The Evolution of a Dig Site

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 series, learn about life on an archaeology dig as Noah publishes from the field.


Marielle Velandar and Katie David carefully excavate the back of the orthostat building in socks to preserve the plaster. Photo: Noah Wiener.

In the post Starting the Dig, I wrote: “Our initial work felt more like farming than archaeology.” A little bit more than two weeks in, and nothing could be further from the truth. Working in Middle Bronze Age occupation layers, our team members are articulating ancient architecture and carefully exposing plaster, pottery and much more. Recently, I’ve spent more time with trowels and handaxes than pickaxes, and gentle examinations of in situ finds require a soft touch with brushes and wooden skewers (a trowel’s metal edge is too abrasive for the brittle pottery remains).
Archaeologists adapt their methodologies to suit the needs of a site. In the northeast corner of my excavation area, D-West, some of our crew members are working on an Aegean-style building with plaster floors and beautifully cut blocks of stone, known as orthostats, lining the walls. Team members exposing the back room of the orthostat building work in their socks so that their excavation boots do not damage the delicate plaster floors. The function of this back room is yet to be determined; possible interpretations range from a storage room to the “holy of holies” of a sacred structure.

Noah Wiener excavates a mudbrick in D-West. In the background, you can see the entrance of a room with storage vessels. Photo: Eric Cline.

Getting to this stage was no easy feat. We are working in large areas, carefully removing several feet of dirt from hundreds of square feet of excavation area. Last week, after finishing up and heading back home for a quick lunch, some of us returned to the site for a grueling afternoon of fast-paced pickaxing and dirt hauling. And there’s more than just topsoil in the way; Bronze Age occupation layers have been disturbed by invasive elements from Iron Age pits to looters’ trenches.
The hard labor certainly paid off, and we’ve already made some stunning finds. In D-West-East, the team is working between central palace areas excavated by Kempinski and more recent seasons’ excavations to the east. Kempinski exposed a large walled entrance to a room; it is looking like the entrance will open up to a large hall that extends all the way to an area excavated by the current team. In D-South, the team uncovered painted plaster in Aegean style. And in D-West, we’ve uncovered a room with around ten complete storage vessels (so far)!

Rachel Kalisher excavating in a fine grid in D-West. Photo: Noah Wiener.

So what do we do when we reach these finds? Digging and questing after a particular artifact is bad practice. We need to carefully level the ground around an object when we first expose it, so that it can be carefully removed all at once. By “floating” an artifact, we can get a full view of its preservation and context.
In the first stage of an excavation, we work across wider sections in order to trace the architecture and contextualize our workspace. However, when we get into occupation layers, we hone in on a concentrated workspace for an acute perspective. In the storage jar room, for instance, we strung up one-square-meter fine grids that are excavated by individual team members. This way, each discovery can be treated in careful isolation.
Finally, we are taking a closer look at the excavated dirt. We field pick and screen dirt on site and take samples and soil to be wet sieved back at our field school. Soon we’ll be taking some preliminary stabs at flotation for an even closer look at the remains.
The second session of excavation at Tel Kabri will begin next week, and the team will be starting off in carefully articulated occupation layers. We can’t wait to see what comes up next.

Trowels can be used for careful work of all kinds. D-West area supervisor Nurith Goshen slices a melon with a trowel during our 11 a.m. break. Photo: Noah Wiener.

Check back with the Tel Kabri page for frequent updates on the dig.

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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