During the month of February a team of archaeologists, scholars and divers, headed by Dr. F. Richard Hauck, will be at Nephi’s Bountiful on a dig to find answers to some critical questions about conditions there in 600 BC. Representing Meridian, the Proctors will be there as well to give our readers day-by-day coverage of this spiritual and archaeological adventure. Come with us to the edge of the Arabian Peninsula and the edge of our ancient scriptural history.
The Khor Kharfot Foundation, headed by Clyde and Karen Parker, Mark and Lori Hamilton and the Proctors, sent teams of archaeologists, botanists and scholars twice in 2013 and again last year to do reconnaissance and analyze the site. Now the work expands. Private donations are needed to continue to fund this effort in Oman. To become a donor, please click here and then hit the Donate Now button.
It seemed impossible that the government that rules the devoted Muslim country of Oman on the southeastern cap of the Arabian Penninsula would grant permission for an archaeological team, headed by a Latter-day Saint, to dig at the isolated beach called Khor Kharfot which is not just the most, but probably the only viable candidate for Nephi’s Bountiful.
Not only have the Omanis granted permission, they are willing to be our partners, facilitate the work, allow samples to be taken out of the country to be analyzed and more. These are Muslims graciously supporting a very Mormon project—to know everything we can about Nephi’s Bountiful.
How that came to be is the remarkable story we will tell here, but to understand why this is breathtakingly significant requires some context.
In describing Bountiful where he built the ship, Nephi gives us specific details, including that it is a place on the seashore accessible from the high desert, directly east of Nahom, a place of much fruit and honey and a place with significant timber. It must have a supply of fresh water, iron ore to make tools, flint to make fire, a mountain close enough that he can go there to pray often, and cliffs by the seashore since his brothers threaten to throw him in. (See more detailed description here.
The location of Nahom has been discovered in Yemen, a place called by that name long before Lehi trudged that way in 600 B.C. So what directly east of there could possibly fit these many criteria specified or suggested in Nephi’s story?
Frankly, Nephi’s Bountiful just doesn’t fit the dry, barren, treeless expanse of Arabia. His Bountiful would be as distinctive as a diamond in the sand in that landscape. What is tree-covered and verdant in Arabia? Only a few possible candidates—and all of them miss in several ways. Only one place meets every criterion—an isolated beach near the border of Yemen called Khor Kharfot.
Warren Aston discovered this place more than 25 years ago and a small string of Latter-day Saints have found their way to this beach ever since. What was clear is that though it is totally unoccupied now, at least two waves of people have lived in this small area in the past and have left their archaeology behind as mute witnesses that they were here.
A lagoon of fresh water divides the beach and on both sides is a rich network of archaeology. Long, double lines of stones stretch across the beach. Enclosures and the fallen remains of buildings scar the landscape. A large mound that was once some kind of tower stands on the east. An overhang protects ancient graffiti. Walls direct what was once run off from mountain springs. The archaeology at Kharfot is pristine, untouched and unstudied, but it begs to be.
If this is Nephi’s Bountiful, questions leap immediately to mind. How was the vegetation different then? What trees were growing? How about the lagoon which is now stopped by a sand bar from flowing into the sea? Did its water once flow directly into the sea and was, therefore, a perfect place to build a ship?
What was the date that the first settlers came, and then left this place? Did Nephi and Lehi arrive at a place with abandoned dwellings, so that as the Lord had promised, every needful thing was prepared for them, and they only had to occupy this place?
The Most Important Question
The question that matters most of all is almost too tantalizing to ask. Did Nephi and Lehi leave anything behind that can indicate that they were here? At first, the answer would seem to be ‘no.’ They were here perhaps two to four years preparing all things and building this ship, not long enough it seems to have left their mark.
That’s what we all assumed, but when Warren Aston gave Richard Hauck a drawing of the remains of one particular structure on the western side of the Khor, he was thunderstruck. Hauck had extensively studied Solomon’s Temple, the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, and similar structures in Central America, so he recognized immediately what he was looking at. He had eyes to see what no other casual observer could have noticed.
What was drawn was the outline of a sanctuary for worship with an architectural footprint and a layout that correlated directly with Solomon’s Temple. It appears in every way to be the remains of a Hebrew sanctuary. In that trip and the ones to follow to Khor Kharfot, Hauck carefully studied the specific site where this drawing had been made.
He could see from the remains left behind that the structure, which had once been there, employed the sacred concepts in measurement and design that had been built into Solomon’s Temple. In fact, he found 14 correlations that lined up with not only Solomon’s Temple, but two temple sites where he had worked on site in Central America. (Meridian will feature an article tomorrow from Richard Hauck talking in detail about the sanctuary site.)
As an archaeologist, Hauck found himself moving from thinking that Kharfot was a possible site for Nephi’s Bountiful, to believing it to be probable. Who but a prophet would have built a sanctuary for his family’s worship that so specifically incorporated all of the sacred concepts evident in Solomon’s Temple?
What was also intriguing was that, despite the extensive archaeology, at Kharfot that indicated another Muslim population had been at this site some time in the last several hundred years, the sanctuary site was untouched. The sanctuary’s locality is in the most favorable spot at Kharfot, being up on a ridge that catches a continuous ocean breeze that alleviates the heat present everywhere else.
It would have been a likely place for someone else to build, thus obscuring the sanctuary that had been there, but the springs that fed the site had dried up over the centuries, and no one else had chosen to build there—a boon that made the outlines of the sanctuary clear.
Now, the next step to learn more about this sanctuary site and to answer all the other questions was to dig—to do that careful, patient archaeological work that reveals the past to the present—but that required the Omani’s permission.
The Khor Kharfot Foundation members had often talked about what we would do when we got to this juncture. We were not certain that in this devout Muslim country that a project from Mormons about the Book of Mormon would be much appreciated. We were not certain, in fact, that they wouldn’t exclude us altogether from Kharfot moving forward.
Hauck gathered a sophisticated team of archaeologists, none of whom happened to be LDS, but each with specialties that were important for the work, and created an archaeological research design for the site.
The design would answer all of the questions we had about Nephi’s Bountiful as well as much more. It was time to take it to the Omani government to get permission. The archaeological research design stood on its own, without the need to explain our dearest motivation—to learn more about Nephi.
The Plot Thickens
On Nov. 8, 2015, Hauck and archaeologist, Kimball Banks, met in two meetings with Omani officials. In the first were key people to approve the dig, Dr. Said Alsalmi, the Director General for the Advisor’s Office for Cultural Affairs and Hassan Al-Jaberi, the Director of Archaeological Sites. All of the Omanis, of course, were dressed in their traditional Omani garb, white robes and head wraps.
Hauck and Banks gave an overall presentation about the archaeological importance of the Khor Kharfot region to the cultural history of Oman. They went over various research factors and the Omanis agreed that each one was important.
They said the final decision about the permit would not drag on into the future, but would be made that very day and all looked favorable. Then came a surprise when Said said they would shortly be meeting with the Sultan’s Advisor, His Excellency Al Rowas.
Just as they were leaving for this meeting Hassan asked a question, which totally dumbfounded Hauck. He said he had some confusion about whether there was actually one or two prophets. Were Nephi and Lehi two prophets or one? This couldn’t have been more of a surprise since the Book of Mormon hadn’t come up at all as a topic of discussion in their meeting.
That was all about to change.
His Excellency’s first question was something to the effect, “What is it you wish to accomplish in coming to Oman?” Hauck began to give him the overview of the Khor Kharfot Archaeological District, evaluating Paleolithic, Neolilthic through Bronze and Iron Age occupations in the Middle East.
His Excellency was clearly not pleased and said that Hauck had really not answered the question he had asked in several ways. “You have not come all this way and expense to study frankincense trade? We know what has been happening at Khor Kharfot. If you do not respond to this question our interview will be immediately terminated.”
Hauck wrote, “As I realized what the advisor was asking for, I immediately concluded that I should give him what he sought even though it might cost us our opportunity for obtaining permission to work at Khor Kharfot. I knew that explaining to them the Mormon connection to Oman—that Khor Kharfot is a viable candidate for the lost land of Bountiful where a ship was constructed by ancient Book of Mormon prophets—might even get us kicked out of the country. Concluding that being transparent about our research intentions was the only chance we had to be successful in this endeavor, I dove into the seething cauldron.
“Taking a deep breath I stated, I am a Mormon. but Drs. Kimball Banks and Linda Cummings are not Mormons and therefore they are not interested in the Mormon connection at Khor Kharfot.” I continued by stating that because of this fundamental but necessary difference, we, as professionals work in two layers. One layer is the general overall research plan that needs to be undertaken in order to understand the temporal and spatial cultural context for the KK district. And the other layer, which as Mormons we superimpose over the first, relates to the purpose we Mormons have for wanting to do archaeological and environmental research at KK.
“I went on to outline that Lehi’s small extended family fleeing oppression trekked from Jerusalem southward along the Frankincense caravan route to Nahom in what is today Yemen, and then they turned directly east and continued to the coast of the Arabian Sea in the present state of Oman. That heading brought them directly to the Khor Kharfot area. I mentioned that for a short period, estimated from two to four years, that they were there on the Omani coast building a ship which was used to carry them across the sea to the Americas.
“I concluded by relating how Nephi, in his writings continually refers to the journey of his family from their certain destruction in Jerusalem to freedom in the Promised Land of the New World and likens that trek to the mass movement of Moses and his people from bondage in Egypt into freedom in the Promised Land of Palestine.”
This is what the Advisor to the Sultan wanted to hear. Then he asked another key question. Hauck said, “He wondered whether we had found any actual evidence of the earlier Book of Mormon visitors to Khor Kharfot? The Spirit was very strong and I knew that I should go-for-broke.
“I replied saying, ‘Yes, we do have some evidence that might relate to the short period Lehi and Nephi resided at Khor Kharfot.’ While making that statement, I extracted the plan view drawing of the Sanctuary Site and laid it out before the Omanis. I explained that this structure appeared to represent a place of worship. Its architecture and its measurements both being completely consistent with those of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and also with several other ancient temple complexes where I have worked in Central America.
“All three Omanis listened very carefully and seemed to be completely open to everything I related. The Sultan ’s Advisor then stressed to us that his office was completely unbiased and open to all peoples and religions and beliefs and that he and his staff would respect our interests.”
His Excellency brought out a front-page article from that very morning’s newspaper containing an article about the Sultan’s address to UNESCO 38th General Conference in Paris where he stressed the need for creating and maintaining brotherly relationships among all nations and people, he decried the violence that exists in the Middle East, and he uses his own country and government to demonstrate the applicability of such open and all-embracing friendships.
In what to us was an absolute miracle, the Omanis gave full permission for our archaeological efforts at Khor Kharfot and will be our partners to facilitate the work.
Now, we will see what we find.