In the July/August 2013 issue of BAR, Tel Kabri excavation directors Eric Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau describe the unique Aegean-style art at the Middle Bronze Age site in Israel. BAS web editor Noah Wiener is currently taking part in the excavation at Tel Kabri. In this blog series, learn about life on an archaeology dig as Noah publishes from the field.
When I imagine archaeological fieldwork, the thrill of discovery goes hand in hand with hard physical labor, burning sun and adjustments to unfamiliar local conditions (countless insects, attracted by the light of a laptop, are obscuring my words as I write this post). But the joys and travails are not all physical efforts at the dig. First you need to reach the site. Yesterday, a host of archaeologists tried to find the best way to make the chairs at Ben Gurion’s arrival hall soothe our sleep-deprived bodies, but a pervading sense of adventure to come proved stronger than jetlag. We were eager to get our hands dirty with ancient soil, and shared travel stories and summer aspirations in anticipation of the weeks to come. Airport officials must have wondered at our motley crew: Who are these travelers—with their suitcases full of sunscreen, trowels and Gatorade powder—discussing civilizations that disappeared thousands of years ago? But a sense of camaraderie was evident from the start—from hardened veterans to students trying to earn college credits in a new and unfamiliar subject—we will all work hard together, and we are all questing after the unknown.
Our bus took us up to the Achziv Field School, our home in northwestern Israel for the coming weeks. The field school, which is spotted with blue and white bungalows and palm trees, is set against the idyllic backdrop of the Mediterranean.While some volunteers rested, unpacked or sat under a carob tree (despite being dubbed the “wi-fi tree” by Joshua, codirector Eric Cline’s son, our access to the internet is sporadic at best), I passed the hours before our first meeting at the beach. Oncoming waves interrupted conversations about travel and previous archaeology experiences as we bobbed up and down in the crystal-clear water. As the sun sank lower in the sky, any misgivings about international travel and the unknowns of archaeology gave way to a sense of wonder at the serene world that we would be living in.
Of course, we only had a short time to let our surroundings sink in: The next day, we would be waking up at 4:00 a.m., and there was much to learn before then. Excavation directors Eric Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau introduced themselves, the site’s erudite area supervisors, Nurith Goshen, Alexandra Ratzlaff and Inbal Samet, and the knowledgeable (and wise-cracking) junior staff along with a history of the site. It became immediately clear that this would be a fun-loving but physically demanding experience. Some members of the team have several years of excavation experience with professors Cline and Yasur-Landau; others have never held a trowel before. On an archaeology dig, age and experience go hand in hand with field wisdom, but no one is approaching the site as a know-it-all. When the aim is new discovery, we will all bear witness to newly uncovered material from Canaanite Kabri for the first time in over three millennia.The excavation directors managed to keep the tone jovial while conveying pearls of wisdom that will guide our next few weeks. We have to be careful about the site, and ourselves. Archaeology is “a contact sport,” and excavation is inherently destructive, so we will have to be vigilant at all times, and we will have to keep our wits about us from before dawn to sun-soaked afternoons on the dig. While we need to be careful about wielding pickaxes, the summer heat is our biggest threat. Hats, sunscreen and water are an archaeologist’s best safety gear. Off site, we need to be mindful of our surroundings; lurking beneath the waves of our neighboring beach are caves and vicious riptides. Assaf Yasur-Landau, an acclaimed maritime archaeologist, was quick to reassure us: If we are pulled out to sea, he’ll be able to find us.
Excavations at Tel Kabri take place every other year. The introductions reminded the crew of the gravity of our task. In 2009, the team uncovered fresco fragments exposing the connection between Kabri and the Bronze Age Mediterranean. In 2011, the team uncovered a one-of-a-kind orthostat building, furthering the connection between Kabri and the Aegean world (read more here). Discovering what comes next is up to us.
With this mission in mind, we set out to the site at 4:30 a.m., (masochistically) looking forward to weeks of back-breaking labor in search of the Canaanite settlement and its connection to the broader Mediterranean world.
Over the next few weeks, visit the Tel Kabri page for frequent updates on the dig, including a day in the life on the field, videos on archaeological technique, guest blogs by student volunteers, reports on visits to ancient sites in Israel and the latest discoveries—right as they come out of the ground.
Click here to read more about Tel Kabri in Bible History Daily.
BAS Library Members: Read Eric H. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau, “Aegeans in Israel: Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri” as it appears in the July/August 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, as well as “Your Career is in Ruins” by Eric H. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau as it appeared in the January/February 2006 issue of BAR.
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