2019 Dig Scholarship Winners Share Their Stories

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, 2020 Dig Scholarships have been suspended. Check back for updates as we assess the situation for the possibilities of a Dig Season in 2021.

The Biblical Archaeology Society, publisher of BAR, offers dig scholarships of $2,000 each to people who wish to participate in a dig and demonstrate financial need.

Some 2019 winners share their experiences below.

Margaret Nicole Bracey

Photo: Ronnie Ward

Khirbet Auja el-Foqa

Words cannot do justice to explain my amazing, wonderful experience at Khirbet Auja el-Foqa, an archeological dig in the Jordon Valley. Thanks to the scholarship I was awarded from BAS, I was able to experience two dreams: first, of going on a dig and, second, of going to Israel. I will be eternally grateful for this opportunity. Volunteering and living in Israel with some of the most interesting and intelligent people from around the world was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Honestly, I loved every minute of learning, working, and being completely submerged in different cultures. My favorite and probably the most spiritual part was seeing more of God’s creation by getting up early each morning, riding through the mountains from Jerusalem to Jericho, arriving at the site just as the sun rose over the Jordon Valley, and discovering history in the beautiful desert. The month-long trip was quite entertaining; I laughed for days with my new friends, as if we had known each other forever. I celebrated my 39th birthday on a Saturday tour day—and what a day to remember at the Dead Sea, Jordon River Baptism site, and Masada. I truly enjoyed the fieldwork that was physically challenging, yet also rewarding, and set in a relaxed atmosphere. You could say I carried a lot of buckets!

Before this incredible journey, I knew nothing about archeology or even that much about Israel. However, I have studied the Bible my whole life and have attempted to understand it. Summer 2019 was the first season for this particular site. It is important to research how this site may explain the connection between the Kingdom of Israel and Judah to the land of Ammon and Moab. It may also shed light on when the Israelites settled the land and whether this site was a fortress to protect from invaders. Could it have been deserted or destroyed by Assyrians, Babylonians, or even before? We can report that the city walls date back to Iron II, the time of the Divided Monarchy, as well as an earlier wall that may date to late Iron I. During the dig, we found enough pottery to open a store, grinding stones, an arrowhead, a spearhead, and possibly an administration building. There is much more to explore and discover in the upcoming seasons.

The memories that will remain with me from now on are the special connections I made. I learned from a family of Bedouins living near the ancient establishment that their traditional, modest lifestyle is a desire for simplicity, and they choose this life. I can completely understand the desire and admire the peaceful, loving people. As with every misconception made about an unknown culture, to me, I always thought it was a matter of being poor and uneducated. I bonded with the volunteers of the dig, and I can also claim I am now a part of the Bedouin tribe at Khirbet Auja el-Foqa. My heart is on the hilltop in the fortress tower, the walls, the pits, the friendships, and now the history of the archeological area—until I return again.

To anyone who has ever felt the calling to volunteer on a dig, have faith and go for it! I also suggest applying for a BAS scholarship and joining a dig with the professional team of the Jordon Valley Excavation Project. Allow your heart, life, and mind to be transformed.

Not sure which excavation you might want to visit? Check out BAS’ Dig Page and start your research!

Kristina Donnally

Khirbet a-Rai

I distinctly remember sitting in my ancient Near Eastern history course the fall of my second year of college when I decided to change my concentration from Classical Archaeology to Near Eastern Archaeology—after a class on the Middle Bronze Age. Two years later, I stood in the desert of Israel as an intern at the archaeological excavation of Khirbet a-Rai. When I received the BAS scholarship, this financial support did not simply mean that I got to embark on an incredible experience, but it also meant that I got to follow my dream career. That is exactly what I got to do this summer as I worked with the amazing team at Khirbet a-Rai, led by Dr. Yosef Garfinkel and Dr. Kyle Keimer, along with Saar Ganor of the Israeli Antiquities Authority. I personally worked alongside the supervisor staff for Area A, an area that proved to have multiple large building complexes dating to the 10th and 11th centuries B.C.E. As an official intern, I assisted in the documentary processes of field work, including recording loci, finds numbers, elevations, square diagrams, and more. I also was the assistant lab manager and participated in pottery reading, pottery cataloging, and small finds cataloging. Khirbet a-Rai even made the news this summer, as our team announced that we believe the site to be the biblical town of Ziklag, an interpretation the team was able to make after the discoveries of the past three years of excavations.

As this was my second year at a-Rai, it was incredibly rewarding to be out of the purely learning phase and to participate in more upper level work. While the term “exhausting” is an immense understatement in describing how we all felt during the dig, the 3:50 AM mornings, hours in the heat, dirt encrusted skin, and blister covered feet were all worth it in the end. The feeling of uncovering a complete vessel dating back 3,000 years, or an Egyptian amulet, or the corner of the wall you were so desperately searching for is worth all the sweating and yawning we endured. It is thanks to the great generosity of the Biblical Archaeological Society that I was able to experience those feelings over the three weeks of work we did on site. Without this scholarship, I would never be able to manage my own excavation square, discover a faience amulet, or help take residue analysis samples from 3,000-year-old complete vessels. Archaeology is incredibly hard work, and it is definitely not for everyone. Yet for me, it is a dream come true, and I will never be able to express in words the wonder and fulfillment I feel when I stand covered in dirt and sweat, documenting some find that was just uncovered. Working at Khirbet a-Rai was an extraordinary experience, and I cannot wait to continue my Near Eastern archaeological journey.

My deepest gratitude goes to the Biblical Archaeological Society, the amazing team at Khirbet a-Rai, my incredible professor Jonathan Waybright of Virginia Commonwealth University, and to all the other amazing staff, volunteers, and students who worked so hard this summer on site.

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.

Demorick Green

Tell Keisan

The Tell Keisan excavation, directed by Dr. David Schloen, Dr. Gunner Lehamann, and site supervisor Dr. Elizabeth Bloch-Smith, was my first hands-on introduction to the world of archaeology. The experience and confidence that I gained from this dig were vital for my development as a scholar. During my time in Israel, I learned new approaches to answering research questions. In addition to learning different archaeological methods in the field, our daily lectures reinforced my command of Israelite history and filled gaps in my knowledge. Under Dr. Bloch-Smith’s leadership, we were up bright and early, ready to work. She assured me before we started that the dig was going to be a great experience, and it was just as she said.

Before we began the dig season, we took a site tour led by Dr. Schloen and Dr. Lehamann. They taught us about the history of the site and about the people who live in the surrounding areas. Being there and seeing the work from past excavations gave me a sense of pride because I knew that after this season I would be among those who contributed to uncovering the site’s history, in a way making me a part of that history.

Every day, we arrived at the foot of the tell and had to walk up a steep hill. That trek will definitely get your heart pumping before you start digging! Once we made it to the top, the view was stunning. Tell Keisan overlooked a kibbutz, so just imagine looking down at an olive grove and listening to sheep calls, while the sun illuminates more of the surrounding cities in the distance. It was a tranquil experience. That view put a smile on my face every morning, and it is something I miss often. In contrast, the dig was hard work. This experience strengthened my appreciation for the hard work archaeologists do to excavate and preserve our human history. It is fun, but it is not easy. The first day was not for the weak. I had no clue how much work it took to start excavating. Scooping dirt, hauling buckets of dirt, and dumping barrels of dirt seemed endless, but the camaraderie we built in our square made time fly.

I had the pleasure of being a part of square 38, where my square supervisor was Oliva Hayden, a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a great instructor and took time for those of us who were new, not only teaching us different methods and techniques but historical significance as well. Each day, I loved coming up with different theories of why my area looked the way it did and had the types of materials it had.

Pottery washing was one of my favorite parts of the day. We would gather in a circle with our buckets and brushes and build community. Washing pottery had other perks. When you clean the sherds, you reveal its beautiful color and, if you’re lucky, a decoration or an inscription. Pottery washing gave us more than enough time to strengthen our bond. Square 38 was a group of beautiful people from different experiences. In our square, we built bridges that I plan to maintain.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Revital Meir. She is a doctoral student at Ben Gurion University and one of the dig’s ceramists. She is very knowledgeable in her field and extremely hospitable. My interactions with her and Dr. Lehamann helped make my time in Israel memorable. The Tell Keisan dig was an amazing experience. I had an opportunity to learn more about a field I aspire to enter and meet amazing people who, through our short interaction, have made a lasting impression on my life. I want to thank the Biblical Archaeology Society for aiding my journey toward academia and participation in this dig. Without your support, this would not have been possible.

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