Tel Burna 2015: Team Impressions

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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. Below, excavation staff member Chris McKinny has interviewed some team members to show what it’s like to volunteer at Tel Burna.

Most readers of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) and online followers of Bible History Daily know that Biblical archaeology is a fascinating subject. However, there is at least one element of the archaeological process that is difficult to grasp from the comfort of the “armchair.” This element is the various relationships that are formed during the four weeks of grueling manual labor and gritty pottery washing. This element is actually the most enjoyable aspect of Biblical archaeology. To remedy this, we have asked several of our extraordinary team members to provide their impressions from this summer’s excavation at Tel Burna. Enjoy!



Ira Smith excavating the jaws of a cow likely from the Iron IIB “Sennacherib destruction.” Ira is an electrician from rural Idaho who has a passion for his grandkids, hunting and archaeology. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

What was the highlight of your dig experience?

Kay Fountain: “I enjoyed working with people from different faiths, walks of life and countries.”

Teresa Smarsh: “Finding my first piece of pottery in the dirt! I waited two years to make that find.”

Sandy Katz: “Getting a wonderful explanation from Tina [the project’s zooarchaeologist] about bones, something I lacked in previous digging experiences, and a subject that I find very interesting.”

Ira Smith: “The highlight of my experience was without any shadow of a doubt the wonderful and diverse group of people that I had the privilege of working with. A group of people with the same passion and willingness to share their knowledge with the novices as well as the other professionals.”

What was the best thing that you found?

Kay Fountain: “A family of turtles! Since we opened a square and were digging in topsoil, there wasn’t a lot of pottery that was significant. But slowly unfolding a puzzle was interesting, too.”

Teresa Smarsh: “My favorites were the sling stone, the unknown cone object and the jug handle.”


Kay Fountain working in Area A2. Kay is the Academic Dean and Old Testament Professor at Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in the Philippines. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

Sandy Katz: “This season I was digging on a higher level, shortly after starting the square. I think the most satisfying experience was seeing a change in the color of the dirt to black ash, knowing that I was getting somewhere, even though I wouldn’t be there the next week to see what would be revealed. Of course there was also a ‘special find,’ bagged apart from the general pottery, which may have been used as a grinding stone.”

Ira Smith: “Old bones and sling stones, and most of an Iron Age IIA (we think) oil lamp were exciting, but the best things I found were some fantastic new friends and a renewed interest in Biblical history.”

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.

What impact did your participation in Biblical archaeology have on you?

Kay Fountain: “I thoroughly enjoyed it, and have a greater understanding of what is involved in archaeology and how it is done. I have also found out so much about the different types of expertise required in this area of study, and how different experts bring interesting perspectives to the whole enterprise.”

Teresa Smarsh: “I am looking forward to studying about the Iron and Bronze Ages, and the relevant books of the Bible, before I come back to Tel Burna. I would like to know more about the objects that people used then— and the ones we find today.”


Sandy Katz cleaning inside a large Iron II building. Sandy is originally from Canada but now lives in Israel. She first started volunteering on digs about 17 years ago, got hooked and has been excavating as a hobby ever since! Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

Sandy Katz: “I actually took a course on Coursera (“The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem” with Oded Lipschits and Ido Koch of Tel Aviv University) to further my knowledge of the time period of the eighth to sixth centuries B.C.E., as it covered the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian periods and gave me further insights in addition to the hands-on digging experience I’ve gotten at Tel Burna. Hopefully, I will continue with further courses to expand my knowledge.”

Ira Smith: “I have a long-running interest in Biblical archaeology, but this trip adds a whole new level of interest and a passion to dig into the subject (pun intended) in any way that I am able. This experience adds an entire new level of understanding to the many articles that I have read in BAR over the last many years.”

Do you think you will continue to participate again in archaeological excavation in the future?

Kay Fountain: “Yes, definitely!”

Teresa Smarsh: “Definitely! I can’t wait, and my son would like to come with me next year.”


Teresa Smarsh outside of the Iron II fortifications in Area B2, with B1 in the background. Teresa is from Colorado and works in the sales/marketing department at Sterisil, Inc. She loves to travel as often as she can and especially enjoyed visiting Israel and Tel Burna this June. Photo: Courtesy Tel Burna Archaeological Project.

Sandy Katz: “Of course—both in further seasons at Tel Burna and on other excavations when possible!”

Ira Smith: “It remains to be seen if I will be able to return to Israel to participate in another archaeological excavation, but I will most definitely continue to work on archaeological projects in my area when ever possible. I also plan on doing everything I can to keep up with the Tel Burna project!”

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

Opening New Squares with People from All Over the World

The Specialists

iPads, PlanGrid and GoPro

The Iron II Fortifications in Areas A1 and B2

Area A2—A Judahite Administrative Building?


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