For thirty years, the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon has excavated at the ancient seaport of Ashkelon in Israel. Below, Dr. Tracy Hoffman provides an end-of-the-season assessment of what the Ashkelon staff and volunteers accomplished this summer. For more on Ashkelon’s 2015 field season, read “Digging into Ancient Ashkelon: The 2015 Season” and “A Midseason Night’s Dream … and Day’s Work.”
The 2015 Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon field season is officially in the books. After six weeks of excavation, countless discoveries and more than a few surprises, the volunteers have returned home, and the grids stand empty. The once-bustling pottery compound echoes with bird calls and the sound of waves crashing on the beach. It’s hard to believe that only a week ago the field season was still in full swing. And what a season it was! From identifying the earliest human activity on site and learning more about the city that succumbed to Nebuchadnezzar in 604 B.C., to searching for the urban core of the Roman city, this summer was one to remember.
In Grid 16, volunteers and staff alike experienced the thrill of uncovering the earliest human activity yet identified in ancient Ashkelon. With their discovery of silos carved into bedrock levels and Early Bronze Age pottery found in good context, they reshaped our understanding of the earliest settlement in Ashkelon. Eight people strong, the Grid 16 group moved some serious dirt. Ask the volunteers, and they’d likely admit they pushed themselves to their limits and beyond. Press them a little harder, and they’d all agree it was worth it.
Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Ashkelon in 604 left an indelible mark. With the city destroyed and the population exiled, it was almost a century before people returned and resettled the site. Peeling apart superimposed occupational levels often separated by mere centimeters, the team in Grid 51 carefully excavated the seventh-century city and its destruction. In one room they found evidence for commerce disrupted, in another a stone bin full of broken vessels, and in yet another area a street full of scattered debris. 604 B.C. is a year volunteers will not soon forget.
Volunteers in Grid 25 learned first-hand how important not finding something is for advancing research questions. Fearlessly, they joined their supervisors in searching for the urban core of late period (Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic) Ashkelon. They helped to open—and close—two excavation areas. They greeted each challenge with good humor and a willingness to go further. Don’t tell them the search was fruitless. They’d likely reply that each time they discovered where the city’s urban core was not, they filled in another important piece of the Ashkelon puzzle, and they’d be right.
Before too long summer will pass into autumn, and then winter will come. Rains will wash gullies through ancient streets, plants will sprout and nature will reclaim the excavation areas. When we return next summer—our final season of excavation in Ashkelon—the grids will little resemble what we left behind, but that is expected. With tools in hand, we’ll unlock the gates to the grids, roll up our sleeves and get to work. There will be more discoveries to make, more stories to tell and one more chapter for the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon to write about this remarkable site.
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.
Tracy Hoffman is a senior member of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon’s professional staff, serving as the supervisor for Grid 25 and as part of the publication team. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. This will be her 19th year excavating at Tel Ashkelon, Israel.