boundary and left behind an ideal medium for growing (supplemented by rainfall). Three harvests were possible in the below sea level sub tropical environment – no wonder Tell el Hamman prospered. It is suggested on the email thread that this was Shittim – recorded in the Bible, and in Genesis 10 there is a reference to the cities of well watered disk of the Jordan and perhaps this is an archaic reference as otherwise Tell el Hammam does not figure much in the Biblical narrative. For example, it does not appear in the conquest list associated with Joshua, and neither is it mentioned in the Moses story line (not in the context of a great and powerful city that dominated the Jordan valley). This is not surprising if the Bible was written down a couple of thousand years after the city became a heap of ruins – but some people maintain that the first five books, the Pentateuch, were actually written by Moses – and therefore in the time of Moses. If so, should they not have something to say about Tell el Hammam?

Of course, being cities on the Plain, the demise of Tell el-Hammam is strangely reminiscent of the Biblical story of the sudden destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – wiped off the face of the Earth – but the chronology doesn't fit. This was associated with Lot, in the time of Abraham – but to what extent is the story of Lot stretched in order to confine with Biblical chronology. Could it have been one of the stories incorporated into the Bible, that didn't come with a particular date – but was assigned such a date when laid out in successional order. Is there any evidence Tell el-Hammam succombed to a bolide explosion (atmospheric blast caused by a comet fragment disintegrating as it entered the atmosphere of the Earth)?

The city appears to have survived the massive changes that struck the Levant in around 2350BC – but suffered a civilisation ending catastrophe, instead, at the end of MB2, quite a few hundred years later. If this was an earthquake related disaster it would explain why the Plain was largely abandoned during the Late Bronze Age – the water table had changed. The nearby city of Tell Nimri disappeared at the same time – yet their neighbours, such as Jericho and Jerusalem, Hebron and Rabboth Ammon, appeared to have risen from the dead and thrived during the LB era.

In the Iron Age people returned to the region – but in smaller numbers, and with smaller settlements. During Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine times settlement in the region continued, even on the tell, but never as it was in the EB and MB eras. So, the first mystery is why it was abandoned at the end of MB2. The second mystery is the dolmen fields that can be found along the Jordan valley from Syria to the Dead Sea. A huge dolmen field has been discovered by field walking around Tell el Hammam, in the hills to the E, SE, S and SW of the the city, and they seem to mark a territorial boundary. Some 500 dolmens have been catalogued in the vicinity of Tell el Hammam and another 500 are thought to exist out there in the vicinity. They were not used for primary burial but for what appears to be ancestor worship of some kind. In other words, dolemns are an unknown.

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