For thirty years, the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon has excavated at the ancient seaport of Ashkelon in Israel. Below, Dr. Tracy Hoffman provides a midseason update on the 2015 excavation at Ashkelon. For more on Ashkelon’s 2015 field season, read “Digging into Ancient Ashkelon: The 2015 Season” and “Wrapping Up Ashkelon’s 2015 Season.”
In the field, work has transformed each of the excavation areas. Every day, the material record of human endeavor is uncovered, and students come face to face with the past. Nowhere is this encounter more dramatic then in Grid 51. It’s one thing to hear about the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Ashkelon and to know of the marketplace destroyed in neighboring Grid 50, and it’s another to see and excavate the devastation his armies wrought. Volunteers in Grid 51 witness the violence of this event daily as they uncover a building destroyed in 604 B.C.E. Collapsed walls, shattered vessels littering floors and signs of upheaval are everywhere.
At the start of the third week of excavation, volunteers in Grid 25 learned an important lesson: You just never know what you might—or might not—find in the dirt. Over the previous two weeks of careful excavation, an Islamic period residential building with doorways, thresholds, door sockets and a staircase was exposed. After that promising start, everything changed when the excavation of a destruction layer within the building revealed sand—lots and lots of sand—underneath. To determine the extent of the sand and its purpose, a series of probes were dug. Excavators quickly realized the sand was everywhere and that the cardo, the reason for digging in this particular area, was nowhere to be found. With that information in hand, they reached an inescapable conclusion: Time to rethink the strategy.
Archaeology is not for the faint of heart. It requires a willingness to do back-breaking work in heat, sun and sand. It demands intellectual and scientific rigor, as well as the fortitude to have hypotheses challenged and expectations upset. The trick to surviving such conditions is to embrace them wholeheartedly, to relish the uncertainty, and to work diligently, inexorably, to pry the secrets from the dirt. Thrilling, frustrating and wildly unexpected, the 2015 field season at Ashkelon has something for everyone.
Strata: “Altar-ed Theories at Ashkelon,” BAR, May/June 2012.
Mordechai E. Kislev and Ehud Weiss, “Weeds & Seeds,” BAR, November/December 2004.
Michael R. Shurkin, “The Dog Days of Ashkelon,” Bible Review, April 2004.
Lawrence E. Stager, “The Fury of Babylon: Ashkelon and the Archaeology of Destruction,” BAR, January/February 1996.
Lawrence E. Stager, “Eroticism and Infanticide at Ashkelon,” BAR, July/August 1991.
Lawrence E. Stager, “Why Were Hundreds of Dogs Buried at Ashkelon?” BAR, May/June 1991.
Lawrence E. Stager, “When Canaanites and Philistines Ruled Ashkelon,” BAR, March/April 1991.
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