March 25, 2017

Adventist School Involved in Archaeological Project with Biblical Implications

Darla Tucker, La Sierra University

A Seventh-day Adventist school archaeology center will be directly involved in the development of a long-planned, state-of-the-art museum in an ancient town with biblical significance. Douglas Clark, director of the Center for Near Eastern Archaeology in La Sierra University, an Adventist-operated school in Riverside, California, United States, recently signed on a grant that will launch the project in the Jordanian town of Madaba.

Clark will lead a multi-national team of archaeologists and antiquities officials from the United States, Italy, and Jordan to further preserve Jordan’s rich, cultural past with the creation of the Madaba Regional Archaeological Museum and at the Madaba Archaeological Park West. The museum will showcase the region’s monuments dating from all time periods, especially the Roman-Ottoman periods between the 2nd and 19th centuries.

The museum will also house exhibits from numerous excavations in the broader region, including those headed by La Sierra University. At least 13 dig sites where La Sierra archaeologists have worked for decades have unearthed tens of thousands of artifacts and remains dating through the Iron Age. These artifacts have been stored in an aging museum far removed from the center of town.

Ruins of Ottoman houses in Madaba, Jordan, which will be cleaned and readied for the Madaba Regional Archaeological Museum. [Photo by Douglas Clark]

The $117,232 grant is provided via the Sustainable Cultural Heritage Through Engagement of Local Communities Project (SCHEP), a program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The SCHEP grant will cover costs for activities taking place between January 2017 and March 2018, including clearing and cleaning a series of old Ottoman houses, removing trees and foliage from the museum site, creating and maintaining a collections database, designing a website and logo, hiring and training staff, and finalizing architectural plans.

“The Ottoman houses will form the ground floor of the new museum, which will be built on pillars above these remains,” said Clark. “The upper story will house remains from the earlier periods in the Madaba region.” These will include some artifacts from La Sierra’s seasonal excavation at ‘Umayri this past summer, which Clark directed.

The new museum project also represents an opportunity for La Sierra students and recent graduates who this May will help complete the clearing of the Ottoman houses and prepare the site for professional restorers and architects.

The area is well known to Clark and his team. Clark, who holds a degree in Hebrew Bible and Old Testament studies from Vanderbilt University, has been involved in archaeological excavations in Jordan since 1973 when he began as a volunteer at Tall Hisban. In 1984, he joined La Sierra archaeologist Larry Geraty at the Tall al-‘Umayri site.

Along the years, Clark has met several times with archaeologists, artists and scholars, including representatives from Jordan’s Department of Archaeology and Ministry of Tourism, to hash out ways of better preserving the nation’s extensive history and rich cultural heritage.

The Madaba region is rich in biblical history. “Madaba is mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament, beginning with the entry of Israel into the region following the Exodus,” said Clark. “Sometimes it is listed as part of Moabite territory and sometimes as Ammonite.”

Clark explained that it was a rich agricultural area, and along the centuries, many tried to establish there. “Everyone wanted a piece of this economically rich pie,” he said. He also explained that the city is often mentioned in conjunction with Heshbon (Hisban), and shows up several times in history and prophetic books in the Old Testament.

Clark said that biblical archaeology contributes to the recreation of biblical times and culture. “[Biblical archaeology] informs our reading of the Bible,” he said. “It also provides an essential component of Bible study, if we want to understand and appreciate the Bible in its original context.”