In 2010 I had the privilege of visiting Israel, and the Dead Sea area. Driving up from the searing heat of the Jordan valley we left the comfort of our air-conditioned car to squint through the sun's glare at the large flat "Kikkar" plain, the "circle of Jordan".
To the north lay Jericho; a small and indistinct sprawl which masked the mound of the old town. The lethargic blue waters of the Dead Sea were barely visible to the south, and a pink dusty haze hung between us and the red cliffs of Jordan at the other side of the valley.
Our guide pointed out across the void: "Sodom is... about there. There's a new season of digging starting soon, it'll be interesting to see what they find".
I kept an ear out for news of the dig and caught a few lectures by Dr Leen Ritmeyer. Last year a book was published documenting the digs and discoveries so far. I've since bought about 5 copies for/on behalf of various people -- all of whom returned raving about it afterwards.
The book itself is the well-told story of one man's quest to find the Biblical city of Sodom. There's background on the many other sites proposed over the years, alongside some robust critique of their validity. Eventually the story moves to one particular site: Tall El-Hammam.
One of the principle features of this story is how Dr Steven Collins used the Bible record as the starting point for locating the city. This, in conjunction with the geography of the land, provided the basis for identifying potential sites, and eventually investigating Tel El-Hammam.
What the archaeologists discovered (and are discovering) is fascinating: pottery melted to form a glaze akin to the rocks from the New Mexico nuclear testing grounds, huge walls scraped from the surface of the mound, and human remains violently broken and scattered across the city. What catastrophe befell the inhabitants of this once-prosperous city?
The author proposes an air-burst meteor, similar to the one that fell in Russia last year, and the one presumed to be responsible for the Tunguska event. Whether or not you subscribe to this particular interpretation of the evidence does not detract from the manifest destruction which is clearly described. This part of the book is a particularly compelling read.
There's not a lot to criticise about the logic and evidence found so far. Obviously further digs will bring more clarity to what lies beneath the surface of this fascinating hill, and build our understanding of when these events took place. It's definitely one to watch.
You can order a copy from Amazon: Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament's Most Infamous City.
Update: You can also Like the Tall El Hammam page on Facebook to subscribe to further dig news.