Dig into the 2016 field season at Ashkelon
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All good things come to an end. Archaeological excavations are no exception.
2016 marks the final season of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, which has been excavating the site of Ashkelon—situated on Israel’s Mediterranean Coast just north of Gaza—since 1985. Best known for being part of the Philistine Pentapolis during the Iron Age, Ashkelon has a rich, diverse history. The first civilized settlement at Tel Ashkelon appeared during the Chalcolithic period, and during the Bronze Age, the site became an important port city because of its location on the Mediterranean Sea. Ashkelon would continue to be used as a port and trading center for several millennia—until the time of the Crusades, when it was ultimately destroyed and abandoned in 1270 C.E.
Needless to say, 2016 has been a very busy season so far. Final questions are being investigated, final projects are being organized and final excavation areas are being dug.
Waking up before the sun rises, our group is in the field—ready to excavate and process material—by 5 a.m., and we stay in the field until 1 p.m. Of course not this entire eight-hour period is spent digging; we take breaks for “second breakfast” around 9 a.m. and for “fruit break” around 11 a.m. We return to the Leonardo Hotel, our base of operations away from Tel Ashkelon, for lunch (and necessary showers) at 1 p.m., and then we go back out to the field to wash and process pottery from 4–6 p.m. The evening wraps up with a lecture followed by dinner back at the hotel.
This is a very different environment than the Biblical Archaeology Society’s air-conditioned headquarters in Washington, DC, where I usually work! However, although it is different, it is not unfamiliar. This is my fifth (not continuous) season excavating at Ashkelon, and I am very glad to be participating in the Expedition’s final season.
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Some truly exciting material is being excavated this season at Ashkelon. For example, in one area (Grid 51) we are uncovering Philistine streets and houses that were destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. When Nebuchadnezzar burned the city of Ashkelon—and deported its king and some of its inhabitants to Babylonia—in 604 B.C.E., he left behind a massive amount of destruction, which is an archaeologist’s dream! The ash and subsequent abandonment of the city preserved architecture, pottery vessels, food and other materials being used at that time by the Philistines. When we excavate these levels now, it provides a snapshot of life in a Philistine city during the seventh century B.C.E.
Although we are still investigating some areas (like Grid 51, described above), other excavation areas, such as an area where I worked in 2010 (Grid 38), have been closed and are now being backfilled. While it is rather disheartening to see something that you labored to excavate now being covered over again in dirt, this is the best way to preserve areas for posterity (unless you plan to reconstruct the area). As the Book of Ecclesiastes reminds, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven … a time to break down, and a time to build up … a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3, 5). This is the natural order of things. It is Ashkelon’s time to break down and to throw away stones, to backfill and to answer final questions.
We have hit the halfway point of the season. This means that the group has been in the field for three weeks, and three more weeks remain. Three weeks may seem like a long time, but it will go quickly. Only time will tell if we are able to answer all of our final questions before the end.
Megan Sauter is the Associate Editor at Biblical Archaeology Review. She holds an M.A. in Biblical Archaeology from Wheaton College. This is her fifth season excavating with the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon.
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