Bab Edh-Dhra῾

BAB EDH-DHRA῾. Figure 1. Aerial view of the site. The view looks south at the tower in the northeast corner of the walled town. (Courtesy R. T. Schaub)

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Early Bronze Age (3300–2000 BCE) site on the plain southeast of the Dead Sea in Jordan (map reference 2006 × 0734). Because of its early time range, its size, and its location, some scholars have identified Bab edh-Dhra῾ with the biblical traditions concerning Sodom, the most prominent town of the Cities of the Plain (Gn. 19:25, 29; Dt. 29:23). Among all of the ancient sites recorded on the southeast Dead Sea plain before the Hellenistic period, Bab edh-Dhra῾ is the largest (the walled town is 12 acres: see figure 1) and has the longest occupational history (1,100 years). In addition to the town area the site includes an open settlement to the south and east and a large cemetery farther to the south. Although the biblical tradition locating the Cities of the Plain can also be interpreted as referring to a northern location (Gn. 13:10–13; Dt. 34:1–3), most of the biblical texts support a southern option (cf. e.g., Gn. 10:19, 14:1–12, 19:24–28; Ez. 16:46).

Early Greek writers (Diodorus and Strabo) vividly described the desolate nature of the region around the Dead Sea, and ever since a succession of historians, geographers, and travelers has noted its ruins, with widely varying degrees of detail. A 1924 survey, led by William Foxwell Albright, M. G. Kyle, and Alexis Mallon, was the first to describe with clarity and date the walled area of Bab edh-Dhra῾, interpreted by Albright as a sanctuary complex. Excavations under the direction of Paul W. Lapp (1965–1967) concentrated on the cemetery but also included some soundings in the area of the walled town. Following a survey In 1973 by Walter E. Rast and R. Thomas Schaub that identified several other EB settlements and cemeteries farther to the south, the Southeast Dead Sea Plain Expedition was formed to explore the relationship between the various towns and cemeteries (Schaub and Rast, 1989). At Bab edh-Dhra῾, theexpedition's interdisciplinary team explored both the town site and cemetery in four field seasons (1975–1981).

Excavations on high peripheral areas of the site and carefully chosen areas of the interior have determined the history of occupation and major activity areas. The earliest occupation within the town is associated with a village dated to EB IB (3150–3000 BCE). Remnants of mud-brick and stone structures above bed gravel and marl and associated with the distinctive line-group pottery of this period were found in all of the lowest areas of the site excavated. Evidence of the thriving EB II–III (3000–2300 BCE) urban culture of Bab edh-Dhra῾ is provided by a massive 7-meter-wide stone wall, built on the site's natural marl ridges; a sanctuary area with a broadroom building; a courtyard with a circular stone altar; and domestic and industrial areas within the walls. The wall and gate area on the site's western edge underwent a major destruction near the end of EB III. Subsequent occupation in limited areas within the walls, including a sanctuary on the northern ridge, and to the south and east reflect a brief return to village life during EB IVA (2300–2200 BCE). The site was subsequently abandoned.

Bab Edh-Dhra῾

BAB EDH-DHRA῾. Figure 2. A 111 North, an EB IA shaft tomb chamber of the Bab edh-Dhra῾ cemetery. The typical placing of skulls in a line is shown to the left of the central disarticulated bone group. (Courtesy R. T. Schaub)

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The use of the large cemetery area to the south basically parallels that of the town site. The area's soft marl and clay were cut into for deep shaft tombs in EB IA (3300–3150 BCE), apparently by seasonal pastoralists. Shafts 2–3 m deep lead to domed chamber tombs, varying in number from one to five, cut horizontally from the bottom of the shaft. The burial pattern in these chambers usually included a line of skulls to the left of a central disarticulated bone pile, surroundedby distinctive pottery groups of bowls, jars, and juglets (see figure 2). The second phase of the cemetery is signaled by the development of round mud-brick funerary buildings used for successive burials in EB IB. During the zenith of the town site (EB II–III), the funerary buildings became rectangular and increasingly larger, with several apparently in use simultaneously. Several of these mud-brick structures show signs of destruction and burning contemporary with the end of the town site. The last tombs excavated in the cemetery, dated to EB IV, were also shaft tombs, but usually stone-lined with single or double chambers, and contained both disarticulated and articulated skeletal material. [See Shaft Tombs; Burial Sites; Grave Goods.]

The cultural remains uncovered at Bab edh-Dhra῾ reflect the full development of ancient Palestine's EB culture. Many items suggest extensive trade with other urban centers, including Mesopotamia and Egypt. Among the more unusual finds are well-preserved textiles; copper and bronze weapons and tools, including some early tin/bronze weapons; slate palettes and combs; an extensive collection of cylinder-seal impressions, along with three cylinder seals; and a wide range of jewelry, including gold items. [See Textiles; Weapons; Seals; Jewelry.] Botanical samples reveal the predominant use of barley and include wheat, grapes, olives, figs, lentils, pistachios, and almonds. [See Cereals; Olives.] Faunal finds include the usually dominant sheep and goat and donkey and cow. [See Sheep and Goats; Cattle and Oxen.] Overall, the finds from the town site and cemetery at Bab edh-Dhra῾ allow for a reconstruction of the basic life and burial patterns of a thriving third-millennium urban culture that was not matched in the region until the Byzantine period, more than two thousand years later.

[See also Southeast Dead Sea Plain.]


  • Howard, David M., Jr. “Sodom and Gomorrah Revisited.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 27 (1984): 385–400. Commentary on all of the pertinent biblical texts concerning the Cities of the Plains, with a discussion of the various theories about their location. The assessment of archaeological evidence needs to be supplemented with the article by Rast (1987a) below.
  • Rast, Walter E. “Bab edh-Dhra῾ and the Origin of the Sodom Saga.” In Archaeology and Biblical Interpretation: Essays in Memory of D. Glenn Rose, edited by Leo G. Perdue et al., pp. 185–201. Atlanta, 1987a. Examines the Sodom tradition, integrating research on its origins with recent archaeological evidence. Excellent bibliography.
  • Rast, Walter E. “Bronze Age Cities along the Dead Sea.” Archaeology 40.1 (1987b): 42–49. Excellent popular summary and discussion of the results of the excavations at Bab edh-Dhra῾, with a comparison with the neighboring town of Numeira.
  • Schaub, R. Thomas, and Walter E. Rast. Bâb edh-Dhrâ῾: Excavations in the Cemetery Directed by Paul W. Lapp, 1965–67. Reports of the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain, Jordan, vol. 1. Winona Lake, Ind., 1989. Final report of Lapp's cemetery excavations, with analytical and synthetic studies of its artifacts and interpretation of its cultural and historical significance. Chapter 1 contains a summary of previous work in the southeast Dead Sea region. Includes a complete bibliography on the Early Bronze Age of the southeast Dead Sea plain.
  • Schaub, R. Thomas. “Bab edh-Dhra῾.” In The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 1, pp. 130–136. Jerusalem and New York, 1993. Detailed, up-to-date summary of the archaeological results for the site and cemetery.

R. Thomas Schaub