The experience of an LDS archaeologist at Khor Kharfot, the best viable candidate for Nephi’s Bountiful.
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On my initial visit in April of 2014, I was intrigued by Kharfot’s loneliness, its diverse environment and its complexity of archaeological remnants. But that was all—I was simply intrigued—at first.
That “intrigued” attitude drastically changed late in the afternoon of May 2, 2014, our final day at Kharfot. I became more than intrigued with the place when Warren Aston, the expedition leader, handed me a scaled drawing of a peculiar site in that locality. I had just returned to camp from my final recon and coming out of the scorching 105 plus degree heat, dumped my field gear into the shade of a canopy suspended from a tree by ropes. I settled into a vacant seat completely wiped out. I felt every bit and more of my longevity. I was going home the next morning and all I wanted to do was rest and eventually, with effort, participate in the on-going group discussion.
Among those welcoming me into the shade were Maurine and Scot Proctor, Warren Aston and Mark Hamilton, all of whom were members of the original Khor Kharfot Foundation board overseeing that particular expedition. I settled in wanting only to scarf up the hot MREs that would be prepared later over the campfire and finally crawl into my netted hammock for the night. I wasn’t even convinced that I had the energy needed to venture to the nearby spring and wash away the sweat and dust.
Warren—the original explorer and discoverer of Khor Kharfot as the potential Arabian land of Bountiful site—interrupted my guzzling down the remaining hot water in my canteens. Without fanfare he handed me a pencil drawing of the architectural footprint of a particular site at Khorfot. I had heard about this drawing and had pestered him to see it. Now, with my final recon finished on the final afternoon of the expedition, he was finally bringing it out of his briefcase.
Warren’s drawing, [see the illustration provided below] was of a location in Kharfot situated high on the cliffs overlooking the Arabian Sea. The sketch was scaled in feet and had been done some years before by Warren’s son, Chad Aston, during one of their many visits to Wadi Sayq and Khor Kharfot. I immediately recognized the location. I had trekked across it several times during my short sojourn in Wadi Sayq; however, during those brief moments on-site I had not recognized the place for what it was.
Something New had Happened
With the drawing in hand I was thunder-struck with its architectural layout. The drawing’s architecture on three sides resembled the ancient outer sanctuaries that existed both in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and Moses’ Tabernacle in the Wilderness. I immediately recognized these similarities because during the 1980’s I had extensively studied and created models of both Solomon’s Temple and Moses’ Tabernacle. My earlier research on these subjects had drawn extensively from the ancient structures and reading archaeological reports of studies conducted on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
After Warren had introduced the document he went off to do his things. But I just sat there staring at the drawing and trying to pull together my remaining strength for the arduous task which lay ahead.
Something new had just happened! Whereas, previous to seeing the sketch, Khor Kharfot for me was intriguing, suddenly now its pertinence had accelerated into a whole different realm of intellectual and possibly spiritual awareness. Kharfot had transitioned from being a possible Bountiful location to becoming a probable location of the Arabian land of Bountiful as described by Nephi in the Book of Mormon. In that brief instant, quite to the unawareness of all the others surrounding me in their shaded, dilapidated camp chairs, Khor Kharfot had just vaulted into a whole new magnitude of interest.
I retied my boots, refilled two canteens from the spring, struggled back into field gear, grabbed my hat and waved goodbye to everyone luxuriating in the shade. Mark Hamilton immediately offered to join me—not that he wanted to go out again into the searing heat—but perhaps because he sensed something new had just happened.
I must remark at this point, that of all the people seated under that canopy, Mark was the least able to venture out with me. He had spent countless sleepless nights scratching infections caused by the Biting Midgleys, tiny gnats that attacked all mortals sleeping in hammocks and tents beneath the canyon’s folage. I had my itching sores, the Proctors too, but Mark had sustained particularly bad reactions to these tiny marauders. He was in pain just sitting still in the shade much less in trekking into the sweltering bush.
Mark and I trudged off through the bush and finally arrived at the site shown on Warren’s sketch. I started looking the place over once again and with the help of the Aston Drawing I saw what I had missed earlier: Yes, the directions shown in the drawing are correct—the structure is oriented to the east just as the sacred structures had been. And it was overlooking the Arabian Sea. Yes, the collapsed walls forming the structure’s northern and southern peripheries are correct. Yes, the two large boulders situated on the northern and southern walls are positioned in the Temple’s altar locations where the seven lamps were lit on the south side of the room, and the showbread cakes were placed on the north side of the room.
An Ancient Structure Erected through Inspiration
But there was more that expanded the significance of that remote place. Warren’s drawing and the actual location both contained an enclosure within the eastern end of the edifice which would apparently have served as the Women’s Courtyard. In addition we studied a separate entry within the southeastern portion of the structure apparently the place where the priesthood cleansing ritual would have been performed prior to anyone’s entering the main structure.
Viewing all of this I immediately realized that we were viewing a structure that had been erected anciently through inspiration. Only a prophet of Jehovah, like Lehi or Nephi, would have known how to put all these architectural associations together in order to create the harmony requisite for a sanctuary or synagogue where weekly worship services could be conducted according to Hebrew traditions. Your usual ancient Israelites visiting Khor Kharfot for sea-trade purposes would not have had the knowledge to create such a structure exhibiting the accurate architectural proportions and correlations that exist in the ancient Kharfot structure. Truly, there was a prophet involved here in creating this layout.
Turning to the west while standing within the ancient edifice we studied the imposing vertical limestone wall that forms the structure’s western periphery. This impressive rock wall was something very different than anything I had encountered in my earlier research and I could not immediately understand its significance, if this place indeed were the remnant of an ancient Israelite Sanctuary.
The western wall in Solomon’s Sanctuary would have been where the 2nd veil would have hung covering the doorway into the Holy of Holies. But here, at Khor Kharfot, in place of a tapestry covering a doorway we were actually facing a huge, flat, vertical rock wall that ascended perhaps 20 feet above the floor below. I looked at it more closely and discovered that rock wall was actually just one side of an enormous boulder, which, many eons ago, rolled down from the cliffs above and lodged in this place.
As we studied the face of this limestone monument I happened to observe an unusual concretion that had developed on its surface quite high up, just below the top of the boulder. As I examined the concretion I discovered that it consisted of layer upon layer of calcium carbonate which had been gradually accrued on the monument’s eastern face in much the same way that stalactites are formed on the roof of a cave.
I was electrified when I realized the significance of that innocuous deposit: It was the result of water periodically issuing out of the rock’s face. For thousands of years that limestone boulder has trapped and retained water accrued during the annual storms that sweep over this mountainous shoreline, monsoons coming in from the Indian Ocean. In addition moisture apparently accumulated within the body of this rock resulting from periods of dense fog that blanket this small portion of the Arabian coastline, fogs that are the source of its luxuriant vegetation.
What is the Significance?
What one naturally wonders at a time like that, is the significance of this concretion on the rock’s face and the pertinence of the strange fact that water flows down the face of this enormous rock wall—a wall that because of its surrounding architecture symbolically represents the Temple’s 2nd veil through which one must pass in order to enter the holiest place of all.
As Mark and I pondered that question, while studying this western wall, a series of complementary scriptural concepts passed through my mind bringing understanding to this strange matter.
I remembered Nephi’s statements how he continually likened his extended family’s passage through the Arabian wilderness with the wanderings of the Children of Israel through their own wilderness after their dramatic exit from Egypt. And Nephi makes these comparisons relative to his family’s eight year sojourn in Arabia and especially in context with their arrival and dwelling on the Arabian coast in the land of Bountiful as recorded in 1 Nephi, Chapter 17.
I remembered one of the primary witnesses that Jehovah gave the Children of Israel through the actions of their prophet Moses: The Lord split apart the Rock of Horeb whereby water came forth to give life to that restless, thirsty and rebellious mob. What a marvelous symbol and witness this Khor Kharfot rock and its flowing water must have been to Lehi’s family after their intense and prolonged trials in the wilderness!
Indeed, the beauty, safety and abundance of that Wadi Sayq inlet coupled with its symbolic rock that released flowing water had to have been powerful motivating factors for Nephi’s extended and very tired family. No wonder they wanted to end their tedious journey and remain at that place Bountiful. It is also easy to understand the disappointment, anger and resentment family members evidenced when Nephi announced they weren’t going to settle down there—that lush green place was not their ultimate promised land—but rather they had to build a boat and take on the terrors of that vast mysterious sea which lay before them.
Getting back to the rock face and its proclivity to periodically ooze water, both Testaments give us a variety of references to holy water associated with or issuing out of the altars within the temple of God. Those symbolic waters bring healing not only to the earth but to mankind as well (cf., Ezekiel 47:1-2; Zechariah 14:8; Revelation 22:1).
A second scriptural concept is the image of the Savior described by the prophet Enoch. When in the company of the Messiah—or the Rock of Heaven as described in those very scriptures—Enoch relates seeing Jehovah weep over mankind (cf., Moses 7:28-41, 53-62). One wonders how many tears the Messiah—that Rock of Heaven—shed over the Children of Israel during their wanderings, how many He shed over Lehi and his family during their wanderings and how many He has shed over us during our wanderings.
Lastly we have the testimony of Paul concerning Jesus Christ, as recorded in Hebrews. In Hebrews 9:3 Paul begins by referring to the 2nd veil of the temple—that place in the Khor Kharfot western wall occupied by that huge weeping boulder—and gives us the key to relate that place of entrance into the holiest place of all with the actual being of Christ or Jehovah.
In these two chapters through 10:19-22 Paul elaborates on Christ’s atonement and mankind’s need to pass through His blood and His flesh in order to regain His presence. This reference is associated in Paul’s thinking with our needing to partake and pass through that symbolic 2nd veil—whether the Sanctuary Rock or the temple/tabernacle veil—in order to enter finally into the rest and presence of God.
This much I can note at this time, nearly two years after that initial discovery of the Sanctuary at Kharfot: My understanding of our undertaking at Khor Kharfot has been a progression extending from hope, through faith, until now. I began with hope as I sat in the shade at our camp considering Warren’s drawing of the edifice. My faith in the ultimate meaning of that drawing was nurtured when Mark and I stood under the shadow of the monolith and observed how the structure’s collapsed walls and related rooms conformed to an ancient Israelite sacred structure. Finally my faith has been sustained by the meaning and symbolism of the water periodically flowing from that dense weathered surface for so many millennia.
Since that day in May 2014, my research has assembled additional evidences indicating that the Khor Kharfot edifice was prepared as a sacred sanctuary sometime after 1000 B.C., using exact measurements employed during the development of Solomon’s Temple and probably also used during the construction of Moses’ Tabernacle and perhaps even earlier.
Hopefully our future work at Khor Kharfot, beginning in this month, February 2016, will uncover additional evidences of its occupation by the people of Lehi; perhaps not. If not, we certainly have enough evidence on hand right now to establish a viable case for this location being the site of Nephi’s land of Bountiful on the shore of the Arabian Sea.
Most of the archaeology that I practice is just that: archaeology. It comes with a certain feeling of edification associated with both physical and intellectual fulfillment. It is something that I love doing and hopefully, from time to time, I get it right. Part of this enjoyment comes from my belief that what I am doing is pertinent to understanding and defining the past.
There are certain other instances when the archaeology I practice seems to become more highly charged, more pertinent than otherwise. My work at Khor Kharfot in southeastern Arabia is an excellent example of this more elevated experience. My work at two other archaeological sites, both located in Mesoamerica, has also come with this greater elevation of intellectual intensity. These sites include Izapa in southeastern Mexico and Cambote in western Guatemala.
All three sites have a common thread: They are not only associated with places stated in the Book of Mormon, but I have come to know that they are sacred, holy places associated with the Lord’s ancient ordinances of salvation. On the one hand they are existing monuments to the veracity of the Book of Mormon; on the other hand they exist as temple types in our day to witness the veracity of the Lord’s ongoing Atonement for mankind. I have no doubt these three places, Kharfot, Izapa and Cambote, have been preserved through thousands of years in order to stand as ensigns to the world of the authenticity of the great works and all encompassing love of the Savior for all his past, present and future children.
I understand this because over the years that I have been doing this work as an archaeologist I have gradually learned the difference between doing archaeology and processing understanding of a higher magnitude of order. In both cases we look, we move dirt, we expose the unknown, we bring perception to the discovery and finally we document the results for the world’s consideration.
At Khor Kharfot, I believe we are doing that work of a higher order. I am looking forward to the coming months and years when we shall know much more about that remote and splendid place.