La Sierra archaeologist gives details on Iron Age temple find

The main sanctuary room with a standing stone and offering table of a 3,000-year-old temple in Jordan. Photo by Dr. Chang-Ho Ji.
The main sanctuary room with a standing stone and offering table of a 3,000-year-old temple in Jordan. Photo by Dr. Chang-Ho Ji.

September 10, 2010
By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) When La Sierra University professor Chang-Ho Ji dug into the red Jordanian soil of Khirbet Ataruz 10 years ago, he didn’t expect to so quickly resolve his quest. But there they were, just a few feet under the soil in the first excavation square--cultic vessel shards, pieces of a bull-motif-decoration storage jar and plenty of evidence that five years of research by the experienced archaeologist-turned-education professor were not in vain.

“The pottery and the nature of the pot shards coming up were not ordinary,” Ji said. “It was very obvious in the first season that we were there in the temple. Where I first put in the shovel it was only six feet away from the main offering table and deity representations. …It was joy. We never expected we could find it that easily and that quickly.”

Intrigued by the inscriptions of Moabite King Mesha on the famous Mesha Stele basalt tablet--an artifact housed in the Louvre in Paris—Ji surveyed and selected Khirbet Ataruz as his archaeological excavation site. He hoped to discover evidence of the temple and society King Mesha had bragged about decimating. In the king’s words, he “cleansed” the city and its residents when he conquered and took many cities from the Israelites in the region, Ji said.

Ji expected to complete the digging and unearthing of objects in three to four years, but the temple proved to be much larger than anyone anticipated. Ten years and five excavation seasons later Jordan’s Department of Antiquities made the official announcement that the joint La Sierra-antiquities department digs had unearthed a 3,000-year-old Moabite temple and more than 300 artifacts, the largest such structure in the Levant and a major historical find that provides rich insight into the region’s Iron Age. News media around the world have published the story.

“It’s much bigger than anyone ever, ever expected,” Ji said. “Even exceeding the famous ones in Israel.” Ji’s work in Jordan has been underwritten the past 10 years by grants from Versacare Inc., a nonprofit foundation in Corona, Calif.  Ji gave academic presentations on his early discoveries but held off on publishing his work. He’ll finally publish his findings this fall. “I initially thought the temple was one room,” he said. The temple, however, has turned out to be comprised of four, long, rectangular parallel rooms and includes at least six altars and two high places where animal sacrifices occurred.

About 50 percent of the ancient temple artifacts were found during the last dig in August and unearthed from the temple courtyard. Another 30 percent to 40 percent of the artifacts came from the main sanctuary room during fieldwork that took place between 2000 and 2004. Ji expects to continue excavations on the large courtyard. “I don’t know what’s still to be found, but the courtyard is big and it will take time to understand completely,” he said.

  • Last update on  October 03, 2010