Meridian readers have helped to sponsor scholars and researchers who have gone to Khor Kharfot, the best candidate for Nephi’s Bountiful to examine its unique characteristics and assess the archaeology to discover who may have once lived here. A team of archaeologists and botanists returned this weekend from our second round of study there. To see the articles about the first expedition in April 2014, click here.
Writing from Salalah, Oman
Yesterday, my last afternoon here in Oman, I took a short break from packing tents and other equipment and sat alongside the beach. The sun shone brightly as always and families played on the sand. Coconut palms arched over the road and the permanent line of huge container ships queuing to enter Salalah’s port stretched along the horizon. The last of the botanical team had flown out the night before. It was a time to reflect about what had been accomplished over the previous week.
What has been done by two teams this year could have, indeed should have, been done twenty years ago. Latter-day Saints have known of Khor Kharfot and its many unique characteristics since 1988. In 1993, with funding support from BYU and FARMS, I led the first expedition teams to the site. Since then, however, very little has been done. What was missing was any institutional committment to bringing this part of our keystone scriptures to life. And without that funding, little happened. I and colleagues continued exploring and probing, but we lacked the resources to involve the professionals – primarily geologists, archaeologists, botanists – needed to understand such a rich and complex site.
A New Beginning
I want to take you back a year when what now seems like a miracle took place. While in Oman with a group of LDS tourists following Lehi’s trail, I made a comment to the group about what so badly needed to be done at this special place. Several worrying developments now placed Kharfot under threat. A degree of weary frustration and resignation was probably evident in my voice. To my complete surprise, since this was not my first tour group to have Scot and Maurine Proctor as guest speakers, Scot and Maurine suddenly both spoke up to offer a solution: they felt that many readers of Meridian Magazine would love to help make such a thing happen!
Their enthusiasm was contagious. The entire group were immediately very vocal about offering their support. In particular, a lawyer from Houston, Clyde Parker and his wife Karen, and an MD from Atlanta, Mark Hamilton and his wife Lori, offered not just moral support but the seed-money needed to kick things off. Later that day back at our hotel we talked about the idea. They became the nucleus of an independent non-profit organization to sponsor what needs to be done at Khor Kharfot. Accordingly, the Khor Kharfot Foundation was formed late in 2013:
It is very important to note that while its founders are believing Latter-day Saints, the Foundation does not exist to prove anything. At most, physical evidences can establish plausibility but that is all. “Proof” of the Book of Mormon still comes, of course, only in the way that Moroni described. Rather, the foundation exists to investigate the history of this place, to document it while it remains pristine and to help preserve it into the future. Kharfot is the last remnant of the timber forests that once covered Arabia millennia ago. Turtles nest on its beach. It is also home to the Arabian Leopard, a species on the literal brink of extinction. Indeed, properly understood, Khor Kharfot is such a unique environment that it is worth studying in its own right.
First Fieldwork Completed in April-May, 2014
The Foundation got off to a great start in late April when its first project took place at Khor Kharfot. Three highly trained archaeologists from Europe and the US and a geologist from Pakistan got to work. Their data will help us understand when people have lived at Kharfot. Currently the place is uninhabited, but it has hundreds of different ruins, some of them quite enigmatic. They were assisted by a multinational support crew who also pursued various projects, including locating new iron ore deposits and setting up motion-activated camera traps. The effort involved two Oman universities and was a huge success. It provides a solid basis for what will follow. You can see a summary of the April project and images on the website above under “News.”
The Second Fieldwork in October, 2014
This last week nine highly trained botanists and wildlife specialists, mostly from Oman’s national university in Muscat, began documenting the flora and fauna. This will give us a baseline for future studies. Eventually this will allow us to begin exploring questions such as the species that existed here thousands of years ago. For example, did the coconut palm, with all its resources for a coastal community, grow here? What grains were grown and were they native to the area? Which species of wildlife could provide food for humans? What timber species were present long ago?
Two professional archaeologists also came, evaluating the site ahead of future projects that will bring the complex story of human settlement at Kharfot alive.
As I wrote in an article published several years ago in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, we live in the prophesied period when Truth is indeed springing out of the earth. 1 Not the gold plates alone, but the ruins, altars and geographical features that make their contents plausible.
Each of us, no matter our circumstances, has the opportunity to contribute to that process. It is laying the foundation for the coming forth of more light and truth.
- Across Arabia with Lehi and Sariah, in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 15/2 (2006): 8-25, 110-113.