Maurine Proctor provided the content and Scot Proctor took the photos for this article.

In the next few days, Meridian will be running a series of articles, photo essays and 21 different short video segments in a series that is one of the most intriguing we’ve run in our nearly 16 years of publishing Meridian. In April 2014, Meridian and The Khor Kharfot Foundation took an international team of three archaeologists and a Cambridge-educated geologist to explore an unforgettable place that is extremely significant for Latter-day Saints—the best candidate for Nephi’s Bountiful in Arabia where he built the ship that carried his family to the New World.

We know you are interested in The Book of Mormon so you will want to read all these articles, study the images and watch all the videos. This will be a fascinating journey together!

[dfads params='groups=2870&limit=1&orderby=random']

Boun_MAP_0001

This expedition entailed a level of investigation on this pristine site in Oman that has never happened before, and we hope is the beginning of a much bigger investigation. In April our archaeologists and geologist assessed and carefully mapped many of the extensive archaeological remains on the site—and this fall we are bringing in a substantial team of botanists to begin to assess the vegetation and ecology of the area. This is all a prelude to obtaining permits to take core samples of vegetation and dig to better understand the archaeology and dating for the site.

As you travel with us in the next few days, you’ll have your mind opened to a world and time quite beyond our own. We hope, too, you might choose to be a part of an important initiative we’ll tell you about. But first, spin the globe far away from home. We want to take you someplace that you have thought about a thousands times in scripture and is many thousands of miles from home.

Bounl_0001 (2)

Extremely Remote Location

On the Arabian Sea, near the border of Oman and Yemen, is a beach, surrounded by mountains, so remote, so utterly obscure that few people in the ancient or modern world have heard of it and certainly not set foot there. Even up to a few years ago it was grueling to get there, with a dirt road that off-road vehicles had to bump over and wind along for miles, eating dust, before coming to a forgotten fishing village several miles to the west of this beach.

Then, with any luck you’d find a fisherman willing to take you by sea as the only way to get in, unless you had a Liahona to lead you from the high desert down rocky mountains, through the wadi and finally to the shore. To this visit you might add the concern—will this boy who catches fish in the neighboring village and only speaks Arabic remember to come back for you? Mostly, he will, but there’s that “maybe” that you’ll be stranded in a place you can’t readily leave.

Bounl_0002

Yet, to all those places Latter-day Saints call sacred, they might add this spot. It is called Khor Kharfot where an ancient river called Wadi Sayq (pronounced wa dee sake) empties into the sea. This forgotten place is the best candidate for Nephi’s Bountiful where he built the ship that we’ve read about so often in our scriptures.

In our next article (including a photo essay) we’ll tell you why this obscure place is not just the best candidate for Nephi’s Bountiful, but probably the only one that fits Nephi’s rather vivid and detail-packed description, but for now, we’re going to take you there.

Nephi’s Bountiful: A Remote Location Prepared by the Lord

Our First Journey to Oman Years Ago

Scot and I first went to Khor Kharfot 22 years ago when we were working on the photography for a major book we were doing on the Book of Mormon called Light from the Dust. You can’t do this kind of photo book without including the place where Nephi built the ship, and it just so happened that an Australian Latter-day Saint named Warren Aston had been systematically searching the shores of the Arabian Sea both in Oman and Yemen looking for the candidate that could match the rather stringent criteria Nephi gives us in the Book of Mormon.

Khor Kharfot

Critics had long assailed the Book of Mormon citing Nephi’s description as one of the obvious embarrassments. As Aston wrote in a Meridian article earlier this year , that such a place could exist in the dry and inhospitable Arabian desert seemed impossible. Arabia is bountiful in sunshine, petroleum, sand, heat, and fresh air,” wrote one critic as recently as 1985, “but certainly not in ‘much fruit and also wild honey,’ nor has it been since Pleistocene times.” The same article went on to claim that there has never been “ample timber” in Arabia for building a ship. Such statements were based on usually-authoritative sources such as the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Encyclopedia of Islam which denied the existence of rivers and forests anywhere in Arabia.

“They were, as it turns out, completely wrong.”

Khor Kharfot

Except for maybe this point. What Nephi described is impossible to find—except in one small place in the Dhofar region of Oman—at Khor Kharfot. As Warren Aston combed the shores of the Arabian Sea for 900 miles and considered various candidates looking for Bountiful, nothing met all the criteria until the day his boat sailed by Khor Kharfot and its green expanses.

Here was something utterly unique in Arabia.Could this be the right place that Nephi describes as his Bountiful? Would it have all the other attributes that Nephi’s Bountiful required as he so carefully lays out in his story?

That would be the beginning of 25 years of Aston’s steady explorations at Khor Kharfot, tracking down Nephi’s criteria to see if they were met, and cultivating scholars and archaeologists who knew the region.

It became a kind of stewardship for him as the LDS discoverer of the place.

Nephi’s Bountiful: Searching for the Best Candidate

Aston wrote a paper for FARMS (the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies in Provo, Utah) on the various candidates he had considered, finally pointing to Khor Kharfot as the best candidate for Bountiful. When Scot and I flew to Salalah, Oman in 1992 and then drove to Rakhyut, the fishing village about 5 miles from the newly-discovered site, looking for a boat and a fisherman who would take us on in to Khor Kharfot, it was Aston’s paper that we had clutched in our hands. We became the next Latter-day Saints into the spot after the Astons.

We marveled at what we saw. Just a few miles behind us was a desert that looked like a moonscape, entirely without vegetation, but here was a forest, with trees large enough to build a ship. We had never seen a more surprising or definitive change in a landscape. From desert to forest in fewer than ten miles.

Bounl_0005

Here were palms and fish in the lagoons, reeds to use to weave baskets, a fresh water source that human habitation demanded. Here was a place filled with archaeological remains, silent witnesses of people who had once lived here. Long, double lines of stones stretched across the beach and to the lagoon. A tower, now crumbling and woven with vegetation, was a mystery. What was its purpose? Who built it? The foundations of walls of homes stood, with toppled rocks around them.

This lost beach once held multiple occupations. Who were these people? When were they here? If this was Nephi’s Bountiful, were these dwellings here when he arrived? Had a group of people occupied this place and then left or did they come much later than Nephi and his family? What did any of this have to do with the story we know so well from the Book of Mormon? When we returned home, Khor Kharfot filled Scot’s dreams for several months every night. It was just so staggering to find a green forest in Arabia, to see a place where Nephi and his family might have lived.

Bounl_0006

Once sometime later, with Warren Aston, we tried to go back, but the ocean hurled stormy waves at us and was impassable, so after traveling all the way from America, we were left only looking at the beach from a high cliff at a distance. It was tantalizing and disappointing. We could not go in that day, precluded by a storm.

An Idea is Born

Then, more years later, last October, something remarkable happened. With Warren, we took a small group of people back to Khor Kharfot. It was more than 21 years since we’d physically been into the site. In all that time, though there had been some archaeologists and other specialists to look over the site briefly, a thorough, long-term, carefully-designed archaeological examination, using multiple disciplines, had not happened. Here we had this jewel of a place, really the only place in Arabia that met Nephi’s criteria for the Bountiful he described, but we were stuck in moving forward in our knowledge because of lack of funding. It had been nobody’s priority except Warren Aston’s. Perhaps we would remain ignorant until another generation’s interest was stirred.

That seemed unfortunate, an opportunity waiting to be seized, but what piqued our interest even further was a new sense of urgency. We had believed that Khor Kharfot would always be there untouched. We thought that sometime now or in the future, someone would probe until they understood the site, giving us important context and answers.

Looking up Wade Sayq at Khor Khafot, a brief glimpse of the lush vegetation.

Now we saw something different. The site was gradually desiccating. Places in the lagoon where we had waded through 21 years earlier, we could walk across today on stony ground. Villages above the wadi are pumping water out for their use.

What’s more, a road had been started in Rakhyut, apparently with plans to cut on through Khor Kharfot. That road seemed stopped for the present, but could we count on the beach and archaeological ruins to remain without a new road cutting through, completely changing the environment? With research in hand would it be possible to save this place?

Another urgency pounded at us. The fishing village, Dhalqut, where we boarded our boats this time was only 9 miles from the border of restive Yemen where al Qaeda is a destabilizing and violent presence. Khor Kharfot is only some 14 miles from Yemen. When we took our team of scholars into the site in April, we knew there was already a State Department traveler’s advisory for this place. With the tumultuous Middle East tensions, could we count on this place being available for research far into the future?

Bounl_000

In addition, Oman, under the enlightened leadership of Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, has been a center of peace in the Middle East, but the Sultan is getting older and wider regional politics are pushing upon the country. His advisors have been sensitive to the environment and other matters like archaeology, but observers fear that those advisors are no longer about and that the push for the fast buck—like Dubai has done—might be hard to resist.

Inevitably the coast will suffer with the possibility of numerous beach resorts and the problems they bring with the access to roads and other facilities. The Dhofar region, where Khor Kharfot is located has more to lose than most with its favorable climate (at some seasons), its unspoiled beaches and direct international flights.

In other words, we can’t count that this Arabian oasis of enlightenment in Oman might not give way to other demands. Wouldn’t this green Khor Kharfot be a lovely place for a beach resort? Of course, roads would be required to link it to other places.

Heaven forbid.

It would be a great pity for this untouched coastal environment to be spoiled, but the chances are high that it could be. To this point its environment has been preserved, but its isolation could very quickly be changed by good roads.

This is a critical situation for anyone who cares about understanding the importance and historical significance of a spot that has been untouched for centuries, but for Latter-day Saints it has added significance. This place where Nephi probably built his ship has been left for millennia without major disturbance. How much longer will that last? To all of us who sat there on that beach together, the clock seemed to be ticking.

Thus, our little group visiting the best candidate for Nephi’s Bountiful in October last year resolved to do something about it. With Clyde and Karen Parker in Texas, Mark and Lori Hamilton in Georgia and Warren Aston in Australia, we formed a foundation with two thoughts in mind. 1) Explore the area with experts and begin to form a picture of who lived here, when they lived here and how they lived. What was the significance of the region? This would give us a clear context to better see and understand another group of people—Lehi’s family–who might have dropped in here for three or four years to build a ship and then left again. 2) Add our research on both the archaeology and the environment to the mix for those who will make decisions about the future of Khor Kharfot—roads, water pumping or other projects (like resorts) that could disrupt the environment.

Nephi’s Bountiful: What We Hope to Learn

What This Archaeological Exploration Is NOT

This archaeological exploration is in no way an attempt to prove the Book of Mormon, its characters, nor its particular story of Nephi building the ship. The Book of Mormon stands on its own witness and promises the reader a spiritual testimony.

As Dr. Ric Hauck, one of the archaeologists who came in April, noted:

  • Does our knowledge and appreciation of the ancient streets, walls and buildings in Jerusalem and Bethlehem actually prove the validity of the New Testament messages about the Savior?

“No, this knowledge does not prove any such thing! This is because should the walls, buildings and streets of all of Israel suddenly vanish—for instance in a nuclear explosion—such an event would have no effect on the validity and pertinence and practicality of Christ’s and his apostles’ teachings in that land.

  • “Now let me rephrase the question in order to understand the other half of this issue: Does our knowledge and appreciation of the ancient streets, walls and buildings in Jerusalem and Bethlehem actually help us understand and relate to the Savior’s teachings, travels, mission and death as described in the New Testament?

“Yes, of course. The physical correlation of present-day with ancient scriptural locations is an important element in our appreciating and understanding the events described in the Bible. Should we lose that access because of the tragic loss of Israel, such an event would greatly affect our personal capacity to relate with the events contained in the scriptures.”

What we hope to obtain in this archaeological search is an appreciation and understanding of Nephi’s building of the ship by understanding the area, the region, and the context of the event.

Nor do we suggest that in exploring this site that evidences of Nephi’s family would remain. Is it possible? Yes. But in no way is it probable. Consider Nephi’s family would have come to this place for three or four years with the express purpose of building a ship and then left again. With this aim, they probably would not leave a structure or remnant of themselves. Even if they had, it is doubtful that it would remain after twenty-six hundred years of this area being pounded by fierce weather every year during monsoon season.

What This Archaeological Exploration IS

The archaeological research investigation for Khor Kharfot is a scholarly effort, whose methods, research and design will be on par with the finest archaeological research anywhere. While Latter-day Saints will gain exceptional information about the context of a scriptural event we hold dear, the world will benefit by filling in the knowledge of a small corner of Arabia, which any archaeologist or university would find credible and reliable.

Two of the archaeologists we brought in for April’s research trip—Dr. Carl Phillips (an Englishman living in France) and Dr. Michele Degli-Esposti (from Italy)–presented a paper on their initial findings at Khor Kharfot in July 2014 at the annual Seminar for Arabian Studies in London. This event is the foremost scholarly forum for new research in the Arabian Peninsula before the arrival of Islam. Their paper will be published in the Proceedings before the 2015 Seminar and reports their preliminary findings from the April 2014 expedition.

How Will This be Funded?

Click here to help by giving a generous donation now.

After clicking that link, click the “Donate Now” button in the upper right corner of the page.

The initial funding for this important work was paid for by the private donations of the members of The Khor Kharfot Foundation and their friends and family.

Once we had been to this best candidate for Nephi’s Bountiful we felt an urgency to do this work while it was still available to be done.

Bounl_0013

Research and Support Team April/May 2014

Now we need your help.  Will you donate to this labor of love and professional research we do for the Book of Mormon? We have a team of botanists going back in October, but we also need to take in two more archaeologists to continue the work—and frankly we just can’t without your help.

Click here to Donate Now

After clicking that link, click the “Donate Now” button in the upper right corner of the page.

Beyond this fall, we will be implementing a sophisticated research design that will look at the various occupations of the site, consider specific archaeology, take core samples to understand what vegetation was growing there throughout the ages (including in 600 BC) and much more. It will be an effort that will span many months, and perhaps years.  

We have taken our private funds as far as they can go, and now we need to give a larger circle the opportunity to join us as true Book of Mormon explorers. That’s you. None of the donated money will go to overhead or administration. Every single dollar goes directly to on-site research.  

Won’t you be a part of this rare opportunity? Dare we call it once-in-a-lifetime to further Book of Mormon archaeology in the most likely spot to find it on the earth? Arabia’s heat and aridity, its sunshine and sands give way to this little patch of forest right on the sea. Please be a part.

Click on this donate button and join us for the adventure of a lifetime.

Please Donate Now by Clicking HERE 

After clicking that link, click the “Donate Now” button in the upper right corner of the page.