Tel Achzib in Arkansas Is Fake—And Everybody Knows It!

Learn about Harding University’s Biblical archaeology field school

Those searching for Biblical archaeology field schools would not think to look in Arkansas. And rightly so! Biblical archaeology field schools typically are located at sites in the Biblical world.

Yet Tel Achzib—with its Biblical archaeology field school—is situated in Searcy, Arkansas.

Dale W. Manor unravels this mystery in his article “The Legend of Tel Achzib, Arkansas,” published in the January/February 2019 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. Tel Achzib is a fake archaeological site created by Manor and other professors at Harding University in Arkansas. In fact, in Hebrew, Tel Achzib means “ruin of deception.”

tel-achzib-arkansas

Tel Achzib in Arkansas. Professors at Harding University created Tel Achzib as a Biblical archaeology lab in the middle of Arkansas. Similar to archaeology field schools in the Near East, it trains students in archaeological method. This photo shows Tel Achzib’s Middle Bronze Age layer—after its construction but before its burial. Photo: Courtesy of Dale W. Manor.

The site—in the middle of Arkansas—serves as a teaching tool for archaeological method. Students dig at Tel Achzib to fulfill the lab component for Manor’s archaeology class at Harding University. For those who have participated in archaeology field schools, it should come as no surprise that digging at Tel Achzib is usually students’ favorite part of the course.

Interested in the latest archaeological technology? Researchers at the UCSD’s Calit2 laboratory released the free BAS eBook Cyber-Archaeology in the Holy Land — The Future of the Past, featuring the latest research on GPS, Light Detection and Ranging Laser Scanning, unmanned aerial drones, 3D artifact scans, CAVE visualization environments and much more.

Creating a fake Biblical archaeology site was no easy feat! Manor details the process in his article. He and his team modeled each component of their fake site after real archaeological features at Near Eastern sites, but they recreated these aspects with modern materials.

Tel Achzib has four layers:

The lowest one (Level 4) provides laboratory experiences with the Middle Bronze Age (i.e., the times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; c. 2000–1550 B.C.E.). Level 3 reflects the Iron Age I (i.e., the period of the Judges; c. 1200–1000 B.C.E.). Level 2 replicates aspects of the Iron Age II (specifically, the eighth-century B.C.E. Divided Monarchy), and the top Level 1 is a modern campsite.

They buried each level with dirt to simulate the strata of ancient sites.

Instead of the ubiquitous pottery found at Near Eastern sites, Tel Achzib is seeded with old recording devices, which show stylistic and material changes over time. Each type of record represents a specific time period: 78 rpm records stand for the Middle Bronze Age; 45 rpm records for the Iron Age I; 33 1/3 rpm (“LPs”) for the Iron Age II; and 8-track tapes for the modern campsite:

RECORD TYPOLOGY. Shown are the relative sizes of the recording devices of Tel Achzib’s chronological sequence reflecting from left to right the “oldest” to the “latest.” Photo: Courtesy of Dale W. Manor.

Tel Achzib is the good kind of “fake archaeology.” It never claims to be anything more than a teaching tool. And while the site itself is fake, the instruction in archaeological method at Tel Achzib is very real—and similar to that taught at other archaeology field schools. Especially for students unable to travel to the Middle East, digging at Tel Achzib is a great opportunity.

tel-achzib-burial

Fake Burial, Real Archaeology. Dale Manor of Harding University in Arkansas buries a plastic skeleton at Tel Achzib. This burial dates to the site’s Middle Bronze Age layer. Photo: Courtesy of Dale W. Manor.

While being a fake site, Tel Achzib is a real Biblical archaeology lab.

Learn more about Tel Achzib, the fake Biblical archaeology site in the middle of Arkansas, in Dale W. Manor’s article “The Legend of Tel Achzib, Arkansas,” published in the January/February 2019 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Subscribers: Read the full article “The Legend of Tel Achzib, Arkansas” by Dale W. Manor in the January/February 2019 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Read more about experimental archaeology in Bible History Daily:

Biblical Bread: Baking Like the Ancient Israelites by Cynthia Shafer-Elliott

How to Make a Mudbrick: Get a Step by Step Look at the Process

BAR Test Kitchen: Eat Like the Ancients
 


 

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3 Responses

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  • MR says

    What a wonderful idea something like this exists for young folks who don’t have the wherewithal to travel long distances for the purpose of gaining experience. Not everyone has deep-pocket parents to provide funding for archeological field work in exotic locales like Israel. Kudos to D. Manor et al at Harding Univ.

  • JAllan says

    Let’s hope the archeologists of today leave enough indications of the nature of the lab to make sure that FUTURE archeologists don’t confuse it with the site of an actual Israelite colony in the New World, a la Book of Mormon!

  • Helen says

    Brilliant idea!

    The military does “live” simulations like to prepare men and women to start recognizing the good guys fm the bad guys and how to handle themselves in the “real” world.

    “Body farms” do the same for forensic scientists.

    A live lab is the key to pulling it all together before going to the field for real.


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