Testimonials from the Field at Tel Kabri

In the July/August 2013 issue of BAR, Tel Kabri excavation directors Eric Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau describe the unique Aegean-style art at the Middle Bronze Age site in Israel. BAS web editor Noah Wiener is currently taking part in the excavation at Tel Kabri. In this blog, check out what some members of the Kabri crew have to say about the experience so far.

Ariel Polokoff

Ariel Polokoff. Photo: Eric Cline.

When I talk to my friends and family about the fdig, it’ll be hard to share the entirety of the experience. Of course, I’ll talk about being in the dirt and digging, but also what it has been like living next to the beach, traveling and sharing experiences with the friends you make while being here. It is a great dynamic. And the nights here are great, too, where everyone sits together with a hookah and shares a great vibe.

I didn’t start off going to school for archaeology. Art history was my first passion, and when I realized that I was interested in ancient art, I sat with Professor Cline and some other professors, and realized that archaeology was the key to tying together my different interests. When I declared my second major in archaeology, Professor Cline encouraged me to dig, but I knew that coming here would be hard financially. Getting a scholarship from BAS allowed me the chance to stay for a full six weeks, which allows me to see a project from start to finish, and to figure out if this is what I want to do. And I know now that this is definitely right for me.

I’m personally very interested in the pottery that we’ve been finding, which fits in with my art history background, and everyone has been very supportive helping me understand what we’ve found. I didn’t know how I’d fit into a project, but it is reassuring to see how many different interests this project supports. In the second session I’ll do an independent study, likely on the pottery here.

In the beginning, it was really hard, waking up at 4 a.m. and getting into the field. But every day it is incredibly fun to work in the dirt and see the changes in strata as we go down, and just how much is visible between the pottery, sections and the evolving site.

There’s something therapeutic about working in the dirt and pulling incredible pottery out of the ground. Don’t get me wrong—it is hard work—but I love it.

Laurel Poolman

Laurel Poolman.

The team here has been awesome—particularly the supervisors and heads of the dig. They excel at managing—but not micromanaging—the team. The act of being with a group of people who are also so passionate about the topic is indescribably fulfilling.

I am working here as the assistant zooarchaeologist. I run the collection and preservation of animal (and human) remains. This involves running the wet sieving, bone collection, bone washing, bone picking, bone reading and ultimate organization that will be transferred back to Haifa. I mostly work with Nimrod Maron, a zooarchaeologist with the University of Haifa. He’s wonderful—both as a scientist and a person to work with. I love working with bones, and prepare reports for Eric Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau, who can use the data to get an overview of a great many aspects of life at the site—what people were eating, importing/exporting, butchering, sacrificing, etc. The animals that they eat tell you about the ethnicity of the populace. For instance, at Canaanite Kabri, you see pig bones, whereas at Megiddo, you hardly see any, which gives us evidence of the arrival of the Israelites at Megiddo, who kept kosher and avoided pig meat. We find bones with butchery marks on them, as well as burnt (and likely sacrificed) remains.

Kabri is one of the most underrated sites in the world. It is exciting going to work every day. Given the importance of our finds, and the clear connections between the Aegean and the Levant, it is incredible to work here. I’m surprised that it doesn’t get the same attention as Megiddo and Hazor, given the scale and nature of the discoveries.

Henry Pelgrift

Henry Pelgrift.

This is my ninth dig, and my third season at Tel Kabri, and each season gets better and better. I’ve worked in Italy, Jordan and Israel. At The George Washington University, many of us found our friends through the experiences in the field—we find people with similar passions. And after just a few days, I know this is one of the best crews we’ve had. And it has given me the chance to work with people that I’ve known for years, and that I love and respect very much. Megiddo and Kabri are the highlight of every year.

When I first got to Kabri in 2009, we worked in certain parts of the site, which are now closed. It was great to come back this year and see an entirely new area opened up. I know there is more to find at Kabri than we’ll see in a single lifetime. And I’d like to dig here til the day I die.

Also, I know that when I got to Kabri in 2009, I was an inexperienced archaeologist, and it wasn’t until 2011 that I felt like I realized my potential in the field. And I’ve watched the same with our crew. [Junior staff member] Dan Devery pushed me to realize my capability in the field and as a result, I learned to respect and love hard work.

What I like best about the digs is the crew. It is amazing to be part of a team full of like-minded and interesting people, and we share something amazing. We are molded by field experience into exceptional people. I’ve watched some crew members grow into better and better teachers as the years go by. I think of assistant area supervisor Charlie Friedman as both a mentor and a great friend. I consider Professor Cline to be one of the greatest teachers I can imagine, and I’ve watched the junior staff members develop into some of the best archaeologists in the world with each passing year. And the volunteers here have an exceptional experience because of the staff’s knowledge and personality. Professor Cline was called “Coach” by some of the team at Megiddo, and he gives his volunteers the best support that anybody can hope for.

Tharald Bull Stromnes

Tharald Bull Stromnes. Photo: Eric Cline.

I’ve done two years of archaeology at the University of Trondheim (Norway—where I’m from) as well as some excavations in Norway. One was a conservation project focusing on a Bronze Age cairn, and the other was a museum project focusing on a burned down estate examining the local medieval church community.

While at school, I picked up Thomas Thompson’s book on Biblical archaeology, and frankly, it was awful. While reading, I was thinking to myself that this was wrongly biased archaeology. Is Biblical archaeology a field of scholars trying to prove the Bible? This didn’t seem like science. So then I wondered: What is the field like today?

After searching prominent Biblical archaeologists, I came across Professor Cline’s From Eden to Exile (winner of the BAS “Best Popular Book on Archaeology” Award, and available on Amazon). This seemed like the real deal—How it should be, and what I hoped the field would be. So when I found this field school, I knew that this would be a suitable and scientific fit. A lot of the student archaeological community in Norway is skeptical about the religious side of Biblical archaeology, but we all know that the excavations in the Holy Land are done by very professional people, because these archaeologists know what is at stake.

I’ve had some conversations about the differences between European and American archaeology here. We are working in a box system focusing on levels within each square, instead of single-context, wider and horizontal archaeology, layer by layer. Using Wheeler’s methodology is a new system for me, and while it is sometimes presented as an outdated method sometimes in Norway, it suits the environment here well. I feel like the archaeological method here is the biggest thing I’ve learned. And that is what I came here for. This is a bigger scale than anything we find in Scandanavia, and I’m learning things that I hope to take back to Norway.

I’m looking forward to reading BAR more in the future, because this is a different world of archaeology from what we have at home. So I can’t wait to see the latest developments in the field.

Emily Diaz

Emily Diaz with Chantal Newsome. Photo: Eric Cline.

It is definitely painstaking, but it is rewarding at the same time. Hard, hard labor. I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t realize that it would be constant. I did expect dirtiness and hard work, but this is ten times what I pictured.

I’m a history major at Ashford University, and I saw an ad for the Kabri excavations on Facebook. It said, “Interested in digging a Near Eastern palace?” and it sounded interesting. When I saw the website, I realized that this was legitimate. I filled out the application, and kept in touch with Professor Cline. We had a long back and forth, and he was great and sent a formal letter for my supervisor. I was the first person to sign up, and Professor Cline was very flexible throughout.

I did another excavation in Topeka—it was a field school like this, where they offered credit over the two week project. I didn’t get to do as much as I do here—I learned to make levels and operate a total station, but they weren’t as elaborate with the students on archaeological subjects as they are here. The learning experience here has been awesome—learning to open new squares, identify pottery and attend interesting lectures. It does make you feel like a real archaeologist. The supervisors are really nice and always willing to help—on and off site.

Despite the really hard work, I’d do this again. In the middle of the day, I’m asking myself: “What am I doing with myself?” But by the end of the day, touching materials that are thousands of years old makes it worth it. And it changes you—this makes you physically and mentally stronger. I’ve grown through the project.

Angela Link

Angela Link. Photo: Eric Cline.

What an adventure! You feel like you are in the movies—you are constantly doing things and traveling to new places and meeting new people. It is a whirlwind. You don’t get much sleep and feel very alive. And we get to uncover history that hasn’t been written yet.

I’m a rising sophomore at George Washington University, and I’ve already declared an archaeology major, though I may want to declare a second major in fine arts. Starting in middle school I knew that I loved history, and in high school I started to travel more in my summers and knew that I wanted to try archaeology, and set my mind to it. My high school teachers were skeptical—we had senior projects in high school and I worked the Neuberger Museum in Purchase, NY, and we had to report back on our experiences to a panel of teachers. It was tedious work, doing menial tasks, and when I said that it was a negative experience, they asked what I wanted to study. When they told me that archaeology requires careful patience as discouragement, I was discouraged and actually cried. But I decided to follow through with it anyway, and I’m very happy that I did. I think that this is as adventurous as life can be. I want to go on as many digs as possible; I’m hoping to try an underwater dig, because I very much enjoy scuba diving. It is hard to find interesting people with fascinating backstories in everyday life, but coming to this dig, I’m surrounded by people that are incredible to learn from and about, and that itself is a wonderful adventure.

Inbar Scharf

Inbar Scharf.

I found out that I really enjoy archaeology—I’ve never done it before, and I was worried that I wouldn’t like it. But I’ve had the happy surprise of loving it, even though it is hard labor. I wasn’t prepared for the effort, so the first week was a bit painful, but I was able to get used to it, and I’d recommend the experience. I majored in classics in college, and I’ve always enjoyed the archaeology side of classics. My study abroad program was centered on classical archaeology, and after learning the side of archaeology that comes after a dig, this experience fits. When I go to grad school, I hope to find an archaeology-themed classics program.

I’m from Israel, and it has been fun helping people with Israeli culture and language. It is great to teach people about my culture, and to see that the people here are interested in more about Israel than just the dig.

Alyssa Allen

Alyssa Allen. Photo: Eric Cline.

This has been extremely intense and strenuous, but very worth it, because you know that all of the menial grunt work is contributing to a larger, interesting, important whole for the archaeology of the Middle East. This is my first dig and it is similar to what I expected, but I didn’t expect that we’d find so much so soon. Archaeologists on TV are doing delicate work with trowels and toothbrushes, and I wouldn’t have expected so much labor with pickaxes and buckets, but Eric Cline gave us a good indication of just how challenging it would be. But this is worth it—we’ve found way more than I could have expected this soon. In our area, we found a complete pot, which was a thrill. It is great to see artifacts emerge from the ground. The pot was a tiny circle of pottery at first, and as we went down, a full vessel came to light. Everyone here is really wonderful, and I would definitely do another dig if the opportunity comes up.

Elizabeth Mauer

Elizabeth Mauer. Photo: Eric Cline.

What I find most interesting is the difference between how archaeology works and how it is portrayed. It’s always seen as something meticulous, but we spend a lot of time swinging pickaxes. Sometimes an hour passes by in a minute; other times we are hauling buckets for ages. I’m interested in conservation, and I am minoring in chemistry. Listening to Professor Koh talk about his research and the differences between lab science and archaeological science is the difference between exact and circumstantial science. Bridging these worlds is an interesting area. How do you make something inexact in the dirt into an exact science?

As someone interested in labwork and conservation, I want to take the objects from the field and preserve them. I think seeing fieldwork will affect the way that I work in the lab. Because you don’t have the same control in the field as you would in other areas of science, you have to work differently and respect the material you work with.

Jessica Goodman

Jessica Goodman. Photo: Eric Cline.

I find it interesting to see how every dig is different. This is my third excavation, and I like seeing how each dig is unique, and what techniques are used. I worked in Illinois in high school, which was a good way to see whether or not I wanted to pursue archaeology as a major. Last year I worked at Megiddo.

This has been hot, and physically intense, per usual. Every single moment in the field, I wonder why I bring myself hand and back pain, but I keep coming back for more; maybe I’m a bit of a masochist. Despite the challenges of the individual moments, it adds up to a fulfilling experience.

Over the next few weeks, visit the Tel Kabri page for frequent updates on the dig, including a day in the life on the field, videos on archaeological technique, guest blogs by student volunteers, reports on visits to ancient sites in Israel and the latest discoveries—right as they come out of the ground.

Click here to read more about Tel Kabri in Bible History Daily.

BAS Library Members: Read Eric H. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau, Aegeans in Israel: Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri as it appears in the July/August 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, as well as “Your Career is in Ruins” by Eric H. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau as it appeared in the January/February 2006 issue of BAR.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

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