Without volunteers, archaeological excavations throughout the Biblical world would come to a screeching halt. Volunteers donate not only their time and energy, but also their enthusiasm, tenacity and critical-thinking skills. Their participation is vital to a successful excavation. Volunteers come from all around the world and from various walks of life—students and teachers, amateurs and professionals, juveniles and retirees—to help uncover the past.
Every year the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) provides scholarships to individuals who would not otherwise be able to participate in an archaeological excavation. This year BAS awarded 20 qualified individuals scholarships of $1,500 each. This diverse group chose to excavate throughout the Biblical world at sites in Israel and Jordan.
On behalf of the scholarship winners, BAR offers our sincere thanks to the generous donors who made this year’s scholarship program possible:
Kenneth and Ann Bialkin
Edward and Raynette Boshell
Eugene and Emily Grant
David and Jemima Jeselsohn
Victor R. Kieser
Leon Levy Foundation, Shelby White, Trustee
John and Carol Merrill
Jonathan P. and Jeannette Rosen
Harry and Gertrude Schwartz Foundation, Jeffery Yablon, Trustee
Michael and Judy Steinhardt
Samuel D. Turner and Elizabeth Goss
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.
Thanks to the generous support of the Biblical Archaeology Society, I was able to participate in my first excavation experience with the Balu’a Regional Archaeological Project in Jordan. This dig was co-directed by Drs. Kent Bramlett, Friedbert Ninow, and Monique Vincent of La Sierra University.
The best word to describe this experience—and there are many!—must be ‘educational.’ As a Near Eastern archaeology student, all of our time in the classroom cannot prepare us for the processes, challenges, intrigue, understanding, and thrill that comes from being in the field among the ruins. Balu’a, a largely Iron Age site with a variety of occupations on either side of the 10th century B.C.E., presents a tantalizing challenge for archaeologists amid its basalt-and-limestone-debris-laden surface. Between the Qasr, fortifications, houses, and more, there is so much to explore and so many questions that need to be answered! Being able to participate in this process was an incredible experience that both affected me personally and has truly rounded out my education.
Onsite, we learned the process of setting up the squares for excavation, how to dig and sift and the various components of excavation method, and, in the end, how to close up the seasonal excavations. For the first week, I had the opportunity to shadow my fellow square supervisor before his departure back to the States for his teaching job. At that time, I took over as square supervisor at the Qasr square and was able to learn even more about the intricacies of data recording, interpretation, and supervising my great team.
On the weekends, I was able to participate in study tours that additionally widened my understanding of the Iron Age presence throughout southern Jordan as well as some of the Roman occupations at sites like Amman and Jerash. As for finds, my favorites have to be the game board we discovered carved into the top of one of the walls we uncovered in my square and the beautiful, complete basalt quern that was uncovered during square preparation! All of these things give you a real sense of the life that took place at Balu’a so many years ago.
Thank you all again for helping me make it to the field and be a part of discovering history—words are insufficient to express the depth of my gratitude!
Because of the generous scholarship awarded to me by the Biblical Archaeology Society, I was able to spend a couple of weeks at Tell es-Safi/Gath this summer excavating in Area F near the top of the tell. As a middle school education major, with a focus in ancient world history, this was a very exciting opportunity. Being able to see how history is found and interpreted was something I never thought I would witness, much less take part in.
My group from the University of Kentucky, led by Dr. Daniel Frese, spent most of our time revealing a glacis from the middle bronze age. I learned how to use a latta to take the height of our square each day and so many other things, though I know I only scraped the surface of archaeology in my time at Gath. Everyone in Area F was kind and patient with my lack of formal training; they made it fun to work every day. I was able to attend nightly lectures as well as take trips to other tells in the area to learn about what they are working on and discovering.
My main takeaway from my weeks at Gath was how hard archaeologists work. It is a profession that I have the utmost respect for after getting a taste of the heat and labor they endure every day. I am grateful for my time at Gath and all of the knowledge and experience I gained and will be able to take back to my classroom in the future. It is my goal to make my students passionate for learning ancient history by showing them how fun it can be, through careers like archaeology.
This past summer I excavated for four weeks at the archaeological project at Tell es-Safi/Gath in Israel. I am extremely thankful for the Biblical Archaeological Society, the Biblical Archaeological Review, and the donors for the scholarship that enabled my participation. As part of the Study Abroad program from Grand Valley State University, I primarily worked in Area E, which was focused on the Early Bronze Age period of the site prior to the famous occupation of the site by the Philistines. This was my first archaeological field experience, and as such, I did not know what to expect, but I did not lose my enthusiasm throughout the entire experience. As a schedule-orientated person, I enjoyed that the schedule was the same every day while onsite, so that I could build up a routine that became muscle memory by the end of the excavation. In addition, I enjoyed working with the Study Abroad group from Grand Valley, the other members of the site, and the senior staff members of Area E. We came from different walks of life but all had a common interest in archaeology, and with this common interest, we made life-long friendships that can continue while we are off the site by keeping in contact via social media.
As for my time at the site, I worked in Area E and we had an incredible season. There were many finds, such as polished phalange bones, charred olive pits, Canaanite blades, and old donkey teeth. Another student and I uncovered a large stone feature that potentially was a floor with a polished stone hearth on top of it. The hearth and stone feature was an exciting find for me because a main goal for myself was to find a floor. I was overwhelmed with joy that I met my main goal. Additionally, another volunteer and I found four stone tools in close proximity of one another within the last 10 minutes of the last day of major excavations, which was adrenaline-pumping. Needless to say, all of these finds for me were exciting because this was my first archaeological excavation. Also, it gave me another perspective on the field of archaeology other than just learning about it in a classroom setting.
As our time came to a close on the site, everyone, including myself, could feel the emotional attachment we developed toward Area E, because for a majority of the students, it was their first time on an archaeological excavation. The staff at our area was always there to help offer advice on how to perfect our excavating skills and become better field archaeologists. Additionally, other staff members were always there to help with documentation and recording of cultural material when we were not in the field. I will never forget the archaeological techniques I learned, such as keeping a clean square. Also, I will never forget the information that I learned about these early inhabitants, such as how charcoal and charred olive pits have helped archaeologists to move back the time of the Early Bronze to be contemporary with the Old Kingdom of Egypt. This for me was a trip of a lifetime, and I will reiterate that I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude toward BAS, BAR, and the donors for the scholarship and for their passion for Biblical archaeology. I hope that their charitable donations continue to maintain the interest in Biblical archaeology, because I know for a fact that Biblical archaeology will be an increasing interest of mine as I pursue my career in archaeology.
This summer I had the honor to join the Shikhin Excavation Project in Nazareth, Israel. Joining the team at the archaeological site of Shikhin was an amazing experience for me educationally, experientially, and personally. I would not have been able to have participated in this excavation had it not been for the scholarship that I received from the Biblical Archaeology Society. The month that I spent in Nazareth digging at Shikhin has confirmed that archaeology is a field of study that I will continue to pursue.
This season the team consisted of staff, volunteers, and students (working on either undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral degrees). There was a total of forty-five people, which made this the largest team yet to excavate at Shikhin. Wake-up call was at 4:00 in the morning, and by 5:00 we would arrive at the site. We would dig until noon and return to the hotel, where we would have a lecture in the evening. We dug five days a week, and on Saturday we would take tours of other Roman sites in the Galilee, one of which was Sepphoris.
Shikhin was once a Jewish village within a day’s journey from the Roman city of Sepphoris. In my square, we found a large portion of an incense shovel, Hellenistic black-slipped ware, two coins (one Tyrian and one Roman), dozens of lamp fragments, and two lamp molds. After 22 days of work in the field, the major finds of the season were: a small kiln, an ionic capital, the base of a column, a cooking pot with a dozen coins in it (most of which were Roman), four lamp molds, and two whole lamps.
This summer in Israel, I learned a wealth of information about the history, geography, society, politics, etc. concerning the Galilee during the Roman period through the lectures presented and archaeological sites we visited. Because of this trip, I have gained a greater appreciation of the physical labor, knowledge, and passion that is required in an archaeological excavation. My experience at Shikhin enriched my love for ancient history and archaeology. Additionally, this experience allowed me to develop a rapport with university faculty and fellow students of ancient history and archeology. I fully intend to return with the Shikhin Excavation Project next summer.
“There’s Hazor, and then there are all other sites.”
It sounds presumptuous, I know. However, after six weeks of sweating, digging, discovering, and connecting with people from all around the world, that phrase became more than just a slogan to me.
Before I arrived, I was unsure what to expect. What I was not prepared for was the unique mix of expertise and kindness demonstrated by the crew from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During my six weeks at Tel Hazor, I was challenged both physically and mentally, but in a way that only encouraged me to want more. I was able to learn the basics of field archaeology and acquired skills that will continue to benefit me for more than just one amazing summer.
Hazor will always hold a special place in my heart. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity this summer awarded me and look forward to many more in the future. Thanks to the generosity of the Biblical Archaeology Society and its donors, I was able to see with my own eyes why the Bible described Hazor as “the head of all those kingdoms” and am more confident than ever in my pursuit of a career in Biblical archaeology.
With the support of the Biblical Archaeology Society, I was fortunate enough to explore the vibrant late Persian and early Hellenistic site of Tel Akko. With a team of about 50 participants, I spent four weeks learning about what the total archaeology experience means. As I worked side by side with other students pursuing degrees like my own and professionals from all over the field, I learned that archaeology is truly an interdisciplinary field with so many moving parts. Under the guidance of our wonderfully diverse team of experts, ranging from ceramicists to archaeozoologists to metal specialists, I created a more wholesome image of ancient life and have without a doubt enriched my experience as a classics major.
Upon returning home I have found myself flooded with questions guided by the Hollywood adventures of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, such as “Did you find treasure?” and “Were there tomb robbers?” While I think it would make a good story to say “Yes,” my answers are far less exciting. My experience at Tel Akko has taught me that archaeology, however mundane and back-breaking it may be, is so much more than the headline finds we read about. It’s about the collection of finds as a whole that help us connect to the past. Thank you, BAS, for making such an incredible opportunity possible!
As a kid, I’d play in the dirt for hours. Never did I dream I would have the opportunity to do it for college credit! Thanks to the generous support of the Biblical Archaeology Society, this summer, that is exactly what I did. The expedition to Tel Shimron was my first dig experience and it won’t be my last. Though my body ached and my taste buds languished—longing for a bacon cheeseburger—my mind was fully engaged each day. Tel Shimron is a brand-new expedition by Wheaton College and Tel Aviv University aimed to better understand ancient history in all periods, including the world of the Bible.
Opening a new excavation is an exciting endeavor, shrouded in uncertainty and full of hope. Any strike of the pick could reveal something long-lost and forgotten by history. The first few days, new volunteers and first-timers rejoice at the sight of a potsherd and question the distinction between pottery and rock. By the final week, these distinctions have become clear and excitement is tempered. You come to understand the art of archaeology. You’ve realized that “this” dirt is different from “that” dirt. You’ve developed more nuanced understandings of soil, if not referred to in any more nuanced terminology than “orange stuff” and “black stuff,” or “soft stuff” and “hard stuff.” You’ve learned that some people read pottery better, perhaps, than you read anything! But, most importantly of all, you’ve learned that there is more to discover.
Through my work in grid 92, square 87, I learned exponentially more than I could have imagined. My square supervisor, Samantha Lindgren, and grid supervisor, Dr. Adam Aja, showed me how to excavate carefully and navigate difficult stratigraphic problems in order to understand the sequence of deposition. Speaking with the different members of staff and watching them ply their craft in tricky situations gave me hands-on experience with the world of material culture. An experience like this grows your knowledge and understanding of the ancient world and the Biblical text in new and transformative ways. I’d again like to thank the Biblical Archaeology Society for its commitment to archaeological research and for providing scholarships for volunteers to play in the dirt for a summer.
This summer, under the supervision of Professor Jon Waybright of Virginia Commonwealth University, I was able to return a third time as a part of the fourth expedition to Tel Lachish, directed by Dr. Yosef Garfinkel, Dr. Michael Hasel and Dr. Martin Klingbeil. I spent my time in Unit BC under the direction of Drs. Choy and Kang of Seoul Jangsin University.
While in Unit BC, our goal was to try and understand and date a series of houses that abutted an exterior fortification wall that we had spent the two previous seasons excavating and uncovering. In digging in this area, we reached the foundation of at least one of the houses and perhaps a second. On these foundations we found numerous pottery sherds that helped indicate the dating of these houses to the Iron Age IIA period (roughly 1000–925 B.C.E.) This pottery helped further corroborate evidence found in Area C last season and suggests that during this period, Lachish was larger than originally believed. We also located a street abutting these houses on the opposite side with pottery sherds that further indicate these buildings date to Iron IIA.
Although I have no formal anthropological training, these past three summers at Lachish have allowed me to really hone in on my background in history and religious studies and provided me with a better understanding of the culture and politics of the region. This experience has also awakened a passion for archaeology in me, which I never really knew I had and has made me hopeful that I can return again next summer so that I can learn more from an anthropological perspective while also expanding my knowledge linguistically and culturally.
In the 10th and final season of Tel Gezer under the direction of Steve Ortiz and Sam Wolff of the Tandy Institute of Archaeology, I excavated in Field West. It finally hit at the end of the first week that I’m really here digging in the proverbial deep preserving sands. Gazing over the Judean Hills one morning and glancing west at fellow excavators, I smiled to think we are digging up history to impart to the masses.
On day three of digging, I discovered the bottom of a Late Bronze Age storage vessel, which began the excavation of an entire cache of pottery. The longer one works at a site, the more one can read the site. By attending pottery workshops and pottery reading, I am more capable of cracking the pottery code of Iron I Age to the Late Bronze Age. Though only with the dig for a season, I feel connected to the soul of the site and am excited to make a small impact on this Biblical site. Thank you to all the BAS supporters of the excavation scholarship that made this experience possible.
Archaeology is a giant sandbox, and people become friends in sandboxes. They share tools of the trade, learn to be open to other’s opinions, and share expertise and wisdom. Tel Gezer’s teaching dig atmosphere allowed me to ask questions and learn Levantine archaeological methodology, and now I can take my skillset and experiences and help other learn. I am also imparting the significance of archaeology to the public, who can use it as a faith builder or to enrich history, but either way archaeology is humanity’s story. Our identity, our story is arts, culture, relationships, and environmental impact.
As Gezer is a tell and has been excavated by R.A.S. Macalister and William G. Dever and the Water System under the direction of Dan Warner and Eli Yannai, there were several dump sites to excavate as well as the layers of destruction by various invaders. Therefore the Late Bronze Age is more and less elevated across the tell. The area (Z8) where I excavated was in the middle and proved integral in seeing the Iron Age I to Late Bronze Age transition. Through involvement and observation, I was soon tracking with my square supervisor and learning spatial reasoning of ancient architecture and planning.
We excavated not one but seven whole vessels, including Iron Age I storage vessels, Late Bronze Age cooking pots and vessels, and Philistine Bichrome Pottery. Even on the final excavation day, we were loading our pottery buckets. Pottery washing is doing 3,000–4,000-year-old dishes, only much more fun since the dishes do not even need to go back in the cabinets. It is rewarding when the sun’s rays dry the pottery and reveal inscriptions and patina and potters’ marks. These items are truly yearning to tell their story, and I am all about finding the connecting story interwoven in various cultures and walks of faith.
Ancients do not live in boxes, and it is amazing to see how all the squares connect, especially after breaking down baulks (archaeologists are rather destructive)! The baulk is always where the best finds are located. Suddenly, there is a road map of structures and features—it is a big puzzle with some pieces present. Many pieces are missing or blank, and experienced and younger archaeological minds together put pieces into place according to what the evidence is saying. It truly is a scientific art. This year, several foundational deposits were excavated, including lamps, bones, and grains inside bowls. In my area, we discovered a foundational deposit with the first complete Gezer Bowl (at Tel Gezer) with bone inside, a bowl on top, and three small bowls adorning the top. In Field West, we found an Egyptian figurine and two Egyptian amulets that bear names such as Thutmoses III and Ramses II. These and other finds help verify the chronology of the site.
Touring on the weekends (the entire country in seven days) was surreal. I literally felt like I was still staring at textbook pictures or postcards, but then the wind would hit from the Mount of Olives, or I’d listen to the recording of us singing in St. Anne’s Church, or I’d feel the trickle of sweat down my back from running around En Gedi, or I’d pray for my international friends and campus ministry at Tabgha and the Mount of Beatitudes, or I’d pick up snippets of Arabic, or laugh about being entertainers in the Sea of Galilee, the Mediterranean Sea, and at Nof Ginosar; or smiling about the Tel Gezer talent show; and then I would thank God for the opportunity to whet my passion for archaeology and create new beginnings from the exploration of the past.
This September, thanks to the generous BAS Scholarship, I was able to spend two weeks digging at Hippos-Sussita, one of the Decapolis cities situated on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. I was assigned to a team in the southern bathhouse where I was put to work excavating a narrow room with an arched entryway. We began the dig season with the keystone and a couple other upper blocks of the arch exposed. We worked our way deeper and deeper into the room until we reached bedrock twelve feet below. I expected that this would be hard, dusty work. I didn’t anticipate how much this room would reveal. The process was like putting a puzzle together, with each day revealing new pieces of the puzzle to be assembled. Questions were raised and answers were discovered as the season progressed. Most surprising, at the end of the two weeks, we discovered an opening to what appears to be a Hellenistic cistern at the bottom of this room. The room itself, we suspect, was a service area for the nearby furnace. My personal highlight was discovering a tiny coin at the floor level of this room.
I was amateur muscle labor, content to fill buckets and move dirt. But our area director invited each of us into the process of making sense of what we were finding. That process made every day feel like an adventure, and the two-week season provided some of the most enriching experiences of my life. I have a new appreciation for the meticulous work of excavating a site—from measuring levels, to mapping out areas, to cataloging finds, to taking soil samples, to interpreting architectural features—all blended together to make sense of a site. It was a privilege to be involved firsthand in this process.
It has been a dream of mine to participate in a dig since visiting Israel as a college student 20 years ago. Now that I have accomplished that dream, I cannot imagine not doing it again. The experience was too rewarding to only do once. I’m not sure when I will return, but hopefully soon.
I cannot express enough my gratitude for the scholarship. It is the only way that I could have justified going. You opened a door of opportunity for me that I am so grateful to have experienced. Thank you to the generous donors who made this possible.
I dug this summer at Tel Shimon, Israel, thanks to generous gifts from the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) and the Museum of the Bible Scholars Initiative (MOTBSI). The experience was exhausting and amazing. After I returned home, friends and regular acquaintances wondered where I had been. When I explained that I was on an archaeological dig, most responded with awe. The favorite question was: “What did you find?” Initially, I hesitated. It seemed anticlimactic to answer, “Oh, thousands of pottery sherds, rocks, and some walls.” Perhaps they anticipated an Indiana Jones account filled with adventure, romance, and very little dirt.
Tel Shimron rests on the northwestern edge of the Jezreel Valley, about halfway between Bet Shearim (west) and Nazareth (east). The tell has been surveyed but never excavated. Shimron has a profound history and is mentioned three times in the book of Joshua (11.1; 19:15; 12:20). Dr. Daniel M. Master of Wheaton University and Dr. Mario A. S. Martin of Tel Aviv University co-directed the excavation and joined us regularly in the grids. Last summer, I excavated with Dr. Master at Ashkelon.
My weekday mornings were strict: wake up at 2:15 AM to pray, read my Bible, walk/run under the moon and street lamps, shower, and then meet the bus by 5:00 AM. After a brief ride to the tell, the bus dropped us by the cemetery for a downhill walk to our command center—the Compound. I was assigned to Grid #23 located halfway up the tell and north of the cemetery. Dr. Tracy Hoffman (another Ashkelon veteran) supervised Grids #23 and #24. My work routine entailed treks uphill with tools (buckets, gufahs, turiyas, axes, wheel barrels) at 5:20 AM and downhill by 12:50 PM for lunch. The sun rose around 5:30, and the heat typically met our faces between 6:15–6:30 AM. We worked hard. By 9:00, Tracy’s announcement for breakfast was a welcome highlight.
After lunch, around 1:40 PM, we took care of our daily treasures. Initially, everybody washed pottery sherds. Later, we were divided into specific assignments. Some continued to wash pottery; others sorted and labeled the sherds, assisted in the filtration system, or worked with bone fragments.
One thing is clear: You do not have to be an archaeologist to volunteer on a dig. I just finished my Masters in Biblical literature (Judaic-Christian studies) at Oral Roberts University. Tracy often reminded us of the staff’s intentions: to offer us valuable archaeological experience and to provide us prime “digging” enjoyment. If you want to contribute physically to Biblical research and are willing to rise before dawn and work intensely and optimistically in 100˚ F weather (despite the tedium), then find a dig!
I extend a hearty thanks to BAS for their exceptional generosity. Thank you Margaret Warker for being an attentive BAS contact.
Surprisingly, three prior recipients of the dig scholarship were at Shimron: David Clint Burnett, Kazuyuki Hayashiu, and Samantha Lindgren. (Clint was the Square Supervisor in Grid #24.) Thank you doubly to the Leon Levy Foundation for their contributions to BAS and to the Tel Shimron excavation. I met Shelby White, trustee of the Levy Foundation. She toured all of the grids for several days, and I sat next to her during our lectures. I am extremely grateful to the MOTBSI. The MOTBSI sponsored the Tel Shimron Excavation and sponsored me as one of their scholars. This summer I met incredible students, ministers, husbands, wives, mothers, professors, and budding archaeologists, and I renewed connections with folks from Ashkelon. My initiation at Ashkelon blossomed at Shimron. I scarcely used the pickaxe in 2016. This year I swung it with authority. Praise God for this inaugural excavation and a project that is destined for significant finds in the future. May the LORD bless all who made Tel Shimron 2017 a reality for me.
Thanks to the generosity of the Biblical Archaeology Society I was able to turn one of my long-time dreams of participating in an archaeological excavation in Israel into reality this summer. I participated in the excavation at Kiriath-Jearim led by Tel Aviv University and College de France.
According to the Ark Narrative (1 Samuel 4–6), the Ark made its way from Shiloh to Kiriath-Jearim. Knowing this made the excavation feel like I was a part of a scavenger hunt searching for clues about the historicity of the Ark or deeper insights into the cult of the God of the Israelites. Therefore, I began the excavation by carefully looking through every inch of loose dirt eager to find every piece of pottery that had been hidden under the topsoil for centuries. Every piece of pottery I found made me feel closer to unlocking the truth of the Ark Narrative. I later learned to look for diagnostic pieces of pottery and that the remnants of a wall might shed more light on the significance of the site than the tiny pieces of pottery that I had so eagerly picked up.
Yet the excavation was so much more than a hunt for pottery and walls. The excavation was led by the outstanding scholars Dr. Israel Finkelstein, Dr. Tomas Römer, and Dr. Christophe Nicole, who provided wise leadership to the group. They, among others, also gave lectures in the evenings about the history and archaeology of Judah, Jerusalem, and Kiriath-Jearim. This provided a rich combination of field experience and placing the significance of the excavation in historical context.
I will forever be grateful to Biblical Archaeology Society for granting me the scholarship that allowed me to take part in this transformative and insightful excavation.
I am grateful for the opportunity to dig at Abel Beth Maacah this summer. Although I had enjoyed studying archaeology, I had never had first-hand field experience. Thus, I was very excited about the opportunity to dig; yet, I was not entirely sure what to expect.
Through digging at Abel Beth Maacah, I hoped to gain a better understanding of the archaeological process in order to better appreciate and make use of archaeological data in my future studies. Abel Beth Maacah proved to be an excellent first digging and learning experience. The directors, Dr. Bob Mullins, Dr. Nava Panitz-Cohen, and Dr. Naama Yahalom-Mack, were excellent at explaining dig strategy and what was being unearthed and answering questions.
One of my favorite activities of the day was pottery reading. Everyone worked together to wash each of the buckets of pottery brought back from the field. After the pottery had dried, we would sit with our area group to sort the pottery. With the instruction received from the area supervisors and directors, I was able to begin to learn how to recognize different types and periods of pottery. I felt like I could imagine what the vessels looked like thousands of years ago.
Archaeological work is exhausting, but it is also extremely rewarding. Early mornings, digging into hard dirt with a pickaxe, and hauling buckets of dirt while working under the hot sun can quickly wear one out. However, the moment an ancient artifact begins to be uncovered, the weariness is forgotten in the excitement of discovery.
After having the opportunity to dig this summer, I have a new and greater understanding of archaeology and will never look at an archaeological artifact or report the same way again. I consider myself both honored and blessed to have been a recipient of a BAS scholarship. Receiving this scholarship made the dream of participating in a dig a reality.
This summer, thanks to the generous support of the Biblical Archaeological Society, I had an amazing time working at the Kenchreai Archaeological Field School, exploring one of Corinth’s ancient harbors of Biblical (New Testament) fame at the northern mouth of the Peloponnesian peninsula in Greece. The field school was based in the Isthmia Museum, a nearby town that housed artifacts from past digs in the area. From 8 AM to 1 PM, we worked almost exclusively for the field school. For our first two weeks, we worked at the Isthmia Museum, processing artifacts that were excavated from the Threpsiades property. While we scrubbed pottery in the hot sun, the senior staff would circle through and teach us about the pottery that we were cleaning, everything from its use to origins and significance. However, I also had the privilege of reassembling an ancient Roman grill, using the cracks and burn marks to fit together the dozen of pieces that had been uncovered.
After that, we spent roughly a week performing site maintenance at the Cummer tomb, a monumental Roman chamber tomb named after one of the original excavators. The Cummer tomb had not been properly maintained, so our work included everything from sawing down trees to removing wild onions and grasses. Finally, in our last week we performed site maintenance at the south mole of the ancient harbor of Kenchreai, clearing a late antique Christian basilica. In the basilica, we pulled long grasses and removed dirt, exposing long-lost mosaics and late Roman floor tiles. Removing fallen rocks, a friend of mine even found a modern dog skeleton buried among the ancient remains of the site!
At 1 PM, we would return to our amazing Kalamaki Beach hotel and eat communal lunches on the pool deck looking onto the Saronic gulf. In the afternoon and on the weekends, we went on trips to nearby archaeological and modern sites, including ancient and modern Corinth, Acrocorinth, Loutraki, Epidauros, Nemea, Mycenae, and Nafplio. On our trips, we learned about the history of Corinth and the Corinthia, from the Neolithic to the modern periods. Both senior and junior staff members gave wonderfully insightful and funny presentations. I presented on Apuleius’s novel The Golden Ass and the controversial so-called Temple of Isis on the south mole of the harbor of Kenchreai (where we spent many mornings in the hot sun). Each senior staff member also gave an extended presentation on their specializations, so we heard fascinating talks about archaeological illustrations, nautical archaeology, numismatics, mortuary archaeology, curse tablets, and more.
Besides the powerful learning experiences and valuable exposure to archaeology in practice, the people at Kenchreai made this trip so powerful and memorable for me. From my fellow undergraduates, whom I swam with, stayed up late with debating classics, archaeology, and religion with, and joined on unforgettable impulse trips around the Mediterranean, to the senior staff and professors, who were not only brilliant archaeologists and role models, but down-to-earth friends, to the incredibly generous and kind locals, who were hilarious and talented basketball players, the people I met made the archaeology all the more meaningful. Ever since I was a child, I have always dreamed of joining an archaeological excavation for a summer. Thanks to the generous support of the Biblical Archaeology Society, my summer at Kenchreai was a dream come true.
In Abu Ghosh, I plugged in my earphones and played “The Raiders March”—the Indiana Jones theme song—on my phone as I hiked up to the city’s monastery located at the top of the hill. Every time my friends asked me what I would do on my first-ever archaeological excavation, my answer was: “I’m going to be like Indiana Jones!”
Abu Ghosh is the modern city of the Biblical site of Kiriath-Jearim. According to the Biblical tradition, the Ark of the Covenant resided in it for 20 years before David brought it to Jerusalem. Even though hoping to be like Indiana Jones is just a joke, finding the “lost Ark” would be a significant contribution to archaeology and Biblical studies.
However, in its first season, the goal of the Kiriath-Jearim expedition is much more, but at the same time much less, than just finding the Ark. As one of the directors, Prof. Israel Finkelstein, said in the introductory meeting, in this first season we are open for any possibilities. We have certain goals, but we are also ready for any surprises that the site might want to show us.
Working in Area B, just a few terraces down from the top, we were divided into some squares. In my square, we found a wall that is consistent to the wall in another square. It even met nicely with the wall from another area. The locus I worked in yielded eighth-century B.C.E. materials. We found many interesting materials, including the pottery, grinding and pounding stones, coins, flint, and many more.
In my first archaeological experience, I learned a lot of archaeological lessons, from the methodology to field techniques to the current debates between some archaeologists. As a Biblical scholar in the making, knowing more about this discipline has broadened my horizon. It invites me to see the text in a totally different perspective. It was an amazing experience for me, and it couldn’t have happened without the generosity of the Biblical Archaeology Society.
Thank you, Kiriath-Jearim! Thank you, Israel! Thank you, Biblical Archaeology Society! Blessings!
Khirbet-el-Eika is a small village that was occupied during the Hellenistic period, around 200–100 B.C.E. The site is located on a hill just below a volcano, which looks out at the Sea of Galilee and peaks out between the Two Horns of Arbel. This place is remarkable. The view every morning is breathtaking. You’re looking out at over 2,000 years of history.
This summer was the third season of digging at Khirbet-el-Eika. The main things we were looking for are: Who were the occupants, how long were they here, and why did they leave?
The first season, the excavators uncovered two storage rooms full of Greek amphorae and other jars. In the Greek amphorae, there are stamps on the handles that say where they came from and when they were made. Using this kind of evidence, the archaeologists can date when the people lived at Khirbet-el-Eika and for how long. So far they believe these people were there for only 50 years.
After three seasons of digging, many fascinating things have been found. The highlights are a key, several coins, and an amazing amount of pottery sherds.
The area I worked in began with the idea of seeing if a wall found the year before continued. There were many rocks and an amazing amount of soil, but all the work uncovered more and more questions. Part of the wall began to arise from the ground, and you could see it clearly. Then, in the last few days, an oven—called a tabun—that was partially made using a large jar called a pithoi was found. Within that area we found many small bones. These finds may show how the residents of Khirbet-el-Eika cooked and ate in that area.
Along with the incredible finds, the experience of excavating was amazing. I went with no expectations but to learn. It is a whole different world that is absolutely beautiful. It’s hot and it’s hard work, but working and learning with the people from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was priceless. They were the kindest people. Everywhere you looked, you were seeing over 2,000 years of history and drama.
Thank you so much for giving me the chance to experience Israel. I had little idea of what I was walking into, and it was scary, but I enjoyed and absorbed every moment. I made some life-long friends whom I will treasure. The experience was completely unique.
If you visit Jerusalem during the months of June and July, you’ll find a bustling archaeological dig just outside of the bullet-riddled Zion Gate. It’s an exciting place on several different levels. Along with the horns and revving engines on the busy Jerusalem street beside the site, you’ll hear the sound of dirt and stones being moved and the conversation and laughter of around fifty global volunteers and staff drawn to Israel by a common interest. You’ll also find the site itself exciting. Levels from the Ottoman, Crusader, Islamic, Byzantine, and Roman periods are all present on this site that was located in the center of the city during the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
Thanks to BAS, I had the tremendous privilege of experiencing this excitement first-hand during the summer of 2017. The experience was the realization of two dreams: going to Israel and being involved in an archaeological dig. Not only was I able to walk on ancient streets and enter timeworn ruins, but I was able to handle coins and pottery that have not been touched for over 1,700 years.
Beyond the benefits of digging for two weeks, the Mt. Zion Excavation allowed me to live in one of the most interesting places in the world for three weeks. My knowledge and understanding of this all-important city changed in multifaceted ways. Additionally, the staff of the dig led a one-week excursion in which we visited multiple archaeologically rich sites, from Masada to Magdala. I was able to learn from renowned scholars like Shimon Gibson, Raffi Lewis, James Tabor, and Robert McEachnie at the actual dig site and at significant sites all over Israel. During my days off, I had the opportunity to further my understanding of ancient and modern history by visiting other places in Jerusalem, like the Israel Museum and Yad Vashem.
The experience had a profound effect on me intellectually and spiritually, the results of which have already been felt in my preaching. As I begin teaching in the fall again, I have no doubt that my experience at the dig at Mt. Zion will reverberate in my classroom as well. I sincerely thank you, BAS, for investing in me and in my students by providing the means to go on this trip. I continue to be very thankful to BAS for this opportunity of a lifetime.
To say that archaeology wasn’t a way that I planned to spend my summer would be a massive understatement. In fact, archaeology was never even on my radar. So when I found out through happenstance about a study abroad program at the Mount Zion Archaeological Dig offered through UNC Charlotte, where I was taking a post-baccalaureate calculus class at the time, I was intrigued. As a mathematician, religious studies and history were never primary areas of focus for me, but the opportunity to travel to Israel, a place I’d wanted to visit since I was 10, was too tempting to ignore. I wanted to challenge myself to try something new and figured there’d be no better way to step out of my comfort zone than by joining an archaeological dig halfway across the world. In the end, I had to ask myself…why not?
The Mount Zion excavation, located just outside the Old City of Jerusalem, is one of a kind, as it is the only dig in Jerusalem conducted by an American university. Our project is focused on learning more about Jerusalem’s long and complex history by continuing the excavations that Israeli archaeologist Magen Broshi conducted in the 1970s, and our team of volunteers comprises a mix of students and amateur to professional archaeologists working under the guidance of co-directors Dr. Shimon Gibson and Dr. James Tabor. However, the uniqueness of the site is not limited only to the presence that the U.S. has in Israel through this excavation; from an archaeological standpoint, the location of the dig could not be more ideal. Though outside the current city walls, the Mount Zion area would have been located directly within the walls of first-century Jerusalem and contains well-preserved remains of a Jewish home, thus providing an inside look at the then-thriving Jewish city. A century later, the site would be situated at the end of the Roman cardo that ran through Jerusalem, and various artifacts that were a part of the ancient marketplace provide information about what daily life might have looked like for those who lived there. But the history contained in the layers of the excavation cover far more than the first and second centuries; finds have been unearthed spanning over 2,000 years, from ancient Israelite periods all the way up to the last 100 years. I was amazed by the richness of our site, and I particularly loved the fact that on the Mount Zion dig, we treated every single artifact—from the tiniest potsherd to the most intricate piece of glasswork—as precious and something that could teach us about the ancient past of this remarkable city.
Though a complete “newbie” to the world of archaeology, I was eager to jump right into the field school at the Mount Zion excavation and learn as much as I possibly could, and I am incredibly grateful for this season’s dig team for making the project such an enjoyable experience. I loved it. Archaeology isn’t exactly a glamorous hobby—you spend the majority of the day covered in dust, hauling buckets of dirt and rocks back and forth in the heat or bent over in odd positions as you pick at the ground or poke away with your trowel. But every single moment is so worth it. Nothing beats the excitement of finding something special lying beneath the dirt, or the weird attachment you start to feel toward your personal trowel, or the sound of the shouts and cheers that erupt across the dig site when someone announces that it’s time for our daily popsicle break. It’s also a bit surreal when tourists walk past the excavation each day, admiring the work at the site, and one day you hear a dad explaining to his curious child, “See those people down there? They’re archaeologists. They’re digging up history.” And you suddenly realize, “Oh, wow. They’re talking about me!”
I must admit, though the archaeological experience itself was incredible, my favorite aspect of being a part of this excavation was without a doubt the people. Archaeology brings people together in such a unique way, and you develop this camaraderie with the people on your dig team that makes it feel like you’ve been digging in the dirt together for ages. There was such a beautiful diversity of individuals working together at our site, from teachers to students, young teens to seasoned archaeologists, authors to physicists…and yes, historians to mathematicians. I’ve never felt so at home with a bunch of complete strangers as I did in Jerusalem with this group of people that was linked together by, if nothing else, the common bond of love and appreciation for history, learning, and adventure.
I would like to extend a sincere thank you to the Biblical Archaeology Society for awarding me with one of the annual summer dig scholarships, because without it, this experience would never have been possible. My involvement on the Mount Zion Archaeological Dig not only challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and learn something new, but it also made history come alive in a way that I could never have seen elsewhere. I could not have asked for a better experience at my first archaeological dig…and I certainly hope this will not be my last!
My journey to the dig at Khirbet el-Mastarah began by traveling to Danville, Virginia the day before our flight to the home of my childhood friend, Dr. Corliss Jones-Williams, with whom I went to high school. The following morning, Corliss and I drove to dig director Ralph K. Hawkins’s home, and we caravanned along with his daughter Mary and Averett student Rosie to Raleigh-Durham airport in North Carolina.
We arrived in Tel Aviv and took a shuttle to our hotel right outside the gates of the Old City in Jerusalem. Our accommodations were comfortable, the staff was pleasant, and our meals were enjoyable.
On Monday morning, the real adventure began. We met in the dining area at 4:00 AM for coffee and cake and then boarded our van at 4:30 AM while it was still dark outside for a 45-minute ride to the dig site. The sun was rising by the time we arrived at our destination. A path had been cleared for the van to get us within walking proximity of the dig site. Carrying our water supply for the day, our tools and food for our breakfast, we walked over rocks and stones of all sizes and shapes in the valley to the mountain where I was to spend the next 10 days physically laboring harder than I have ever worked in my life. Before we even go to the site, we had to climb up the mountain over more stones and rocks and boulders than I had ever seen in my life. We had to work to get to the work!
The top of the mountain was a landscape of yet more stones, rocks, and boulders as far as the eye could see, with which I soon found out I would be having a very intimate relationship over these next 10 work days.
Clearly, you can see that I had absolutely no idea of what to expect. What I am sure of is that I had a purely idealized vision of what an archaeological dig was all about based on movies I had watched a long time ago with Meryl Streep in remote jungles doing experiments, interacting with the native population, and generally having a grand old time discovering new things as an archaeologist.
The shade covers were set up and we formed teams and got to work moving and hauling rocks, stones, and boulders before we could even begin any digging. After we cleared our marked-off work spaces, with pick axes and shovels in hand we got busy digging into the mountain, sweeping dirt, hauling dirt, sifting dirt, and digging into the dirt with our hands hoping to find pottery, bones, and any evidence of an early Israelite settlement many, many years ago.
We had a coffee and tea break, conversation, and camaraderie after a few hours, then back to work. I had never seen so much dirt and dust in all my life.
We did not find much the first day, just one or two small pieces of pottery that were probably surface finds. We dug up what we thought were some walls and living spaces.
At the end of our work day, we gathered all of our tools, put them in the center of our dig space, and dismantled the shade covers.
Then it was back down the mountain, along the dried river valley, to the van waiting to take us dusty, dirty, and tired back to the hotel.
It was awesome!
There were 12 volunteers and two archaeologists. We had students, preachers, a realtor, a harpist, a doctor, a boiler maker, a retiree, and a software developer. The youngest person was 13 years old, and the oldest ones were in their 60s. It was a very diversified group, and everyone was hardworking, fun to be around, well-versed in many subjects, and great people to spend time with and get to know.
The second day of the dig was monumental for me. I dug up the first major find of the excavation. I found a sizable and perfectly shaped mortar and grinding stone! They were perfect. I asked to have them named after me: Yaminah’s mortar and grinding stone. During my two weeks on the dig, we found some pieces of pottery, some pieces of rims, some pieces of handles, a couple of beads, a few bones. I found one of the bones.
During our time at the site, Bedouin shepherds on their donkeys stopped by to watch us work. They wanted to know if we were looking for gold. It was amazing to see the flocks and herds of sheep and goats scaling the mountains grazing on the sparse vegetation there in the desert. The shepherds showed off their shepherding skills, having the sheep and goats walk right next to and around us as we looked at and after them. I was thoroughly impressed.
The site we were at was on top of a mountain that was surrounded by the dried river bed that separated it from the mountains on the other side. It had to have been strategically selected for its location. There would be no surprise attacks from that vantage point.
When I saw where we were out in the middle of nowhere, all I could think was: How in the world was this place discovered? The answer I got was: “We had surveys done.” My mind still wants to know who just happened to wander out in the middle of the desert at the top of a mountain surrounded by mountains to “discover” this place? This to me is a mind-boggling puzzle.
Being in the land of Israel was a walk through Biblical history. The people, places, and situations came alive in a very real, hands-on, touchy-feely kind of way. I spent time inside the Old City, in the various quarters. I prayed at the Western Wall. I visited David’s tomb and the City of David. I put my feet in the Sea of Galilee and in the Jordan River. I climbed up the mountain in Qumran to the first cave where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. I truly did “walk in the footsteps” of the Children of Israel and actually did unearth some “hidden” gems.
Just as I knew in my heart, not only were there physical discoveries, but also profoundly personal spiritual experiences for me. I feel very blessed that I had the opportunity to be a part of the groundbreaking exploration of this pioneering project.
Like the Children of Israel, I walked forward in faith, and every resource required to make my journey to the Holy Land was provided.
I am grateful for being awarded the Biblical Archaeology Society’s dig scholarship. It is very much appreciated. Thank you again for selecting me as a scholarship recipient.
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