Excavating ‘Auja el-Foqa

4 Questions for the Dig Directors of ‘Auja el-Foqa, an ancient Israelite fortress in the Jordan Valley.

Despite numerous cancelations in 2020, it was excavation as usual at ‘Auja el-Foqa, an ancient Israelite fortress in the Jordan Valley. Directed by David Ben-Shlomo of Ariel University and Ralph K. Hawkins of Averett University, the ‘Auja el-Foqa team enjoyed a winter excavation season without restrictions.

They answered four questions about the pandemic’s effect on their excavation.

David-Ben Shlomo , Shay Bar, and Ralph K. Hawkins at ‘Auja el-Foqa.

Archaeologists David-Ben Shlomo (left) and Ralph K. Hawkins (right) pause from digging ‘Auja el-Foqa for a photo op with Shay Bar (middle), who directs the ongoing Manasseh Hill Country Survey, which was begun in 1978 by the late Adam Zertal. Photo Courtesy JVEP.

(1) How did the pandemic affect your dig?

David Ben-Shlomo & Ralph Hawkins: Due to the timing of our dig season last year (February 9–20, 2020), we were not affected by the virus. Our winter season was very brief, with just a few volunteers, and was put together before anybody realized what was happening. The first cases didn’t appear in the U.S. until January, so most of our volunteers had purchased airline tickets and such by then. Even though there were cases being reported by the time our dig occurred, I don’t think any of us suspected that international travel would cease and that there would be an international strategy of locking down. Fortunately, all of our students and volunteers got home before these things occurred.

(2) What prompted you to dig in the winter?

Ben-Shlomo & Hawkins: The Jordan Valley near Jericho is one of the hottest places on earth, and summer temperatures can exceed 115–120 degrees Fahrenheit (45–48 degrees Celcius). During our first season, in the summer of 2019, the aridity limited our digging to the cooler morning hours. For our second season of excavation in the winter of 2020, the temperatures were much more comfortable, averaging 43–68 degrees Fahrenheit (6–20 degrees Celcius); we even had rain on the site.

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(3) Did you have any major discoveries or surprises last season?

Ben-Shlomo & Hawkins: So far, the site’s main feature is the well-built Iron Age casemate wall. In 2020, we uncovered more of it, as well as a house. To our surprise, the house contained many complete pottery vessels.1

(4) What are your plans for the future?

Ben-Shlomo & Hawkins: Last summer we announced dates for a 2021 season, and we went into the fall with the expectation that we would be able to conduct such a season. We did receive a few early applications from students and volunteers, but, when travel restrictions remained in place, these trickled to a halt. Without knowing when travel restrictions will be lifted, students and volunteers have been reluctant to make plans. After much deliberation, we decided to delay this year’s dig season until 2022. Now that vaccines for COVID-19 are being distributed widely, our hope is that travel restrictions will be lifted this summer, and we will be able to make plans for a full season in 2022.

Download the Digs 2021 ebook for additional interviews with directors whose excavations were affected by the pandemic.

If you would like to join an excavation in 2021, visit for opportunities. This page includes a description of each site, goals for the coming season, important finds from past seasons, biblical connections, and profiles of dig directors.

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Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Digs 2019: A Day in the Life by Robert Cargill

Digs 2018: Migration and Immigration in Ancient Israel by Robert Cargill

Digs 2017: Digging Through Time by Ellen White

Digs 2016: Passport to the Biblical World by Robin Ngo

Digs 2015: Blast from the Past by Megan Sauter

Digs 2014: Layers of Meaning by Noah Weiner

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