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.”
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.
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:
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.
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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