Jezreel Expedition 2016: It Takes More Than Moving Dirt to Dig the Bible

Excavating at Jezreel in Israel

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Although digging is at the center of the daily activities of most archaeological projects, there are many other important jobs that are performed during the field season and year-round. The second most important activity archaeologists do, after carefully excavating ancient remains, is recording what we have uncovered each day. Careful recording in the field means that all of our finds, from the smallest pot sherd to a city wall, can be studied after the season, recreated digitally and, eventually, fully published.


Michael Sullivan fills out paperwork in the field while University of Evansville undergraduate archaeology major Josh Schuster looks on. Photo: Courtesy of the Jezreel Expedition.

At the Jezreel Expedition, our square supervisors are at the front line of excavating and recording. Most of our square supervisors are alumni of the undergraduate archaeology program at the University of Evansville (UE), and we rely on them not only to carefully excavate and record the finds in their squares, but also to lead and train two novice excavators. Most new participants in a project like ours are stunned by the sheer quantity of archaeological material we reveal, and it is the square supervisor’s responsibility to ensure that this material is recorded accurately, labeled and brought out of the field each day. Michael Sullivan, a May 2016 graduate of the archaeology program at UE and a veteran of four Jezreel field seasons, describes the challenges involved in running a 5×5-meter square. According to Mike, it is easy to fall into the trap of getting behind in paperwork and feeling overwhelmed, but he credits daily collaboration with his fellow square supervisors and area supervisors with giving him the skills necessary to manage it. Mike and other team members are also responsible for providing crucial logistical support as we pack three vans full of shades, tools and the day’s pottery and other finds to return to Kibbutz Yizre’el, our home during the field season.

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.



Ashley Motes photographs emerging architecture in her square. Photo: Courtesy of the Jezreel Expedition.

Another important aspect of archaeological documentation is photography. UE archaeology alumna and veteran of three Jezreel field seasons, Ashley Motes, is an experienced photographer who is training with us as a dig photographer this season. In addition to taking photographs of team members working in the field and posting them on our Facebook page, she is responsible for taking photos of excavated architectural features and diagnostic pottery sherds recovered from each locus. Indeed, a job in which nearly every member of the Jezreel Expedition participates daily is washing pottery in the Spring of Jezreel just below the site. It feels wonderful to take your boots off and soak your feet in the cool water while washing pottery sherds dating from the Neolithic through the Bronze and Iron Ages and all the way up to the Ottoman period that are revealed each day. After washing, the pottery is brought back to the kibbutz and our Registrar takes charge!


Washing pottery in the Spring of Jezreel. Photo: Courtesy of the Jezreel Expedition.

Dr. Ann Stehney joined the Jezreel Expedition in 2014 after gaining excavation experience at several other sites in Israel. She has since taken the position of Registrar and is responsible for organizing the data and preparing the collection of finds for specialists—a fitting task for someone with a background in information systems.


Ann Stehney at work in our dig office at Kibbutz Yizre’el. Photo: Courtesy of the Jezreel Expedition.

In her other life, Ann recently retired after a distinguished career as a research mathematician, university administrator and professor, most recently at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. Together with one or more assistants, Ann sorts and organizes the pottery, flints, ground stone tools, bones and other artifacts that arrive in her office each day during the field season. She also digitizes the field notes and keeps an eye on problems as they arise. “It took me 30 years to realize I could dig alongside the pros,” she says, “and now I’m contributing my own expertise. What a hoot!” Although digging the Bible is great fun, we would never be able to contribute to a real understanding of the past without proper recording and registration.

For more on the 2016 Jezreel Expedition, read “You Don’t Have to Be an Archaeologist to Dig the Bible” and “Jezreel Through Time.”

jennie-ebelingJennie Ebeling is Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Evansville and Co-director of the Jezreel Expedition. Her research interests include ancient food and drink technology, women in Canaan and ancient Israel, and religion and cult in the Bronze and Iron Age Levant.


norma-franklinNorma Franklin is a Research Associate at the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa and Co-director of the Jezreel Expedition. Her research has focused on the three key cities of the Northern Kingdom of Israel: Samaria, Megiddo and Jezreel.

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