Straight from the field to you, hear from some of the individuals who were awarded BAS scholarships in 2014. They offer insight into what fieldwork at an archaeological excavation really looks like and whether the experience was worthwhile—all the while recognizing that their summer expeditions would not have been possible without the generous donations of the people who funded their scholarships. In 2014, BAS awarded 25 scholarships. Scroll down to read the recipients’ essays.
The BAS Dig Scholarship program is made possible by the generous contributions of donors. Our sincere thanks to the following people, who supported the 2014 volunteers:
E. Bryce and Harriet Alpern Foundation, Dwight Alpern, trustee
Lois England in memory of her husband, Richard England
Eugene and Emily Grant
Rachel Kapen in memory of her husband, Sheldon Kapen
Leon Levy Foundation, Shelby White, trustee
John and Carol Merrill
Michael and Judy Steinhardt
Samuel D. Turner, Esq.
Harry and Gertrude Schwartz Foundation, Jeffery Yablon, trustee
BAS offers scholarships of $1,000 every year to a few people who would otherwise not be able to volunteer. To apply, simply send a letter to BAS Dig Scholarships, 4710 41st St., NW, Washington, DC 20016, or send it by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, stating who you are, where and why you want to excavate, and why you should be selected for a scholarship. We require your mailing address, phone number and email, as well as the names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers of two references. Applications must be received by March 13, 2015.
For more from BAR’s Digs 2015 issue:
Abel Beth Maacah is a fantastic site to dig, and I wish to express my appreciation to the Biblical Archaeology Society for helping make it possible for me to participate in excavations this summer. While this was my second season digging with the team at ABM, it was my first as an assistant (or square) supervisor. The learning curve I experienced this summer was akin to that during my first season as a volunteer. For example, the requisite end-of-day paperwork pushed me to process the day’s work in a new way. I came away with a deeper understanding and appreciation for archaeology as a discipline and process thanks in no small part to the instruction and grace of Area F supervisor Ortal Haroch and directors Bob Mullins and Nava Panitz-Cohen.
We opened our square on the south side of the tell and adjacent to one from last season. We came down on an Iron I building just beneath the topsoil rather unexpectedly. As the weeks went on, it was exciting to discover the shape and extent of the building as our square matched up with those around us. In the realm of small finds, team member Kaz Hayashi and I found a couple of iron blades, which was fun and informative, and there were plenty of other small finds throughout the season.
Being a square supervisor pushed me to think about archaeological work in a more integrative way on site. I also learned about working with groups of people, setting and working towards a common goal and giving instruction and encouragement. Observing my fellow and more experienced assistant supervisors, in particular Dean Rancourt, was of great benefit in both the personal and technical aspects of the discipline. This proved to be a formative year in my experience in archaeology, and I thank the Biblical Archaeology Society for their support in making this experience possible.
Read Dr. Lauren Monroe’s updates on the 2014 field season at Abel Beth Maacah in “Abel Beth Maacah in the Bible” and “Gender in Archaeology at Abel Beth Maacah.”
Arriving at Tel Abel Beth Maacah, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the mound. Abel Beth Maacah was a Biblical city on Israel’s northern border where Sheba ben Bichri fled from King David (2 Samuel 20). Sheba ben Bichri was killed in this city, in a most dramatic scene. Digging at the site provided me with direct insight into the world of Biblical archaeology and gave me tools for how to use the Bible and modern scientific research to reveal the past.
I excavated near the foundation stones of a large tower that soared over the city 3,000 years ago. I unearthed storage pots and cooking tools, such as pestles. We even discovered a large storage pot that had been subsequently recycled as support of a wall.
Examining the pottery sherds from the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age was a personal highlight. Some of these sherds were Cypriot Bichrome Ware, which were delicately painted. By examining them closely, I was able to better understand the trade routes that ran through this region.
My four weeks digging at Tel Abel Beth Maacah has greatly enhanced my appreciation of Biblical archaeology and has provided me with an unparalleled hands-on experience with the world of the ancient Near East.
The inaugural excavations at Abel Beth Maacah uncovered a silver hoard, including five hoop earrings, among other Bronze and Iron Age finds. Read more about the 2013 season >>
Tel Gezer is Biblical Gezer, geographically belonging to the tribe of Ephraim. In the time of David, Gezer was a Philistine city (2 Samuel 5:25). However, it is assumed to be a city mixed with other ethnical groups as a border town. Then, it was destroyed by a pharaoh of Egypt (presumably Siamun) and was given to Solomon as a dowry of his daughter married Solomon (1 Kings 9:16).
I served as a supervisor of Square A7 in the Field West. The initial plan of Field West was to deal with the 10th century B.C. phase (Stratum VIII). This phase is immediately above (chronologically “after”) the destruction of level IX (probably by Siamun of Egypt). After this destruction, Gezer (of Stratum VIII) becomes an important city along with Hazor and Megiddo (1 Kings 9:15) as all three cities were on the “International Highway” (Via Maris). Its importance is demonstrated by the famous six-chambered gateway of the Phase 3 “palace,” on the upper terrace, that belongs to the same stratum. Whether or not Solomon built it is a matter of debate. At least it originated in the days of Solomon, based on archaeological and historical chronologies. We were dealing with this important phase/period of Gezer in the 2014 season.
The rich amount of artifacts found in this stratum this year demonstrates the wealth of the nation during the time of Solomon. Moreover, various zoomorphic figurines demonstrate the religious corruption and syncretism during that time, which led to the destruction of the city of this phase by Shishak in 925 B.C. (1 Kings 14:25).
As for my square (A7), which was certainly part of an administrative building, I worked with two volunteers, John Graves and Ben Brent. Our focus was a pit containing ash consisting of many loci merged together. There we found a ceramic disc, mudbrick stoppers, tabun wares and various types of pottery sherds mainly belonging to IA I and IA II (e.g., Philistine ware). In connection with other squares and the context of the whole field, it was concluded that the pit belongs to the Late Iron Age I to Early Iron Age II (c. 11th–10th centuries). It was a privilege to work on this important phase/period in Biblical history.
This past June, with the generosity of BAS and its donors, I was afforded the amazing opportunity to travel to Israel where I excavated at Tel Burna. The site is located in the Shephelah region, not far from Lachish. Burna is thought by the excavators to be the Biblical site of Libnah and sits on the border of Judah and Philistia.
After arriving at the kibbutz that our group was staying at, I traveled to the dig site, where I helped the staff set up shade cloths and brought all of the tools and supplies for the weeks to come. We began digging at 6:00 a.m. the next day, and we worked until about 1:00 p.m. After putting in several hours of hard work during the cool and breezy morning, we ate breakfast on the tell and enjoyed a nice break. After our sandwiches, we returned to work for a few more hours and finished the day by sweeping our squares clean. After returning to the kibbutz at the end of our workday, our team spent a few hours washing and reading pottery. This was our schedule for the weeks ahead.
Several times during the week we were taken on amazing field trips to explore other archaeological sites near Tel Burna. I was most impressed with Lachish. Our group also enjoyed lectures on various topics, ranging from the history and significance of the tell in the ancient Near East and its geological formation, to the cult of Hathor in the fosse temple at Lachish and even Molech sacrifice. Since I am currently a graduate student studying Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East at the University of Georgia, it was amazing to experience so many of the things I’ve been studying in books and articles.
I chose to excavate in the upper tell, which was occupied during the Iron Age II (eighth–seventh centuries B.C.); the lower tell was occupied during the Late Bronze Age and probably earlier. I served as a square supervisor in J9, where I gained experience filling out paperwork, preparing tags for our pottery buckets and bone bags and using the total station to take height measurements. In our square (J9), we uncovered the southwest corner of a large administrative building (eighth–seventh centuries) and an eighth-century destruction level. Several complete jars were found in situ.
The group this season was fairly small, but in spite of this, all the volunteers were great to work with. The dig directors, Itzhaq Shai and Debi Cassuto, were especially great. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with Itzick during pottery reading, where I learned about the intricacies of Late Bronze Age and Iron Age II ceramics. I hope to return next season to continue working in my square. Perhaps we will uncover more evidence of an eighth-century destruction possibly associated with Sennacherib’s campaign in the Shephelah!
Once again, thank you BAS!
My husband and I have long loved the study of Near Eastern archaeology and have both been eagerly pursuing our Master’s in Biblical archaeology at Wheaton College. However, the time in the classroom only whets one’s appetite for digging and discovery, and it was delightful to be granted the opportunity to participate in the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon through this scholarship.
This season in particular was exciting for many reasons. I began in the new Grid 16, a stepped trench dug into the side of what was once thought to be a Crusader-built moat. Having spent much of my studies in the Iron Age, it was fascinating to see the Crusader and Islamic-era artifacts that began emerging—glass, reused marble and beautiful sherds of Islamic ware. While I was familiar with the idea of exotic imports, it was still exciting to cradle sherds from as far as China in my hands and consider the history behind them. Eventually, the Roman and Hellenistic periods contributed their fair share of lovely pieces. Besides these was the architecture we uncovered: water channels, crumbling towers, long-forgotten walls and remnants of mudbrick structures.
Each discovery was enthusing as we explored the handiwork of past cultures. Handling these objects, one feels a connection with the men and women who crafted them. But it is not only these ancient people that provided a human element to our grid. Over the course of the dig, it was a pleasure to watch our rag-tag group of eight volunteers and two excellent supervisors coalesce into a working team filled with loyalty and pride in each other and our grid. It is easy to become fast friends as you sweat and toil side by side for weeks on end, earning nicknames and sharing inside jokes and occasional baked goods. Not only do I feel I learned a lot about stratigraphy and interpreting artifacts and data, I feel I also learned a great deal about the psychology of team-building and leadership.
As was obvious from the international headlines this summer, life in the Levant was sadly disrupted by the conflict between Israel and Gaza. Many digs in southern Israel were affected by these events, and Ashkelon was no exception. It was unfortunately cancelled after four and a half weeks, and many volunteers had to return home or finish their time at another dig in the north. However, we were permitted to remain with staff in Jerusalem and gain additional experience in the “closing ceremonies” of a dig, tying up all the various and sundry loose ends to be found at an archaeological dig interrupted. I was given opportunities to help build our grid’s Harris matrix, as well as review final reports, organize artifacts and even clean and photograph objects under the guidance of experts in many fields.
Even this truncation of the season itself provided an important opportunity. While studying the past, one must maneuver successfully through the present, and that requires a working knowledge of modern ground conditions, including politics, cultural norms and potential sources of tension. You can read about such things in books or see it in the news, but nothing can match total immersion in a culture to gain the clearest picture of its inner workings.
The artifacts, questions and answers we uncovered are enough to provide a fantastic experience to any budding archaeologist. Adding to this the friendships we made and the opportunity to witness international events first-hand has all helped me develop an extremely well-rounded archaeological experience. I have BAS to thank for this opportunity and the many donors that make my scholarship possible. I am sincerely grateful and proud to have been a part of the 2014 BAS scholarship program.
Dr. Tracy Hoffman wrote a series of updates from Ashkelon for Bible History Daily during the 2014 field season. Read “Excavating Ashkelon in 2014,” “Ashkelon Midseason” and “Excavation Interrupted.”
I became involved in the Huqoq excavation in the beginning stages of research for my Master’s thesis. My adviser’s specialty is the art of medieval Iberia, particularly Jewish art and images of Jews, and my specialty is in the art of Late Antique Byzantium. In order to combine both of our interests and areas of expertise, we began thinking about Jews and Jewish art in Late Antiquity/Early Byzantium. After a bit of research, I came across the excavation at Huqoq and immediately became very excited about the mosaics they were uncovering. The opportunity to be at the cutting edge of art historical knowledge was too much to resist, and before I knew it, I was on the plane to Israel.
Never having been on a dig before, I was unsure of what to expect, but Dr. Jodi Magness, the dig director, and the rest of the team immediately put me at ease. I was assigned to work in a square at the southern end of the synagogue, just inside the nave at the eastern aisle: Area 300 Synagogue South, Square 4/6. This was a new square this season, and our goal was to reach the Byzantine floor level to hopefully find the bema and perhaps more mosaics! Unfortunately, we did not reach the Byzantine level due to the many walls and complicated usage of the area during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Our director, Jodi Magness, as well as our codirector, Shua Kisilevitz, are very concerned with excavating and documenting all occupational levels, including the modern Palestinian village of Yakuk, which was abandoned in the 1940s. Just as we were getting ready to close the site, we made it down to the medieval occupational level, where we were expecting to find the stylobate delineating the aisle from the nave. Unfortunately, it was robbed out. We began to find some loose mosaic tesserae, so we are very optimistic that the mosaic in the Byzantine level is still intact in this area.
The most exciting find of the summer was in the northern part of the synagogue. The excavators uncovered a continuation of what has been called the “Maccabee” mosaic discovered in 2013. Witnessing the uncovering of these mosaics that haven’t been seen in possibly 1,000 years was the highlight of the summer. Our experts are still debating and researching the possible identifications and meanings of the mosaic, but it is clear even now that we came across something very special and important.
Overall, this experience made me grow as an art historian, and I now have an even greater amount of respect for the work archaeologists do, as well as a better understanding of their methodologies. Additionally, I was able to work in the field and in the lab with the mosaic expert, Dr. Karen Britt, who so graciously taught me how art historians can work in the field.
I want to thank the Biblical Archaeology Society for supporting my work this summer, and I hope to be able to return to Huqoq next season to continue the amazing work there.
Huqoq excavation director Jodi Magness and mosaics specialist Karen Britt discuss a new mosaic discovered during the 2014 excavation season in “Huqoq 2014: Update from the Field” in Bible History Daily.
Unexpected. This is the first word I think of when trying to summarize my experience working on the Ashkelon archaeological excavation this summer. Our season at Ashkelon threw quite a few curveballs at us, and I know that I definitely was not expecting the kinds of plot twists we had this summer. Whether it was opening a grid for park maintenance purposes and having incredible finds come out of it, moving hotels because ours was closing, taking an impromptu trip to northern Israel to see some sites and to wait out increasingly difficult and dangerous political circumstances, shutting down the excavation and allowing people to go home early, or having the opportunity to stay in Israel for the remainder of our season and take refuge at the Megiddo excavation while having their staff and volunteers welcome us and allow us to dig with them for a week—my six-week dig experience has been unexpected in the best of ways.
At Ashkelon, I was working in Grid 16, which had the task of digging a step trench into the side of a slope toward the northern end of the site. For most of our time working at Ashkelon, our goal was to dig far enough down to see if we could trace the occupational history at the site, and that is exactly what we did. Throughout the weeks of pick-axing, dumping immense amounts of dirt and struggling through never-ending pottery pits, we managed to find some great artifacts. A mudbrick rampart, Islamic period oil lamps, a water channel and possible wall, and some Early Bronze Age pottery sherds were among some of our finds.
As a Biblical archaeology major, being able to dig at a site as historically rich as Ashkelon was incredible. I learned so much about the practical side of archaeology and was able to see all the hard work and analysis that occurs before the information is put into textbooks. It was rewarding to see how excited and passionate the staff and volunteers were to work at Ashkelon and be able to participate in an excavation that draws people back year after year.
My week at Megiddo was unbelievable. I was able to work in Area Q—a largely residential Iron Age area—and use different techniques and archaeological methods than I used while working in the step trench at Ashkelon. Here, I was able to use smaller tools to trace floors, articulate a fire pit installation and learn how to read and follow some tricky pit lines and stratigraphy. I am so appreciative of the Megiddo excavation for taking in our small Ashkelon group and for giving me the opportunity to have an incredibly well-rounded excavation experience this season.
Overall, my first excavation experience was definitely unlike any other. It was hard, rewarding, exhausting, unexpected, fun and something I would do again in an instant.
My opportunity to excavate on a dig came through Dr. Oded Borowski, an Emory professor, who is also the director of the Lahav Research Project, as well as through scholarships like the BAS Dig Scholarship.
I stayed in Kibutz Lahav and worked on a site called Tell Halif, which is located in southern Israel near Beersheba. We concentrated on excavating a domestic structure destroyed by the Assyrians in 701 B.C. and outer city walls and the continuation of an area with a textile workshop and kitchen area that was previously excavated. I was assigned to work in the textile workshop area with three other people.
A normal day at Tell Halif started at 4:30 a.m. We worked with a breakfast and short shade break until 12:30ish. We then had lunch and rested till 4 and then did some pottery washing. Afterward, we listened to a lecture and then had dinner at 7. After that, we were free to do whatever, but most were already knocked out by this point.
Everyday was like a treasure hunt or, more exactly, a race between the three different areas to find the coolest, most interesting find of the day. It was more of a healthy competition, one that motivated each group to work harder and to appreciate their finds.
By the second week I stopped paying attention to my back pains or the scorching sun but instead focused on what and how I was digging. Every strike of my patiche, every scrape of my trowel was bound to make its way into the dirt, and I would desperately pray that it would hit something. And that what I hit would be out of the ordinary.
The first time I found something other than pottery, flint or shell, I was nonchalantly digging and straightening the baulks. I was about to gather the dirt and throw it away when I noticed a very rounded rock. It was not like a smooth wadi stone, but a circular jagged rock that fit right into the palm of my hand. I called Tim, our area supervisor, over, and after inspecting it, he told me that it was a sling stone. This sling stone could very well have been used during the time that we speculate Sennacherib destroyed the small villages in Israel, including Tell Halif.
Finally finding something that I could put into context in a historical setting gave me so much of a thrill that for the rest of the day I was so pumped up, I bulldozed through all the dirt and rock with no second thought.
Throughout the season, we found figurines, carved ivory, oil lamps, a scaraboid, game pieces, loom weights and more. And every single time one of the groups found one of these treasures, we would all “ooh” and “ahh” over the find and congratulate each other on the discovery.
Excavating in Israel was a very pivotal point in my life. I came to this place without having anything concrete for my future, not knowing whether I wanted to go to law school or continue with my interests in the ancient Mediterranean world. I still don’t know what I want to do in perfect detail yet, but I do know that I have left Israel even more in love with this ancient culture. I know also that it is going to be impossible now to not incorporate it into my future somehow.
So if your question was “Faith, do you think you’ll come again?” it would be a definite yes. Maybe next year, maybe the year after that, but I do know that I have fallen in love with Israel in all its glory, past and present. Even the falafel. Especially the falafel.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to volunteer on an archaeological dig? I Volunteered For This?! Life on an Archaeological Dig is a free eBook that gives you the lowdown on what to expect from life at a dig site. You’ll be glad to have this informative, amusing and sometimes touching collection of articles by archaeological dig volunteers.
I became involved in the Huqoq excavation in the spring of 2012 after attending Dr. Jodi Magness’s public lecture about the site. As an archaeology student, I was looking for a field school to attend, and Dr. Magness’s obvious enthusiasm convinced me to come to Huqoq that summer. I even wrote my senior honor thesis on synagogue floor mosaics. Deciding to return for the 2014 season was an easy decision for me. I loved everything: the dig, the camaraderie among the staff and Israel itself.
Huqoq is truly a special site. The overall purpose of the excavation is to evaluate the dating methods that are currently used to date Galilean-type synagogues and to conserve the figural floor mosaics that we have been uncovering since 2012.
While in Huqoq, I was assigned to work in the southern end of the synagogue, “area 3000 synagogue south.” My square, SW 5/6, was expected to be located outside the synagogue in the front entrance courtyard. Our goal was to reach the Byzantine levels and, hopefully, find large paving stones or columns that would be typical for the courtyard. This was quite an undertaking as we were opening the square this year. The other square in my area was just to our north, called SW 4/6. They also hoped to come down on the entrance courtyard and the entrance façade of the synagogue. In addition to our archaeological ambitions, I was lucky to work with colleagues representing five nations: the United States, Malta, Slovakia, Latvia and Belgium.
This season my square did not reach the Byzantine levels because of the many walls and features that were in the upper levels of the square. Our site director Jodi Magness and codirector Shua Kisilevitz place great importance on recording all occupational levels. As a result, we took great pains to make sure that even the most modern artifacts were documented. We uncovered many occupational levels, including the Palestinian village of Yakuk that was abandoned in the 1940s and destroyed in the early 1960s as well as an Ottoman level. As we continue downward, we expect to also find Mamluk, Crusader and Byzantine levels.
One of the most exciting finds of the year occurred not in my square but just to the north in “area 3000 synagogue north.” This square was able to reach our Byzantine synagogue this season and came down upon preserved floor mosaics. Our specialists are still discussing and debating what these could mean, but they are breathtaking and exciting all the same.
All and all, we had another exciting season at Huqoq with spectacular finds, the best dig breakfast around (French toast, shakshouka, hash browns!) and the unique feeling of family that comes from working closely with many brilliant people from all walks of life. I hope to able to return to the Huqoq site next season to continue unraveling the mystery that lies there.
Digging at Lachish has definitely been the high point of my undergraduate education. Being a sociology major, it was my first time doing any kind of archaeology. Thanks to the field school, I learned the techniques and practices as we dug. My school’s program was supposed to participate for three weeks of the six-week-long dig. Unfortunately, due to the military conflict with Gaza, both our program and the dig were cancelled after our second week there. In spite of such circumstances, I still had a fantastic, educational, life-changing experience working with an incredible group of students and archaeologists.
The group of about eighteen students from my school joined the dig at the start of the second week. Professor Yosef Garkinkel, the Hebrew University team and all of the other dig participants were very welcoming. I spent most of my first day sifting and found my first potsherd within minutes. Finding a potsherd does not sound very special, but it most certainly was to someone as new to archaeology as I was. After the first day, I moved to a square in site B that was just east of the well, where I spent the next two weeks.
Our square was on the slope. We spent a good portion of our time digging through rock collapse and ash, so it was a bit messy at times, especially when compared to some of the pristine squares in site A near the palace. Here I learned how to properly trowel, brush, articulate rocks, clean balks, etc. Throughout my time at the dig, I also learned how height measurements are taken and recorded, how loci are implemented in recording and organizing finds and notes and other such practices. Archaeology is an immensely deep and dense field that I was only really able to scratch the surface of in two weeks. Even so, I still probably learned more in my three weeks in Israel than any other three-week period of my life.
There were many great finds while we were there that I am sure will get publicized soon enough. As many others did, I found plenty of bones, potsherds, flint and charcoal. I personally was luckier than some and less lucky than others. I did not find any scarabs, idols, statues or inscriptions. I found some nearly intact pottery bowls. They were pretty dirty when they came out of the ground, but I was later informed that they had some beautiful designs on them. By far my most exciting find was a bronze tool from the Bronze Age. I have yet to learn exactly what it is, but my square supervisor suggested it is either an axe or chisel. I also found most of a rodent skeleton, which, while perhaps not the most archaeologically relevant find, was interesting in its own right.
For the entire three weeks that the dig lasted, we never hit a floor level in my square. However, on the last day before the dig was cancelled, I uncovered a large flat stone that appeared to be a bench, indicating that a floor was close. Unfortunately with no end to the conflict in sight, the dig was cancelled before the next workweek began. It was frustrating knowing that just one more week would likely have yielded many more interesting finds.
The dig was a great experience. My time in Israel outside of the dig was just as great. Getting to observe and interact with a foreign society and many cultures, especially in an area as religiously infused as Israel, was invaluable toward my studies as a sociologist. At the end of our first dig week, Professor Garfinkel took us on a stunning, informative tour of Khirbet Qeiyafa. It was a great experience to connect everything I had learned about Qeiyafa by seeing it in person. As an avid nature lover, I was also very thankful for the opportunity to see the Judean Desert, Masada and the Dead Sea.
As I mentioned above, the military conflict with Gaza eventually led to the cancellation of our program. Starting around July 7th, rockets started being fired into Israel from Gaza. Some of them came in our direction, and we had to seek shelter when alerted by sirens. It was scary for some. In the end it became the best lesson in compassion, teamwork and camaraderie I have ever had. I wish it had not happened that way, but I am a better person because of it. I am forever thankful to Virginia Commonwealth University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Biblical Archaeology Society and my parents for making it possible for me to study and dig in Israel this past summer.
Read seven seminal BAR articles on the Lachish excavations—now available for free.
This past summer I was a volunteer at Tel Megiddo. I opted to be in Area K, which, for the 2014 season, was excavating in the Middle Bronze Age period. This was perfect because my honors thesis focuses on this time period in this part of the world. Not only was the dig the largest of any I had ever been on, but it also was an environment that cultivated personal growth. I learned about tracing surfaces, phytoliths, destruction layers, pottery typologies and how to approach everything scientifically.
The most rewarding part was that I undertook more responsibilities than ever before. As a square supervisor, I wrote reports and helped with tasks such as recording daily elevations and dating pottery. This dig, lasting seven weeks, was a test of both physical and emotional willpower.
Even more so of a test was living in Israel during the conflict with Gaza. We heard our first siren a few days after the rockets started firing. Up in the north at Megiddo, most of the volunteers felt completely safe. Despite all of the political issues, Tel Megiddo completed its seven-week season. Goals for my area were met and in some instances exceeded. That being said, the adventures and experiences that I had this summer were all thanks to the Biblical Archaeology Society and their generous scholarship. I am incredibly grateful to them and all that they have done for aspiring archaeologists.
My dig experience started in Jaffa, where I worked for about a week and a half through the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project sponsored by UCLA and directed by Dr. Aaron Burke and Dr. Martin Peilstöcker. Unfortunately, due to security issues in Tel Aviv, our dig was moved to Tel Megiddo with Israel Finkelstein as director. While this site is most famous for being the location of the final battle between good and evil, I worked within a Late and Middle Bronze Age context. I was fortunate enough to be able to finish my dig season, especially at such a rich site inhabited nearly continuously for about 8,000 years. There I worked under skilled supervision, tracing mudbricks and articulating walls in Area K.
Area K has been speculated to be a residential region, where many of the working-class people lived. Nonetheless, we found some fantastic finds, including whole vessels and scarabs. One of the goals this season was to remove all the Late Bronze Age material in order to expose the earlier Middle Bronze Age stratum.
Archaeology is a “destructive science.” Virtually everything done in an archeological dig is destructive; removing ancient walls is really at the heart of what makes this scholarship unique. In order to continue research, we have to destroy what we were previously studying. Thus, documentation becomes especially important. I was really happy to be part of this field school at the time they were preforming such an integral part of archaeological research.
I would also just like to thank the Biblical Archaeology Society for making such a fantastic experience possible for me. I learned a lot, and I look forward to a long career in archaeology.
Jaffa excavations codirector Aaron Burke discusses how to write an archaeological report about an old excavation >>
Thanks to BAS’s support, I was able to return this summer to Tell es-Safi/Gath. Known primarily as part of the Philistine Pentapolis, Safi was also the site of a sprawling Canaanite city, a Judean town and a Crusader fortress. I worked in Area F, a stratigraphically challenging area near the summit of the tell, with sweeping views out to the Mediterranean (and a delightfully refreshing late morning breeze).
The process of discovery is one aspect of archaeology I love most: We continually recalibrate our conclusions based on the day’s new evidence. I was working down to a level that we expected to be Iron Age IIA, the time of the Arameans’ destruction of the city, but by midseason we readjusted it to the tenth century B.C.E., the time of David’s visit to Gath. By the end of the season, the pottery proved that we had actually reached the late Iron I (11th century B.C.E.), roughly contemporary with Samson or the Ark’s disastrous stay at Gath (1 Samuel 5). The clarity at the end of the season left me with the satisfaction of a successful summer.
Like those at many other digs in Israel, we could not ignore this summer’s political situation. Located within 25 miles of the Gaza Strip, Safi was well within range of the daily rocket fire. Prioritizing our safety, director Aren Maeir kept us off the tell until getting permission from the authorities to continue. For two days, we all chipped in to provide workshops on subjects as varied as pottery reading and yoga. Thankfully, we were back on the tell after two days and were able to finish the remaining weeks of a productive, successful and enjoyable season.
Learn about Philistine and Israelite religion at Tell es-Safi/Gath in Bible History Daily >>
The sun rose early over Tel Hazor, but we rose even earlier. Our wake-up knock came at 4 a.m., and we were to be up and ready for our half-hour bus ride to the tell by 4:30. This was not my first time working on a dig, but that doesn’t make getting up that early or starting work at 5 a.m. any easier. The dark ride to the tell meant that the bus was quiet with people sleeping, as coffee was not served until 7 a.m. Once we got to Hazor, we were greeted ever morning by the dig dog, Banana, a small dachshund, who had by far the most energy of anyone on the tell that early in the morning. Working at Hazor was like most archaeological work: hard, hot, sweaty, long and oftentimes uneventful. I was working in Area M3, and most of what we moved during the three weeks I was there was Iron Age fill. Perhaps the most exciting part was finding a well-preserved tabun or some partial cooking pots. But that is the cost and nature of archaeology. Sometimes it takes going through meters of dirt before finding a wall or floor, but all of the work is important even if it means digging with a pick and shovel through a lot of fill. Going through that much dirt also meant we had to get all of it out, which resulted in some seven bucket chains a day—380 buckets per chain—all being thrown up a ladder. I oftentimes wonder why excavations have not been advertised as the perfect work routine, but perhaps that is for 2015.
My family and wife were worried for me going to Israel this summer, with the war in Gaza just starting up before I left, but everything was perfectly safe in northern Israel. The only danger we ever faced was the heat and Banana, who would steal gloves, hats and pottery if you weren’t looking. One day she stole a Middle Bronze Age handle and hid it under a table, which caused a bit of a stir—but it was found, and all was well in the end.
In my normal life, I am a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tübingen in Germany. I am researching the Late Bronze Age in the Southern Levant, which means I have read plenty of work by Amnon Ben-Tor, and it was a pleasure to be able to work with him, attend lectures and be around the Hazor team. Like many excavations, we were a multinational group. Just in my area of five people, we had someone from Russia, Denmark, Germany, South Africa and the U.S.A. It was a pleasure to work with people from many different backgrounds. In many ways, that is the true treasure of an excavation. It is the people who work there—whether they are archaeologists, theologians, construction contractors, teachers, TV producers, students or other professions—who make an excavation possible.
Going back to those early morning hours at Hazor, while Banana was the first one to greet us, we always had other visitors. That would be the cows who were up and at the site long before us. I saw them every morning as I looked out over the Lower City from Area M, and the same thought came to me every day. Being an archaeologist who studies the Late Bronze Age, I know full well the importance of Hazor during this period: its wealth, power and, of course, that “Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms.” And every day that I saw those cows grazing on this once-mighty city, I had to ask myself if the people who lived there back in its days of glory ever imagined that one day it would be the home to a couple dozen cows. Or that the crucial junction between the Lower City and the Upper City where black basalt orthostats make up what was most likely a ritual area leading up to a set of stairs to the Upper City would one day be the home of a porcupine. I found it rather ironic that the place that was “the head of all those kingdoms” was now ruled by cows, porcupines, any number of small animals, insects and a dachshund named Banana—all who had made Hazor their home. However, all those thoughts came to a rest on our last day when, before leaving, I tipped my hat to the site and said farewell for now to Hazor.
Read “Hazor Excavations’ Amnon Ben-Tor Reveals Who Conquered Biblical Canaanites” in Bible History Daily >>
After a two-year hiatus, I was finally able to return to a summer of digging, and it was wonderful. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed it until I was back out on the tell under the hot sun—playing in the dirt. And it wasn’t just the archaeology but the people as well. I have come to discover that this work brings about an easy camaraderie and friendship that continues year to year. Though the situation in Israel this summer was quite unlike any other, we were thankfully still able continue our work and have a wonderful time.
The archaeological project at Tell es-Safi/Gath is set near kibbutz Revadim, right along the border of the Judean Hill Country and the Shephelah. It is clear why this site was chosen as one of the main Philistine capitals. Working in my area at the very top of the tell, the view that stretches around all sides is amazing. On a clear day, you can see as far as Ashdod and Ashkelon along the coast and Hebron to the South.
As an assistant supervisor, I had the opportunity to work in several squares, which included Iron I, Late Bronze, Middle Bronze and Early Bronze levels. We were devoted to small projects that answered many of our research questions and contributed greatly to our understanding of the site’s history. In particular, I worked on one section through the Iron Age floor sequence next to a wall. Thanks to the excellent eyes of one girl, we found a tiny, delicate faience bead. In another area there were some beautiful pieces of Middle Bronze pottery as well as a possible reconstruction. These and other small finds don’t tend to excite many, but it was truly exciting, and I would not have missed it for anything! I am grateful to BAS and the donors who made this scholarship possible.
Working on the Bethsaida Biblical Archaeology Project was one of the most unique and rewarding experiences in which I have had the pleasure of participating. My trip began at the airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, where I met up with the dynamic group that I would spend the next two weeks working (and sweating) alongside. The first few days of the dig were a blur as we settled into the various teams working on different areas of the site and started to get to know each other as well as archaeology. Many of the volunteers on the dig had worked there before or were themselves archaeologists, with projects and experience in other parts of the world. To be able to work next to those with so much experience and knowledge of the field was such a blessing.
Throughout the dig, we learned to work hard—filling buckets with dirt and trudging to the sifters. I never imagined I could develop a keen eye for differentiating between pottery, animal bones, rock and whatever other odds and ends had made their way into my collection. At the beginning of the dig, we found excitement in every tiny potsherd. However, we quickly learned to determine the significant artifacts from those with less meaning through experience as well as the guidance of the more seasoned volunteers working with us.
The Bethsaida Biblical Archaeology Project provides students with such an amazing opportunity to learn about archaeology in the field alongside individuals with vast knowledge and experience. I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from these amazing people, to see the beautiful country of Israel and to gain a fuller understanding of what it means to be an archaeologist. It may not be all Indiana Jones and glory, but fieldwork is so rewarding, and the feeling of slowly sifting dust—never knowing if a Roman coin or ancient bead will appear among the rock and rubble—is a feeling I will always treasure and never forget.
The 2014 Bethsaida excavations uncovered a rare Judaea Capta coin. Learn more >>
This 2014 dig season brought me to Jordan where my school, La Sierra University, excavates at Tall al-‘Umayri, part of the Madaba Plains Project. ‘Umayri has been excavated for seventeen seasons, dating back to 1984, during which time they found a Late Bronze Age temple and a well-preserved four-room Iron Age house.
For this season, we opened two new fields, J and P, and reopened part of field H. I was a square supervisor in field J, which consisted of a step trench containing six new squares that stratigraphically connected two fields previously excavated, D and L. Our goal was to continue to expose the settlement on the southern side of the tell in order to better understand the community’s defensive system. Near the top of the step trench, workers excavated part of an Iron I rampart, and toward the bottom, a wall (possibly a retaining wall) was unearthed as well as our first bedrock. My square was the only flat area in the step trench, so we were curious about what we might uncover. Our excavating did not reveal any architecture as we peeled back the loci, but we did find some wonderful diagnostic pottery, an Egyptian figurine fragment, textile tools, basalt grinder fragments and lithics. Due to it being a rock tumble area, diagnostic pieces spanned from the Early Bronze Age to the Hellenistic period.
At ‘Umayri this year, technology was extended to include a handheld color-designation instrument to use on soil and pottery and an aerial octicopter imaging system that made 3D still photographs and 3D videos of the site. We also constructed 3D models from daily Structure-from-Motion photographs of all squares on site.
I had a wonderful experience as a square supervisor and am proud to have been part of such a distinguished excavation and team. I will definitely be back for upcoming seasons! For further information on ‘Umayri and the Madaba Plains Project, please go to www.madabaplains.org/umayri.
How does a dig team work? What do archaeologists look for at a dig? What challenges do they face? In the DVD Biblical Archaeology: From the Ground Down, meet the archaeological pioneers of this field and examine the groundbreaking discoveries and theories that contribute to our understanding of the Biblical past.
The 2014 summer excavation season of the Megiddo Expedition presented a truly ideal setting for a newcomer to the field such as myself to “cut his teeth” on the basics of terrestrial archaeological excavation. Attending the last four weeks of the dig in July, I had the distinct privilege of excavating in a newly opened area alongside a cosmopolitan assortment of student volunteers under the supervision of Assaf Kleiman and Dr. Shirly Ben-Dor Evian.
Excavating within two squares adjacent to the Neo-Assyrian palace, our descent through the Iron IIC and B levels revealed a series of architectural features and artifacts of note, opening the door to further excavation of the area in upcoming seasons. When not excavating, I had the opportunity to aid in office work back at Giv’at Haviva in addition to washing pottery and bone. Unlike many of my colleagues, I came to enjoy lithic examination more than anything else. More than once I bludgeoned a finger during impromptu experimental flint-knapping sessions! Who knew such dangers existed off-site?
Looking back at the friends I made, experience I gained and cross-cultural understanding I achieved at Megiddo, I am all the more empowered in tackling my studies of archaeology while abroad at the University of Edinburgh this year. As my participation at Megiddo was contingent upon scholarship funds, I am deeply indebted to BAS for their sponsorship of my first excavation opportunity and extend my most sincere thanks for the unforgettable experience I had.
As this was my first trip to Israel, I was very excited to merely step foot in the country, breathe in the culture and—of course—get my hands dirty in that ancient soil. My entire trip was made all the more memorable by the excellent staff at Tel Burna. Dr. Itzhaq Shai and his team exude professionalism and scholarly passion, and their hospitality is unrivaled.
The first couple of days of excavation certainly took some getting used to, but once a rhythm was found, I can sincerely say that I doubt much will ever top the charm of my first dig experience. There truly is something magical about digging an ancient story out of the dirt and exhuming priceless artifacts that have been buried for more than 3,000 years.
One of the highlights of the dig season was the discovery of a tomb upon a section of rolling gradient to the north of the tel. I should actually say “rediscovery,” as this tomb was evidently looted by grave robbers some 40 years ago. We set about digging through some of the debris that the robbers left behind and through some loose soil at the tomb entrance, but aside from a 1970s cigarette lighter and an angry scorpion, we didn’t find anything too incredible. The prospect is truly exciting, however, and begs further investigation.
My second week on the site was the final week of the dig, so we set about cleaning everything up as best we could and washing loads of pottery. It was great to see it all come together. On our final day, I witnessed a fascinating technological achievement: A helicopter drone shot a series of aerial photos while doing a 360-degree circuit of the site—cool stuff! We also saw the prized collection of special finds from past seasons. I especially fell in love with the enormous, imported jugs from Cyprus that date to the Late Bronze Age.
The crew at Tel Burna have some big plans for expansion next year, and I hope to join them in the mysteries awaiting discovery. My experience on the whole was just amazing, and there is so much more to tell that I cannot do justice to it in this brief description. I learned a great deal from merely being around the staff. I was very thankful for the lectures and some truly fascinating site tours and, of course, the gourmet food we were served at every meal. I am forever indebted to BAS for making the entire trip possible; without this generous scholarship, this would have amounted only to a pipe dream.
This past summer, I was a volunteer at Tel Lachish, Israel, as part of the Fourth Expedition to Lachish. I cannot say that my first season experience as a volunteer was typical. The dig camp was a kibbutz-turned-school, where we lived in dorms and had the luxury of a cafeteria. The excavation of Tel Lachish, rich in history and excavation possibilities, was cut short this season due to political unrest in the area. In spite of this, I can truly say that the 2014 season was a great experience and one I will never forget.
As the 2014 season was my first, there were aspects of the dig for which I was unprepared. The 4 a.m. wake-up calls required some readjusting, and the sheer amount of earth-moving we were doing was a physical strain as well. All of the volunteers had to get up to speed on how to properly excavate, what to look for and how to tell the difference between a potsherd and a rock. The staff of the Fourth Expedition to Lachish were excellent teachers and very enthusiastic about sharing more about the site, the work we were doing and possible interpretations for what we were finding. I know that for many, myself included, the friendships formed as a result of the dig and our shared experiences will be ones that we will cherish and continue to nurture and grow.
Though our season at Tel Lachish was cut short, we were still able to get an incredible amount of work done, and the things we found were not disappointing in the least. Once we learned that the dig would be cancelled, the general consensus among the staff and volunteers was sadness—yet with a feeling of fulfillment. For anyone interested in an archaeological dig, I highly recommend the Fourth Expedition to Lachish. Finally, I would like to thank the Biblical Archaeology Society for being awarded a dig scholarship, which allowed me to participate in an archeological excavation project.
Learn why, after seven seasons at Khirbet Qeiyafa, Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil began a fourth expedition to Lachish >>
On June 29, 2014, I began my first excavating experience in Jaffa, Israel. For a week and a half, I spent my time excavating in the Lion’s Temple. My area of the temple was called the “Persian Paradise” because a lot of the finds were being dated to the Persian period. However, we were focused on finding Late Bronze Age artifacts. There were four major sections that we had to work on carefully—exposing previous diggers’ remains and documenting the finds. As we set about clearing away debris to show excavators, we encountered many potsherds, seashells and bone fragments. We did not collect items on the first day in the “Persian Paradise” because most of them were out of context. However, as each day progressed, we started to collect pottery in buckets and tagged them; they were divided into different loci within individual squares. We also did the same with bones found, putting them in separate plastic bags with tags. There were several other artifacts, such as iron pieces, coins, a spinning wheel object for sewing and painted pottery that were tagged and placed in individual boxes.
As the second week began, our team was able to explain our individual areas to our supervisors. There were certain areas where either I or another digger would have to expose the rocks on the surface and see if they floated above later layers of stratigraphy or were a part of those later areas. When the rocks had to be exposed, we would articulate them within the dirt. This involved using a pick or trowel and digging around the rock to show if it was floating or not. Other jobs we did within our square involved taking down walls from later periods that did not coincide with the Late Bronze Age or the Iron Age. There were several areas where we had to be very delicate in how we excavated. In two different parts of the “Persian Paradise” we found tabuns, which are oven-type items, and we also found a mudbrick floor.
At the end of our second week, our team had to evacuate Jaffa due to political turmoil and headed to Megiddo to excavate with Israel Finkelstein’s team. I was placed in Area Q with two people who had been previously working at Ashkelon. We began in earnest clearing away the upper layer of the square to get an idea of the context of the area. By the time we had swept up the debris and loose pottery fragments, we could view the stratigraphy in the square. As the first day progressed into the second and third day, our group of three began finding the destruction layer that we had wanted to find from the beginning. Until we hit the destruction layer, all of our finds were very modern. Once at the destruction level, we began collecting bones, flint and pottery.
I was able to gain a lot of information about archaeology that I had not known or experienced before as a result of this trip. I came to appreciate the long hours archaeologists work in order to understand the parts of history we know nothing about: waking up at 4 a.m. and working until 1 p.m., carefully looking for and figuring out pieces of the historical puzzle. I learned a lot of patience during my days of excavating; it takes time and consideration when an artifact is found. Nothing is done in earnest without careful thought. Even our practicals were eye-openers for me. Each day we would clean the pottery fragments and bone pieces we found for careful inspection. We also learned the key and tricks to taking artifact photos and how to work with the Geographic Information System. Every person on the team had an important job that helped the excavations out immensely. This trip showed me so much about archaeology, and I cannot wait to begin my career in earnest as an archaeologist.
The opportunity to see the culmination of one dream and the chance to experience the beginning of another does not come about every day, yet for me this past summer season I have not only seen an excavation first-hand in Israel, but also the opening of greater goals beyond that.
Although studying in the classroom is essential for learning archaeology and the history of the Levant, I had heretofore only lived vicariously through others who have dug. I was, until this summer, obviously missing the experience of the true work of archaeological excavation in the field. My opportunity to excavate came about by being first introduced to the field school at Tel Gezer, Israel, offered through my graduate program at Southwestern Seminary in Texas. The trip to Tel Gezer came about by the help of others who believed in the work we would be doing at the site, and my journey was especially made possible by the generosity of Biblical Archaeology Society.
The stress of preparing for the five-week trip quickly diminished as I flew to my destination, and within hours of arriving, I knew this country and the work to be done was going to hold a treasured place in my heart. My wait to start digging was a short one; the work began early the next morning before the sun was up. After receiving a tour of the site that morning to introduce us to the history of the tell and of previous excavations, I was ready to join in that long history. I have to say that participating in a field school is much more rewarding for first-time volunteers simply because the work, set-up and paperwork is explained every step of the way. This was very helpful for me to see the practical and systematic operation of a dig site—and also to appreciate the amount of preparation needed to even begin digging. I will never complain about weeding at home after weeding out thorny plants for an excavation!
Working with pottery is interesting to me, even when the finds are less than extraordinary. As I came to see, the discovery of sherd after sherd of pottery in a square can be a tedious and commonplace task in the field. However, I enjoyed very much seeing that consistent work pays off later after the pottery was washed and analyzed. During our pottery reading sessions, the experts could spot the variations in the pottery, the pieces that stood out as Late Philistine Ware as opposed to the traditional Red Slip, and unique finds all of which could be easily overlooked in the dirt at the site. It was exciting to be working next to the city wall—the casemate wall—because of the amount of destruction-level pottery that was worked through. The easily discernable “splashes” of pottery appearing from the wall and outward were carefully worked through, and I loved seeing a clean destruction level unfold before us. I knew I meant for fieldwork whenever I became excited about noticing variations in soil and ash! The truth of it is that I would not have a complete understanding of the variations in these levels without being in the dirt and seeing it myself. The painstaking process was well worth it so that a clearer picture of the area could be formulated.
Although I am accustomed to a work environment that does not involve large amounts of dirt, insects and the potential for dehydration, it was not long at all before I was comfortable with the new surroundings at Gezer. It was refreshing to have such a scenic view from our tell every morning, and I enjoyed being among many new faces and fellow volunteers who appreciated the hard work to be done. It struck me that I did not want to spend my day anywhere else, and I mean that to sound as sentimental as possible. Another new facet to our work atmosphere was, in the middle of our operations, adjusting to the influx of missiles and Iron Dome defenses near to our area. Being in a rural populated area, our team was never in immediate danger, yet we were not immune to the war being conducted in the air, the sound of distant bombing and the periodic air raid sirens. I appreciated the seriousness with which the situation was considered by our field directors Steven Ortiz and Sam Wolff, and our team was confident to continue on but always with great caution. I am very proud to have been involved with a group of like-minded people who wanted to see the work through to the end and who were not to be deterred by the ongoing conflict.
Travelling outside of the tell into different areas in Israel was a delightful and educational experience. In many ways it was helpful to break up the routine of the excavation with visiting other sites, yet I am still processing all that we were able to see and do! The perspective of seeing the larger picture of the world contemporary with our site balanced the detailed focus of excavating. Seeing the sites of Tel Dan and Megiddo were high on my list, as well as the fun of going through Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem. At the end of the time I spent digging and touring Israel, I knew I had not only learned a great deal but was, and am still, exceedingly filled by such a treasured experience I believe only first-time volunteering can bring. I cannot wait to see what next year holds at Tel Gezer!
It would not have happened were it not for faithfulness and encouragement on the part of my family, educators, church community and friends. I would like to thank BAS again for helping make this long-awaited dream a reality. I will never forget this past summer, and I hope to express how deeply I appreciate the opportunity to finally work in what I love.
The Jezreel Expedition was one of the most memorable experiences of my academic career, and the experience has majorly impacted me as well as many other student participants. It gave me the confidence to pursue a career in field archaeology, should I choose that path. Going into this past summer, I had never had any field school or excavation experience, and I was not sure how suited I was for fieldwork. After this summer, however, I feel confident that I could thrive in fieldwork and be an asset to any future team. Without the Jezreel Expedition, I would not have realized my potential before moving into my senior year of college.
Thank you again for your support; it really has meant the world to me!
Learn about the Jezreel Expedition’s use of LiDAR mapping and survey archaeology >>
A shorter version of “2014 Scholarship Recipients Go Digging” appeared in “Digs 2015: Blast from the Past” by Megan Sauter in the January/February 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.