Digs 2015: Blast from the Past

Read the full article from the January/February 2015 issue of BAR

BAR’s January/February issue—known as the “Dig” issue—has been highlighting excavation opportunities for the past 40 years. This year, in addition to sharing reports and images from the 2014 excavation season, we checked in with individuals featured on the cover of past “Dig” issues, along with some BAS scholarship recipients, to see what they’re doing now. Read their updates, enjoy essays from this year’s BAS scholarship winners and explore excavation opportunities in 2015 with our annual dig guide.


On the cover of BAR, January/February 2015: Patiche in hand, Hershey Vazquez Millner from Lycoming College trims a baulk at Megiddo in northern Israel. Photo: Courtesy of Eric Cline/The Megiddo Expedition.

Every year they come—from diverse corners of the world and different walks of life: students, professionals, enthusiasts, retirees, travel lovers, adventure seekers and more. They put their lives on hold for a couple of weeks or even months, and they dig!

Volunteer participants are an essential part of most academic excavation teams. These volunteers donate not only their time but their energy and enthusiasm as well. Thanks to their contributions, excavations throughout Israel, Jordan, Turkey and the Mediterranean are able to operate expeditiously.

Their work is not easy. It involves early mornings and long hours of digging—from the cool of the morning through the heat of the day—followed by pottery washing and the processing of artifacts in the late afternoon. For excavations with field schools, the day often concludes with an evening lecture.

Although the schedule is demanding, it is not without its rewards. Although the days are long, they are usually filled with interesting conversations, delicious food and occasional tours of neighboring sites and sights, as well as learning archaeological method and theory. Camaraderie and lasting friendships are formed while washing pottery, pick-axing a fill or sweeping a floor. Participating in an excavation allows you to explore new places—all while adding to our knowledge of ancient cultures and civilizations.

LEG OF A GOD? While exposing part of the southern bathhouse at Hippos-Sussita, Anna Geerling from the Netherlands and Caro Linchen from Germany uncovered the right leg of a Roman marble statue. The leg belongs to a muscular man who is leaning toward a tree trunk. It may depict a god or a sportsman—perhaps even the spear holder Doryphoros—but from just a leg, it’s difficult to draw further conclusions. The leg was found in the debris—or more precisely the collapse—of the bathhouse’s caldarium following the 363 A.D. earthquake, and the team at Hippos-Sussita hopes to unearth more of the 6.5-foot-tall statue when they excavate the rest of this debris. Photo: Hippos-Sussita Excavation.

Volunteers come, dig, learn and uncover history!

The 2014 excavation season was no exception. It was a bustling summer full of exciting discoveries and hard work, as shown by the numerous photographs we received from excavations.

SIFTING AWAY. Caitlyn Bess (left) and Craig Cummins (right), volunteers at the Bethsaida Excavations, sift buckets of dirt from their excavation areas to see if any further material culture remains can be separated from the dust. Photo: Hanan Shafir, The Bethsaida Excavations.

For some, this adventure began in the pages of BAR. Every year in the January/February issue, we highlight volunteers and discoveries from past excavation seasons and publicize opportunities for the upcoming year.

INSIDE LOOKING OUT. BAS scholarship recipient Catherine Witt peers out of the entrance of a small cave at Tel Jezreel on the last day of excavation. Photo: Courtesy Catherine Witt.

In some cases, BAR scholarships provide a grant for individuals who would otherwise not be able to participate. The BAR Dig Scholarship program is funded by some wonderful donors. In 2014, recipients of BAR scholarships volunteered at excavations throughout Israel—from Abel Beth Maacah in the north to Tell Halif in the south, from Tel Dor on the Mediterranean Sea to Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee, from Ashkelon in Philistine territory to Mt. Zion in Jerusalem—as well as sites in Jordan. Several of these volunteers shared their experiences, giving BAR readers an inside view of the 2014 season and the workings of an excavation (see “2014 Scholarship Recipients Go Digging”).

Pottery washing is an essential part of any excavation. After a full morning of digging and then resting during the heat of the day, volunteers return to work! Like these members of the 2014 Megiddo team, they pick up the buckets that they earlier filled with pottery, grab a bucket of water and begin to carefully clean the potsherds. Once dry, the pottery is examined by specialists to determine its type and date. Photo: Courtesy of Eric Cline/The Megiddo Expedition.

Since the beginning, 40 years ago, BAR has been committed to connecting volunteers with excavations. An article titled “Go Dig, Young Man (and Woman)” appeared in BAR’s first issue (March 1975). Excavation opportunities continued to be announced annually thereafter.

Silhouetted in the soft morning light, a solitary figure sifts excavated material at Megiddo. Courtesy of Eric Cline/The Megiddo Expedition.

Our January/February issue has become known as the “Dig” issue. Since 1986, volunteers—both individuals and in groups—have been featured on the cover of the “Dig” issue.

Our 40th anniversary is an exciting time, as well as a time for reflection. In honor of this significant milestone, we checked in for an update with a few individuals who have been featured on past covers of BAR—as well as a couple of past BAR scholarship recipients. Their responses were so interesting, we knew we’d have to share them with you! Some of these people who have been featured in BAR have continued in the field and others not. But all acknowledge that archaeology has played a significant role in their lives. Where are they now? Read their stories here.

BAR has been connecting volunteers with excavations for the past 40 years, and for the last 29 of those years, volunteer excavators have been featured on the cover of the “Dig” issue. To see more updates from former BAR cover stars, please visit us at

SURVEYING THE SITE. Dr. Oded Borowski (left) looks through the lens of a total station (surveying equipment), while BAS scholarship winner Faith Huh (center) and Aziz Brown help mark the dimensions for a new excavation square at Tell Halif toward the middle of the season. Courtesy Faith Huh.

Additionally, if you were featured on the cover of a past issue of BAR—or if you know someone who was—please let us know what you’re doing now. We’d love to hear an update about your life and how archaeology has—or hasn’t—influenced it! You can contact us at [email protected].

NATIONAL PRIDE. The volunteers at Tell es-Safi/Gath arrange themselves on the ground for an aerial photograph to form the flag of Israel. Courtesy of the Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, photo by Skyview.

We at BAR hope that we can continue to help connect volunteers with excavation opportunities at Biblical archaeology sites at least for the next 40 years!

For more from BAR’s Digs 2015 issue:

Read essays from past Dig issue cover stars and former BAS scholarship recipients >>

Read essays from 2014 BAS scholarship recipients >>

Check out the 2015 excavation opportunities >>

Excavation Opportunities in 2015

Whether you’re seeking a field school or just an adventure, this section will help you get started on finding an archaeological excavation that’s right for you. There’s even more on the Biblical Archaeology Society website at, which we developed to share excavation opportunities with our readers.

The chart below provides key information on 26 digs. On the web, you’ll find additional excavations, including a full description of each site, the excavation’s goals for the coming season, important finds from past seasons, Biblical connections and profiles of dig directors, as well as photos of diggers at work and play. The right archaeological expedition for you might be just a click away!


Click image to enlarge

“Digs 2015: Blast from the Past” by Megan Sauter appears in the January/February 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


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