Tel Burna 2015: Opening New Squares with People from All Over the World

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The Tel Burna Archaeological Project is exposing a Canaanite town in the Shephelah region of Israel believed by some scholars to be Biblical Libnah. In this post, excavation staff member Chris McKinny introduces us to some of the archaeology volunteers from all over the world and explains what is meant by opening a new square.



Cyprien excavating in B1. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.


Elliot and Linda taking a breather in Area B1. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

We have had a very nice group of participants the first two weeks of the 2015 season at Tel Burna, with participants from all over the world, including Taiwan, England, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, South Korea, Rwanda, the United States, Israel, the Philippines and more. For both volunteers and staff, this multicultural experience is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the excavation process. At Tel Burna, this leads to people from all over the world from many different ethnic, political and religious backgrounds interacting (and sometimes debating) while cleaning broken Canaanite and Judahite dishes!

We would like to also thank the Biblical Archaeology Society for awarding Benjamin Yang and Jennifer Maidrand with excavation scholarships to participate in the Tel Burna Archaeological Project.


Benjamin and Jennifer, BAS scholarship winners. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.


Dig director Itzhaq Shai with family. Wheelbarrows are multipurpose, after all! Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

Besides our long-term research goals associated with the multifaceted history of Tel Burna, we are also committed to fostering interest in archaeology with the general public. Several times this year (and in previous years as well), we will be joined by a group of elementary and/or junior high students, who will actively participate in the excavation process. This week, we were joined by a group of students from Kefar Saba (north of Tel Aviv) and Nitzan (near Ashdod). They seemed to have a great time. Beyond this valuable exposure to field archaeology, it is our hope that the continued interaction with the public will promote both awareness and interest for the next generation of archaeologists!


School group from Kefar Saba (north of Tel Aviv) participating in the excavations of Tel Burna in Area B1. The group is receiving an explanation on the finds from Yirmi Zanton, the project’s pottery restorer. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.


Ron Lev (Area B2 supervisor) delivering a lecture on lamp and bowl deposits. Over the course of the season, dig participants are exposed to a wide range of topics related to archaeological, Biblical and scientific topics. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

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.

During the first two weeks of our excavation season, we succeeded in opening two new squares in areas A2 and B2 (Iron II), a new square in Area C (agricultural installations) and another four squares in B1 (Late Bronze large cultic building). So far, the results of this work have already helped illuminate our core research questions that we asked at the beginning of the season. In a subsequent post, we will discuss some of the interesting architecture and artifacts that we have already encountered. But first, one might ask, “What does it mean to open a square?”


The Tel Burna team during week two. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.


Gary and Eli removing top soil in Area B1. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

At Tel Burna, we excavate in 5 x 5-meter squares with a 1-meter perimeter around and between the squares. This perimeter is called a “balk” (or, if you are British, a “baulk”). This results in a 4 x 4-meter excavation area for each square. Once this perimeter is marked off, we begin the difficult task of removing the topsoil. Topsoil is a layer of crusty soil that has been hardened by exposure to the elements. Typically, this topsoil layer is between 20–40 cm (c. 8–16 in.). That might not sound very deep, but across an entire square, the process of removing topsoil can take one to three field days of many rounds of pickaxing, bucket brigades and wheelbarrow runs.


Opening a new square/removing top soil in Area C. Notice the agricultural installation on the left and Drs. Michal Hejcman and Ladislav Smejda operating the handheld XRF, which is able to provide immediate results regarding the chemical composition of soil, rock, mudbrick, etc. More on this later. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.


Hanoch, Shai and Zoe removing the top soil in A2. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

All told, removing topsoil/opening a square is a difficult, but necessary, task that allows archaeologists to begin the process of excavating in a stratified context. Thankfully, we have finished this task for the 2015 season and can focus on clarifying the complex stratigraphy from the Early Bronze, Late Bronze, Iron IIA, Iron IIB, Iron IIC and Persian periods that we have already encountered. We will discuss each of these areas and several other subjects related to our project in the next few weeks.

chris-mckinnyChris McKinny is the supervisor of Area B1 at Tel Burna. Chris is a Ph.D. candidate at Bar Ilan University and an adjunct professor at The Master’s College. To follow his research, visit his page.


More on the 2015 field season at Tel Burna:

Tel Burna: An Introduction to the Biblical Town

The Specialists

iPads, PlanGrid and GoPro

Team Impressions

The Iron II Fortifications in Areas A1 and B2

Area A2—A Judahite Administrative Building?


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