Journey to Jerusalem: A Tel Kabri Dig Weekend

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The Tel Kabri excavations have uncovered the oldest and largest wine cellar in the ancient Near East, as part of the storage rooms of the Middle Bronze Age Canaanite palace. In this post, Kabri participant Henry Curtis Pelgrift recounts the dig volunteers’ weekend adventure in Jerusalem. For more on the 2015 dig season at Tel Kabri, read “Tel Kabri: The 2015 Season—Weeks 1 and 2,” “Closing Down Kabri: The Last Week of the 2015 Season at Tel Kabri” and “The Results of the 2015 Season at Tel Kabri.”


Some of the 3,700-year-old jars discovered in an ancient palatial wine cellar at Tel Kabri in July 2013. Photo: Eric H. Cline, The George Washington University.

It’s time for an update from Tel Kabri! As I mentioned in my previous post, we are focused this season exclusively on our exploration of the storerooms located in the western part of Kabri’s Middle Bronze IIB Canaanite palace that represent the oldest and largest wine cellar in the Ancient Near East, and the tall ceramic wine jars buried within. There might be an official announcement on the jars and the storerooms sometime after the end of the dig. But until any official announcement is made, I can only quote Tel Kabri Expedition codirector Eric H. Cline’s July 3rd Facebook post: “We’ve gone from having 40 jars in a single storeroom to a lot more jars in a lot more rooms.”

Until then, we can talk of many things … not “shoes and ships and sealing-wax,” but important parts of dig life—such as weekends. In fact, weekend plans and excursions are an essential part of any dig, and Kabri is no exception. It’s long been a tradition at Kabri—and our sister dig at Tel Megiddo—that on the first weekend, volunteers make the trek to Jerusalem, and on the second, to Tel Aviv. The weekends that follow can take many forms—trips back to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem or day or overnight trips to other cities, or a quiet weekend at camp catching up on sleep. In this post, we’ll go along with the Kabri contingent to Jerusalem at the end of week one—mentioned briefly in my previous post.

So now I’ll tell the story of our weekend in Jerusalem. There were 21 of us, and on Thursday, we took the bus from the north into Jerusalem and found ourselves by the famed Jaffa Gate. As many Bible History Daily readers know, the Jaffa Gate is one of about nine gates in the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and is recognizable by the wide gap in the wall next to the gate, which was cut to allow Kaiser Wilhelm II’s car to pass through during the late 19th century Ottoman period. We spent the night at Citadel Hostel on the roof, a fun experience for us Kabrians.


A glorious view of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as seen from the Citadel Hostel. Photo: Brian Ricciardi.

Next morning, we woke to a glorious call to prayer at 5:00 and then slept again, waking at 8:00, when we headed out for delicious bagels at Holy Bagel on Jaffa Street. After the bagels, we headed to the Wailing Wall, which, as many readers know, is the part of the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount where prayer-messages are left for God in the cracks of the Wall.


Our intrepid archaeologists approach Judaism’s most sacred site, the Wailing Wall. Photo: Brian Ricciardi.

After prayers and leaving a request in the wall, we headed down toward the City of David and descended through the stone entry-way into Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the long tunnel cut through solid rock to pipe water to the south of the City of David just before the attack on the city by the Assyrian forces under Sennacherib at the end of the 8th century B.C. We waded through water as high as our knees for a quarter of a mile by iPhone light, painfully walking barefoot over the metal-grated platforms at the entrance and exit of the tunnel.


Up to our ankles in history in Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Photo: Tim Enright.

Somehow, we survived and were able to get food by the Wailing Wall, and then we got caught in a surge of people in the Muslim Quarter on our way back to the hostel. After arriving there, I set out with Samantha (Sam) Clark and Tim Enright, undergraduate and graduate students, respectively, at the George Washington University, in search of a SIM card for Tim, an ATM in a bank, and wine. Because of Shabbat (the Sabbath), we failed to find all three of these things, but we were successful in acquiring a chocolate cake from a shop.

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.

Before getting back to the hostel, however, Sam, Tim and I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where we explored the church and witnessed services at Golgotha, the massive, half-buried boulder inside the church, said by the devout to be the place of Jesus’ crucifixion. We also stepped into the ornate canopied stone enclosure that houses the chamber carved in the living rock that is said on ancient authority to be the Tomb of Jesus. We then headed back to the hostel, where we found our whole group hanging out in the private room we had for our stuff. The cake was welcomed by all.


Sam befriending a camel on our way back from getting chocolate cake. Photo: Tim Enright.

After some gazing at the Old City from the roof of the hostel as the sun set, it was dinnertime, and we all set out for the Armenian Tavern. Because the restaurant doesn’t like groups, we split into groups of four each and entered several minutes apart. It was a great time with lots of food. When we were all stuffed and had settled up, we headed out beyond the walls of the Old City to Jaffa Street until we reached the Putin Pub. The Putin Pub seemed like a Russian dive bar at first glance, but a night there showed it to be one of the finest places for a good time in Jerusalem. After a few drinks and with some of us talking politics, we all headed back to Citadel Hostel to rest for the next day.


Henry and Sam take a break in the courtyard of Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum while exploring the museum’s vast collections. Photo: Tim Enright.

The next day, Saturday and Shabbat, we all woke up groggy from the previous night’s festivities and in need of sustenance. A couple of us set out for Jaffa Street but found everything closed. “Hanger” (a portmanteau of “hunger” and “anger”) soon set in after half an hour of searching. We headed back to the Old City and broke up into smaller groups, thinking that more groups would increase the probability of success in foraging. Sam, Tim, Brian Ricciardi and I managed to find a pizza place that not only served non-kosher pizza and Ben and Jerry’s, but also had Tom and Jerry cartoons playing continuously on the TV!

Our hunger satisfied temporarily, we four journeyed onward out the Jaffa Gate and along the city’s Ottoman walls toward the Damascus Gate and beyond, to the Rockefeller Museum, which was founded by the son of the great oil baron in the 1930s. We arrived and spent a good hour and a half walking around looking at antiquities with sparse labelling—many of which had been found by the University of Chicago’s Megiddo Expedition in the 1920s and 1930s—and discussing history and video games. We emerged into the central plaza in time to hear a beautiful call to prayer.


Tim points the way to archaeological fun at the Israel Museum. Photo: Henry Pelgrift.

After the Rockefeller, we found a nearly abandoned Arab mall along the way, where we procured a much-needed SIM card and then visited ASOR’s Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, generally known as just “the Albright”—center and source of much of the archaeological activity and thinking in the Levant in the 20th century. We then set out in a taxi for the Israel Museum. There, we made a bee-line for the archaeology wing and soon found many Neolithic pieces from Tel Kabri’s 1958 and 1967 excavations.

As we continued on in the Israel Museum, we located several great archaeological finds, such as: the Ekron Inscription, which, according to Prof. Cline’s Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction, established Tel Miqne as the site of ancient Ekron; Sennacherib’s Prism, in which, according to the museum’s Chronicles of the Land, Sennacherib bragged of imprisoning Hezekiah in Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage”; and the Tel Dan Stele, with the earliest known reference to the House of David outside the Bible. Brian and Tim split off to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, while Sam and I stuck around in the archaeology wing, admiring the various bits of Israeli archaeology and translating Hebrew and Latin inscriptions on some of the artifacts.


Henry and Sam conduct some experimental archaeology at the Israel Museum. Photo: Tim Enright.

Short on time, we all rushed back to the hostel so we could get everyone ready to leave. Sam and I set off quickly to find gifts for people back home. We then rushed back and met up with the group at the bus. With Jerusalem in our hearts, we boarded the bus home. I sat with Sam, Alex, Brian and Tim, and all four of us joked around the whole ride back while Jeremy Cohen graciously distributed cake to people on the bus. We arrived back at the Achziv Field School ten minutes late, but just in time for Saturday night pizza!

Read the results of the 2015 dig season at Tel Kabri in Bible History Daily >>

Henry PelgriftHenry Curtis Pelgrift received his M.A. in Mediterranean archaeology from University College London in 2014 and his B.A. in archaeology from the George Washington University in 2012. He is back for his fourth season at Tel Kabri, having alternated between Kabri and Tel Megiddo every summer since 2009. Henry’s picture appeared on the cover of the January/February 2014 “Dig” issue of BAR. He has also excavated in Italy and Jordan, and after this season at Kabri, he will be digging in Cyprus.


1 Responses

  1. Anita Friedman says:

    I am surprised that he referred to the Wailing Wall, rather than the current usage Western Wall.

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1 Responses

  1. Anita Friedman says:

    I am surprised that he referred to the Wailing Wall, rather than the current usage Western Wall.

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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