Students Excavate the Church of the Glorious Martyr

Archaeology engages youth in Israel’s past

Students clean and preserve the mosaic floor of the church’s southern side chapel. Photo: A. Peretz, Courtesy of the Israel IAA

The excavations at the Church of the Glorious Martyr—a Byzantine-era memorial church located west of Jerusalem in the Judean Hills—were conducted as a part the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Hanchala  program (Hebrew for “endowment”). The nationwide initiative seeks to educate, expose, and involve the Israeli public with archaeology and to encourage public awareness of cultural resources. To achieve this goal, the Church of the Glorious Martyr excavations were chosen as a pilot project employing teenagers as the excavation’s main workforce. The project continued for four consecutive excavation seasons and witnessed the participation of more than 4,000 high-school aged students as diggers, pottery washers, and even conservators.

Students pose with excavated iron window grille at Church of the Glorious Martyr site

Three students who helped excavate the Church of the Glorious Martyr. Photo: B. Storchan, Courtesy of the IAA.

Each day at the dig, students participated in staff-led lectures and discussions about the site and excavated artifacts. At the end of each week, the teens were invited to join the dig’s social media group so they could monitor the excavation’s progress. For most, the excavation was their first encounter with archaeology and proved to be a life-changing experience, as some began to consider archaeology as a possible future career. Since the last excavation season, educational projects have been conducted at IAA excavations across the country.

The Church of the Glorious Martyr excavations have teamed up with Biblical Archaeology Review to continue the project’s public outreach with the launch of a digital web app allowing the general public to learn more about the site. Visit or to learn more.

Benyamin Storchan has worked for the Israel Antiquities Authority since 2008 and is the director for the Church of the Glorious Martyr excavation project. Benyamin is currently a Ph.D. student, studying the aspects of the Byzantine–Early Islamic period transition in the Holy Land, at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

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