BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Finding an Archaeological Dig

Answering your questions about excavating the biblical world

archaeological dig site

Volunteers at the archaeological dig site of Tell Keisan. Courtesy Nathan Steinmeyer.

Have you ever wanted to take part in an archaeological dig, but did not know where to begin? Are you unsure about what you would get out of the experience, or if you have the required skills and qualifications? Don’t worry. We answered those and more questions when Biblical Archaeology Review Assistant Editor Nathan Steinmeyer sat down with the Biblical World podcast to discuss why you should consider joining an archaeological expedition in the Holy Land, and how you can start your archaeological adventure. Check out the podcast episode now to hear what Nathan and the archaeologists at Biblical World had to say. Then, read the rest of Nathan’s article below for even more!

 

Why Should You Go on a Dig?

Every summer, volunteer archaeologists descend upon archaeological sites in Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and many other countries across the Mediterranean region. From upstart archaeology students to retired professionals, volunteers come in all forms, yet together they have constituted the lifeblood for hundreds—if not thousands—of archaeological excavations through the decades. But why should you consider going on a dig? There are many reasons I can give, but here are just a few.

pottery from an archaeological dig

Washing pottery fragments at El-Erani. Courtesy Nathan Steinmeyer.

Very few things connect you to the past the way that excavating does. Whether you are interested in the biblical past, the Roman Empire, or prehistoric peoples, the experience of uncovering history for yourself is incredible and life-changing. I remember the first time I held an Early Bronze Age (c. 3300–2000 BCE) vessel that I had uncovered with my own two hands. At that moment, I was closer to the past than I had ever imagined; holding an object that had last been touched by a human more than 4,000 years ago.

It is not just the artifacts, though. Spending time on the dig site and exploring countries and regions that you have never visited before will profoundly change the way that you think about them and their history. In my experience, this is especially true of biblical history. Having been on a dig, I can never think of biblical battles, cities, and events the way I did before. Even just the realization that the mighty Jordan River is actually quite small will be a source of amusement for the rest of my life.


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Beyond the history and geography, taking part in an excavation also gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a foreign culture. While a month or two is not long enough to learn everything about your host country, your time there has the potential to open a door to a new world, to introduce you to new foods, languages, and customs. Plus, it is an incredible way to meet new people from all over the world.

Posing for a photo with my dig square partner after a particularly dirty day of excavations. Courtesy Nathan Steinmeyer.

 

Who Can Go on a Dig?

Almost anyone can take part in a dig without any sort of formal training. Whether you are an archaeology student, an insurance provider, or a retired surgeon, archaeology is limited only by the desire to dig in and get dirty. Plus, you might even find a new calling in life.

excavating at a site

Yohan, the son of an excavator at El-Araj, poses for a photo beside a mosaic he is helping to clean. Courtesy Nathan Steinmeyer.

As archaeological dig technologies and methodologies advance, there is more diversity in dig tasks than ever before. From digging in the trenches to washing pottery or managing the camp, many excavations can find tasks to meet most levels of fitness. Nonetheless, archaeology can be a very tough and strenuous job. While you certainly don’t need to be an athlete to join a dig, a certain level of stamina is required. With early mornings and long days spent out in the hot sun, an excavation can take a lot out of you. If you have questions about what you can handle, talk to your doctor, or contact the project directors to see what sorts of dig jobs are available and where they might be able to use you.

 

How Do You Find a Dig?

Now that you are thoroughly convinced to volunteer for an excavation, how can you find one? While you could do a web search, there is a much easier way: the Biblical Archaeology Society’s Digs page. Every year, BAS compiles a comprehensive list of archaeological sites in Israel, Jordan, and around the Mediterranean that are looking for volunteers just like you. This list provides you with descriptions of each site, details about their programs, and contact information for dig directors and coordinators who would be happy for you to join their team.

Plus, if you are looking for financial assistance to support your archaeological dig experience, don’t forget to check out the BAS Dig Scholarship, which awards $2,000 to applicants who wish to participate in a dig and demonstrate sufficient need.

 


Read more in Bible History Daily:

Excavate the Holy Land from South to North

Excavate Jesus’s Roman Galilee

 

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Join a Dig: See the World

The Diggers Return

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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