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ECU prof assists team on Biblical trail

(Oct. 7, 1995)   —   He’s no archaeologist, but on a research trip to the Middle East and to sites where the Bible’s people lived thousands of years ago, East Carolina University professor Dick Stephenson discovered a powerful archaeological tool¬¬—the imagination.
As a member of a team of mostly biblical archaeologists, Stephenson recently completed his trek across rocky landscapes in Jordan and Israel. Most of the work centered around ten ancient sites on the Kerak Plateau, south of the Jordanian city of Amman.
The research, the start of a five-year project, examines how people of thousands of years ago used their natural resources. Surveys made at the Jordanian sites will decide which one of the sites will be excavated first, starting next summer.
Stephenson, an environmental planner in the ECU Department of Planning, operated the electronic navigation equipment (Global Positioning System) that uses signals from satellites to determine latitude and longitude. He also applied his expertise in water and mineral resources to the project’s research focus.
“I’m not an archaeologist, but I’ve got a good imagination and that fits right in with archaeology,” he said.
For example, at the site of a large, old well and watering trough, he envisioned other ruins as dams that were constructed to hold water during the rainy winter months. When the dams overflowed, he said, the water drained down into the well.
“It was easy to imagine how dams were used by people in ancient times,” he said.
Archaeologists from Carson-Newman College and Johnson Bible College in Tennessee, Cincinnati Bible College, Elon College in Burlington, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky participated in the project. The Jordanian Department of Antiquities, the American Center for Oriental Research and the Albright Institute in Jerusalem were among the sponsors.
Stephenson said the archaeologists chose the Kerak Plateau because it was part of the ancient kingdom of Moab. He said the sites in this region are relatively unknown and undisturbed.
The team collected bags of rocks and pottery sherds for examination in laboratories. They also recovered an altar stone carved from quartz and Stephenson found an alabaster mortise or grinding stone. Alabaster and quartz are rare finds in this area. Stephenson said the artifacts were turned over to the Jordanian Department of Antiquities.
While working on the project, the ECU planner also visited other important archaeological sites where excavations are underway or already completed. He was among the first to see the “Jesus Boat,” a recently preserved vessel that dates back to around 2000 BC. The boat was placed on public display this summer.
In Qumran, he went to the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Two days later, archaeologists there uncovered two additional scrolls.
In Ammon at the Citadel, he visited the famed Temple of Hercules. While exploring the site, which still serves as an amphitheater, he noticed a raised spiral carving on a fallen crown and pointed it out to an archaeologist on the team. The find turned out to be an important carving because it was identical to a carved stone found at another biblical site. Researchers retrieved the stone so that they can study it in a museum laboratory.
Stephenson will return to the region next summer for additional research. He was recently awarded a U.S. Information Agency/Near and Middle East Research and Training Program Post-Doctoral Fellowship by