When La Sierra University’s Center for Near Eastern Archaeology opened on July 1, 2012, it was the realization of long-held dreams to merge scattered offices and classrooms into a space dedicated to biblical archaeology, and to safely house more than 20,000 artifacts from the Middle East.
The Center for Near Eastern Archaeology (CNEA) was formally established on the campus in Riverside, California, United States, when the university’s archaeology classes and research activities moved into a renovated compound that formerly housed a childhood development center. Under its new identity as CNEA, the center formally celebrated its establishment a few months after the opening with a Mediterranean banquet in November 2012. It was a centerpiece event of that year’s Archaeology Discovery Weekend, an annual family-oriented public program begun in 2009, prior to CNEA’s formation, featuring prominent scholars and insights into the mysteries of the ancient Middle East.
In 2022, CNEA celebrates its 10th anniversary with special events, including the upcoming annual Archaeology Discover Weekend to be held November 12 and 13. Organized by archaeology faculty before CNEA’s inception, this year’s discovery weekend is themed “The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt: Glory, Grit, and Grandeur,” and will feature a series of lectures by prominent scholars and archaeologists including a presentation on the iconic King Tutankhamen, commonly known as King Tut. The discovery 100 years ago by Howard Carter of King Tut’s untouched, treasure-filled tomb and solid gold coffin brought world renown to the ancient pharaoh and the mysteries surrounding his life and death.
The CNEA’s 10th anniversary falls during the university’s centennial year. La Sierra University was founded in the fall of 1922, the same year Carter was in Egypt uncovering one of the greatest finds in archaeological history.
“While 10 years is not a lot of time archaeologically speaking, this first decade of CNEA’s history has been remarkable for a number of reasons and at several levels,” archaeologist and CNEA director Doug Clark said. “One might think of accomplishments large and small, local, national, and international growing from the contributions of its faculty, staff, students, volunteers and co-sponsors, as recorded in nearly 10 years of La Sierra Digs newsletters. But it’s more than that. The global reach of CNEA is due in large part to the engagement of people around the world seeking to further the work of preserving cultural heritage and raising awareness of the value of archaeology for everyone.”
CNEA held a first celebration of its milestone 10th anniversary in April during the university’s Homecoming weekend. Events took place on campus in a return to in-person events after two years of virtual operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hybrid anniversary event provided an overview of the center’s progress over the past 10 years in education, research, and outreach, and the ongoing work of its archaeologists, who have been excavating in Jordan for decades. Upwards of 75 attendees gathered in CNEA’s lab on April 30, surrounded by boxes and displays of artifacts, including 3,000-year-old pottery. Another 20 people joined via Zoom video conferencing and livestream. CNEA director Clark hosted the event, with presentations and insights by associate directors and archaeologists Larry Geraty, Kent Bramlett, Friedbert Ninow, Chang Ho-Ji, and curatorial assistant Dawn Acevedo.
Geraty provided a historical overview of the work of La Sierra’s archaeologists and its volunteers and students in Jordan and Israel, as well as collaborations with other universities over the past 50 years of excavations and research, beginning with early programs in the 1970s. “With the arrival of Geraty, Clark, and Bramlett to La Sierra in the 1990s and 2000s, and continuing right on into the present, we brought with us the planning and the direction of the Madaba Plains in Jordan,” he said, describing a region involving three main dig sites — Tall Hisban, Tall al’Umayri, and Tall Jalul.
Clark introduced archaeologists’ more recent and ongoing work during the 2000s, including work at the ‘Umayri site initiated by Geraty and later directed by Clark. Major finds there have included an ancient four-room house and a Bronze Age temple. Clark also gave an overview of Ji’s excavation work in Khirbat Ataruz, which in 2000 uncovered a Moabite temple complex tied to Old Testament biblical accounts and in 2012 produced a cylinder bearing the earliest known Moabite inscription. He also provided a window into Ninow’s work at Khirbat al-Balu’a and excavation expansions there by Bramlett and other CNEA staff and specialists that now include research of an ancient city wall, a house, and a qasr, or Middle Eastern castle.
Bramlett and Ji provided additional insights into key finds and future plans for Ataruz and Balu’a.
Clark also provided updates and views of 3D modeling of the Madaba Regional Archaeological Museum under development in downtown Madaba, Jordan. As a representative of CNEA, Clark is co-directing the internationally-funded project along with experts from Italy and Jordan.
The CNEA operates under the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, which is overseen by Ninow. The divinity school was inaugurated under its present name in 2013 in honor of Seventh-day Adventist pioneering radio evangelist H. M. S. Richards, whose children attended La Sierra. Before the opening of CNEA, the university’s archaeological program and activities took place under the umbrella of the former School of Religion and was carried out in various spaces around Palmer Hall and elsewhere on campus.
At the time of the center’s opening in 2012, Geraty, a former religious studies professor and university president, now president emeritus, and noted archaeologist of Jordan excavations, cited the dire need for a central location that could adequately house the program.
“For many years, La Sierra University has been involved in field archaeology in both Jordan and Israel, where we have developed an enviable reputation. Faculty members have guided this work from their offices, homes, and any space they could acquire,” he said in 2012. “What a boon it will be to have our offices, laboratories, storage space, library, and some exhibit space in one building.”