There Is No “Lone Genius” in Archaeology

A volunteer’s experience at Azekah


Caitlin Hubler poses in her dig square at Azekah. Courtesy Caitlyn Hubler.

As soon as my professors heard I was interested in joining an excavation in Israel, there was one site universally recommended: Azekah. Now, after experiencing it firsthand, I understand why they were so eager for me to join.

The excavation area where I worked was relatively new (only three seasons old), but had an especially exciting season. In the lower area, we discovered installations from the Early Bronze Age (c. 3300–2000 BCE) that made use of the site’s natural bedrock. In the upper area, we uncovered a monumental wall that may be part of a massive Iron Age (c. 1200–586 BCE) citadel.

While these large finds were certainly impressive, what I found perhaps more exciting, as a first-time dig participant, was the sheer amount of pottery that was recovered from the site. The ability to hold in my hands something that was used by people who lived thousands of years ago was an illuminating experience as someone who spends most of her time studying ancient texts. At the risk of stating the obvious, it reinforced for me that the people who wrote the Bible had real lives, just like me—they ate, drank, cooked, and cleaned, while also producing what I believe to be some of the greatest literature in the world. The experience of holding together both text and artifact (or, put another way, belief and practice) and noting their interdependence will be one of the most significant impacts of this experience for me going forward as I continue to study ancient Israelite religion and the Hebrew Bible.

In the free eBook, A Digger’s Life: A Guide to the Archaeology Dig Experience, step into an archaeological excavation and find out what it takes to find, prepare for, and work on a dig.

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This experience also prompted me to think about my own discipline in a new way. In contrast to biblical studies, which can sometimes suffer from an excessively individualistic culture, archaeology is inherently collaborative and collective. Of course, it takes a whole team to excavate a site, but there is also the interpretation of the data (not to mention the writing of reports) that requires the partnership of people with distinct and varied specializations. The dig might have a specialist in Iron Age ceramics, one in ancient agriculture, and someone who focus on zooarchaeology—each requiring the mastery of vastly different bodies of knowledge, but all equally necessary for a successful excavation.

Archaeology simply cannot be done alone in the same way that texts are often studied. Of course, no one biblical scholar actually has the requisite knowledge to successfully incorporate all areas of that field either, but somehow the one-sidedness of our research is more easily disguised as the work of the “lone genius.” There is no “lone genius” in archaeology—it’s simply not possible! In any event, I think those of us in biblical studies have a lot to learn from the way archaeology necessitates the integration of distinct scholarly specializations in a way that sees these subfields as complementary rather than competitive. It may be time for us to follow suit and throw out the ideal of the “lone genius” after all!


About the Author

Caitlin Hubler is a doctoral student in Hebrew Bible at Emory University. She was a BAS Dig Scholarship winner in 2022 when she volunteered at the Azekah excavation in Israel. Hubler’s work traces the development of Israelite religion as informed by the philosophical contexts of the ancient Near East. Her writing and research has appeared in the Journal for the Study of Old Testament as well as Mockingbird Magazine and the Project on Lived Theology.

The Biblical Archaeology Society offers dig scholarships of $2,000 each to people who wish to participate in a dig and demonstrate sufficient need. Click the link below to fill in the online application. Apply for a BAS Dig Scholarship Now!

Read more in Bible History Daily:

Digging In: Tel Azekah

Mud, Monks, and Mosaics


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

The Last Days of Canaanite Azekah

“Lachish and Azekah Were the Only Fortified Cities of Judah That Remained” (Jeremiah 34:7)

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

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