Digging Abel Beth Maacah

5 Questions for the Dig Directors of Abel Beth Maacah

Nava Panitz-Cohen and Naama Yahalom-Mack of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Robert Mullins of Azusa Pacific University direct excavations at Abel Beth Maacah in northern Israel. Despite some hurdles, their team conduced a small excavation in 2020 and hope for a 2021 season as well.

They answered five questions about the pandemic’s effect on their excavation.

Participants masked up at Abel Beth Maacah

Participants masked up at Abel Beth Maacah, in 2020. From left to right are Hebrew University students Yam Shemesh, Ofer Naveh, Harel Shochat, Or Fenigstein, Dor Heimberg, Yami Shaish, Adiel Zanzouri, and Dror Cohen. Photo Courtesy of the Abel Beth Maacah Excavations.

(1) How did you make the decision to dig during a pandemic?

Nava Panitz-Cohen, Naama Yahalom-Mack & Robert Mullins: We had very important research questions to address and did not want to entirely give up on the season. When we saw that the level of contagion had dropped to the point that everything had more or less reopened in Israel, under restrictions of social distancing, pods, and masks, we decided to conduct a small-scale dig that would try to achieve at least one of our goals. We must add that the decision was also somewhat emotionally based, because digging at our site in the summer is a real battery charge for us, and we simply wanted to get out in the field.

(2) What safety measures did you put in place to keep your team safe?

Panitz-Cohen, Yahalom-Mack & Mullins: We followed the Hebrew University of Jerusalem health-safety protocol, which in turn was determined by the Israeli Ministry of Health. We limited the time we dug (one week) and the number of participants (12), almost all of them our Hebrew University students, and kept them in small “pods” with separate rooms, cars, and dig contexts. We wore masks and did not accept visitors as we usually do. Being out in the open air most of the time helped, of course.

(3) What was the largest negative effect of the pandemic on your dig?

Panitz-Cohen, Yahalom-Mack & Mullins: We had to cancel what would have been a large season for 2020, with many participants. Not only did we miss out on uncovering exciting new data (e.g., we had planned to dig the storeroom in Area K where we found whole jars, one with a Hebrew inscription, in 2019), we missed working together with our many dear friends and colleagues who are long-time partners, and with all the people who were planning to join our team.

(4) Did the pandemic have any unexpected positive effects on your dig season?

Panitz-Cohen, Yahalom-Mack & Mullins: Having a streamlined dig with a limited amount of dedicated and hard-working students, with relatively very few logistics (e.g., we brought our own food since the kibbutz dining room was not operative, and we didn’t even wash the pottery, but just took it back to our institute and processed it there), no time limit at the end of the day since we traveled in private cars, and the like allowed us to be very efficient and focused. Thus, we accomplished our goals way beyond our expectations for such a short period of time.

(5) What are your plans for 2021?

Panitz-Cohen, Yahalom-Mack & Mullins: Although we are planning a “regular” season, we are keeping our options open to be more flexible in how and when we dig if there will still be health and travel restrictions. We are waiting, like the whole world is, to see the developments and will make our decisions in the spring of 2021. Possibly, we will have a small-scale “local” season again if our overseas team members are unable to join us. Most of all, we wish everyone the best of health and a speedy return to the routines that we love … be it excavating or anything else that makes us fulfilled and happy!

Download the Digs 2021 ebook for additional interviews with directors whose excavations were affected by the pandemic.

If you would like to join an excavation in 2021, visit for opportunities. This page includes a description of each site, goals for the coming season, important finds from past seasons, biblical connections, and profiles of dig directors.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Digs 2019: A Day in the Life by Robert Cargill

Digs 2018: Migration and Immigration in Ancient Israel by Robert Cargill

Digs 2017: Digging Through Time by Ellen White

Digs 2016: Passport to the Biblical World by Robin Ngo

Digs 2015: Blast from the Past by Megan Sauter

Digs 2014: Layers of Meaning by Noah Weiner

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