Classics and Archaeology Virtual Museum

Bab edh-Dhra'

Is this the biblical Sodom?

Some believe so (Gary Byers, for example, or Bryant Wood, or whichever of the two - if either - is the real author/writer of this text they both seem to claim). The issue is becoming more complicated than ever with the introduction of radar images taken from the Space Shuttle.

The Excavations

Bab edh-Dhra' is located on the South-East edge of the Dead Sea in Jordan, not far from Numeira (identified with Gomorroh).

"Third millennium B.C.E. occupation in this area was first noted at the site of Bab edh-Dhra' by a survey team led by W.F. Albright in 1924.

From 1965 to 1967 Paul Lapp conducted three seasons of excavations at Bab edh-Dhra' in the cemetery and also first identified the associated walled area as a town site. Subsequent surveys by Rast and Schaub, McCreery, Clark, Worschech and MacDonald have identified over thirty Early Bronze age sites in the southern Ghor region including several large cemeteries and at least two other walled sites."

The study of this site continues, under the general auspices of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

About Tomb A 72S

Our pottery - a complete tomb group acquired by Dr Hallam in 1978 - comes from Paul Lapp's excavations in 1965.

From Schaub and Rast (1989) 136-:

A 72S was not as tightly sealed as the other two chambers. Its blocking stone was a small slab plastered with several medium-sized stones into the entry. The shape of the chamber was an irregular rectangle with angular walls on three sides. Roof fall was minimal and tool marks on the ceiling were visible. The average width of the markings was 0.0015 mm, and they pointed to a stroke direction away from the tomb cutter. This chamber had a sterile silt deposit of 0.50 m above floor level. The tomb had also cut into the west wall of Tomb A 70, but apparently no mixing of contents occurred.

The bone heap was near the center with traces of mat impression beneath it towards the entry. Three skulls were lined to the left of the bone heap, with four pottery vessels and a macehead behind them against the wall to the left. Most vessels were stacked against the wall to the right and rear (for the pottery of A 72S see Mfigs. 346-49). The disarticulated bone pilewas more neatly arranged than usual, with heaped up long bones laid parallel across it. Two of the three skulls were nearly intact, and a mandible lay to the side of one.

Human skeletal remains:

Other materials:

Skulls (3)

Macehead (1)

Femora (3 pair)

Jewelry Beads (in P9)

Humeri (3 pair)

Jewelry Beads (in P10)

Tibiae (1 pair, maybe more)

Photographs and plans (courtesy of Nancy Lapp, 1978; some appear in Schaub and Rast, 1989).

The images come in three sizes:

Tomb A72 plan


Tomb A72 Sections


Tomb A72 Section A-A'


Tomb A72 Section B-B'


Shaft of A72, S at top


Shaft of A72, S at left


Tomb A72S plan


Tomb A72S chamber


Tomb A72S looking South


Tomb A72S looking SSE



The 45 vases from this tomb are listed and illustrated (profile) in microfiche Figures 346-49. Each vase has a five-digit site registration number commencing with 9-, which indicates that they come from the Lapp excavations rather than later excavations; all the registration numbers are below 91519, which indicates that they were excavated during the two seasons of 1965. Each pottery object in the tomb is also assigned a P number, which may indicate the order in which it was excavated but otherwise indicates where in the tomb it was found, as illustrated in Schaub and Rast Fig. 76 on page 132.

A ten-digit code for each object was also devised to assist in computer analysis. From these codes it emerges that all our vessels are dated to the Early Bronze 1A period. The rest of this code indicates general form, handles, rim shapes, and base shapes and joins. These codes have been deciphered and the deciphered descriptions included in the Virtual Museum.

In Our Files

Letter from Nancy L. Lapp (Pittsburgh) to Professor A.D. Hallam (Middle Eastern Studies) dated 17 May 1978, in reply to his of 5 May. Says she encloses a list of the pottery she sent to him (4 cartons). In the file a copy of handwritten list of 44 jars etc with refence nos. of each jar and which carton it is in; the list is addressed to Dr A.D. Hallam etc. Only 44 items were sent: "Apparently the 45th vessel was lost somewhere in storage during the past ten years." Also encloses photograph of general view of cemetery, another looking down the shaft of tomb A 72 with A 72S to the left. Refers to an exhibit in Melbourne.

Another letter from Lapp to Hallam dated the next day (18 May 1978). In the publication (expected in a year or two) "your institution will be listed as the repository for your tomb group."

Hand-written display sign on cardboard: "Bab edh-Dhra Tomb A72S. Early Bronze 1A, about 3150-3100 BC." Perhaps this comes from the exhibit referred to by Nancy Lapp.

Exhibition entitled "Ancient Middle Eastern Ceramics from the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian Institute of Archaeology and the University of Melbourne" at the RMIT Faculty of Art Gallery, 14-24 June 1983. File has photocopies from the Catalogue "Ancient Middle Eastern Ceramics and Australian Archaeology in the ME" by Colin Hope and Jenny Zimmer, Plate 1 (Cat. nos. 19 = NES 82, 94 = NES 94, 13 = NES 67) and Plate 3 (Cat. nos. 116, 51, 71).

R. Thomas Schaub and Walter E. Rast. Reports of the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain, Jordan. Volume 1. Bab edh-Dhra': Excavations in the Cementery Directed by Paul W. Lapp (1965-1967). American Schools of Oriental Research. Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana. 1989. Description of Tomb A72 at pp. 132-149 (A72S pp. 136 and 140). Photocopies of printout from microfiche of Schaub and Rast, Figures 346, 347, 348 and 349, all entitled "Pottery from Tomb A 72S", on which Dr Bunnens has identified our 43 vases (with NES database nos) and noted that P15 and P30 are missing from the collection.

The file contains a number of negatives and photographs of Tomb A72 (see above).

Other references:

Diane E. Beynon, Jack Donahue, R. Thomas Schaub, and Robert A. Johnston. 'Tempering Types and Sources for Early Bronze Age Ceramics from Bab edh-Dhra' and Numeira, Jordan', Journal of Field Archaeology 13 (1986) 297--305.

Andrew Jamieson. Catalogue of the Ceramic Artifacts in the Collection of the Department of Middle Eastern Studies. Middle Eastern Studies 4 Thesis, University of Melbourne, 1988.

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