Ashkelon’s 2014 season cut short
For almost thirty years, the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon has excavated at the ancient seaport of Ashkelon in Israel. Below, Dr. Tracy Hoffman describes the end of the 2014 field season, which was cut short by dramatic events in the region. For more on Ashkelon in 2014, read about the start of the excavation and about the dig’s midseason progress.
When any North American excavation in Israel or the West Bank faces a situation like this, there is one institution that is at the center of the discussion: the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. This institute houses archaeologists throughout the year and in the summer, its courtyard serving as an information hub for excavators, particularly during its traditional daily teatime. But in times of crisis, this information hub becomes a lifeline for excavations. As soon as the situation changed in Ashkelon, the Albright Institute, under its new director Matthew J. Adams, served a key role in facilitating the logistics of every step that followed.
Our first move was to take a tour of northern Israel. This not only dealt with the immediate questions of safety but also gave the entire team a chance to place ancient Ashkelon, and our work at the site, within the larger context of the history and archaeology of Israel. Since Ashkelon was inhabited from the Bronze Age through the Crusades, the excavation staff included experts in many of these periods. Excavation director Daniel Master of Wheaton College helped the students compare the arched Canaanite Gate at Ashkelon to the arched Canaanite Gate at Tel Dan, while R. Denys Pringle of Cardiff University explained the architecture and history of Nimrod’s Fortress and Belvoir. Students also hiked around the Arbel Cliffs and Gamla while visiting Hazor, Beth Shean, the synagogue at Beth Alpha and Megiddo. Like the excavations at Ashkelon itself, this tour allowed students to experience the entire chronological sweep of the ancient Southern Levant.
At the same time, the bulk of the staff of the Leon Levy Expedition made its way to Jerusalem to finish out the season’s work at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem. Every member of the staff felt the burden of curating the objects that we had taken from the field. For some team members this meant finishing plans and reports. For others, it was creating an inventory of the season’s finds. And for yet another group, it was cleaning some of the most delicate discoveries of the season, so that they could be safely stored without deteriorating. This all took research space, and the Albright Institute offered that space. Some staff stayed for a weekend, others for two and a half weeks. Matt Adams, director of the Albright, was able to mitigate the archaeological consequences of the Gaza conflict. He and his staff provided a home to an excavation in need. We could not have finished our season without them.
There is still much to do in Ashkelon. Once the conflict is over, we hope that life in Ashkelon will return to its peaceful rhythms. Only then can we start to think again about our questions of the past. There is much we want to know. What is the extent of Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction? Can a step trench reveal Ashkelon’s earliest city? Can we finally figure out the intricacies of the classical city plan? The answers to these questions have been under the soil for millennia. They can wait a little longer. We hope that the coming fall and year ahead will be safe for everyone in the region. Perhaps then we can work together to uncover the stories of Ashkelon’s glorious past.
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