Tel Kabri. Photo: Eric H. Cline.
A lot of planning and hard work goes into making every archaeological excavation season a success. This is seen not only during the season itself, but also in the months leading up to it and in the years following it when the excavated material is processed and published. One of the essential elements that keeps excavations running is volunteer participation.
Volunteers provide the manpower that allows archaeologists to uncover history. They scrape ancient floors and walls with their trowels; they swing pickaxes; they carry buckets of dirt; they gently excavate artifacts and remains with wooden skewers; they sift dirt to find anything that missed their initial collection; they wash and sort pottery; and they perform a million other tasks that are essential for an excavation to run smoothly. From students to retirees, novices to professionals, volunteers come from all over the world to help excavate the past.
Every year the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) provides scholarships to individuals who would not otherwise be able to participate in an archaeological excavation. This year BAS awarded 20 qualified individuals—from a pool of more than 125 applicants—scholarships of $1,500 each. This diverse group chose to excavate throughout the Mediterranean and Biblical world, including sites in Israel, Jordan and Spain. Scroll down to read the recipients’ essays.
On behalf of the scholarship winners, BAR offers our sincere thanks to the generous donors who made this year’s scholarship program possible:
Kenneth and Ann Bialkin
Edward and Raynette Boshell
Eugene and Emily Grant
Ms. Darlene Jamison
David and Jemima Jeselsohn
Victor R. Kieser
Leon Levy Foundation, Shelby White, trustee
John and Carol Merrill
Jonathan P. and Jeannette Rosen
Harry and Gertrude Schwartz Foundation, Jeffery Yablon, trustee
Michael and Judy Steinhardt
Samuel D. Turner and Elizabeth Goss
The Biblical Archaeology Society, publisher of BAR, offers scholarships of $1,500 every year to people who would otherwise not be able to volunteer. To apply, simply send a letter to BAS Dig Scholarships, 4710 41st St., NW, Washington, DC 20016, or send it by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, stating who you are, where and why you want to excavate, and why you should be selected for a scholarship. List your mailing address, phone number and email, as well as the names, addresses, email address and phone numbers of two references. Applications must be received by March 14, 2017.
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.
Thanks to the generous funding from the Biblical Archaeology Society, I could participate in the excavation at Tell es-Safi/Gath in Israel. I worked in Area F in the upper city near the top of the tell. From the top of the tell there is a stunning view over the coastal plain, and usually around noon a nice breeze would cool down our sweaty bodies. The staff not only showed me how to excavate but also how to record the finds, write lists and draw top plans. They were all just amazing and encouraging people. I was there for my second time, and it felt like coming home. Every evening we had a lecture and I could learn a lot about the ancient culture in the southern Levant. I myself made some very interesting finds at the site, including a bronze arrowhead and a ring. In the square I worked in we tried to find the Middle Bronze Age layer, and we successfully did!
Those four weeks at Tell es-Safi/Gath changed my view of archeology and what the daily work of an archeologist looks like in a positive way. I increased my knowledge not only about the ancient culture but also about the Land of Israel today. On field trips, I traveled the country and saw a lot of the fascinating cultural heritage of Israel. Since I just finished my first year of studies, my trip to Israel and the Tell es-Safi/Gath excavation was a very good motivation and confirmation that I would like to continue studying in this field or a field closely related to Biblical archaeology.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to participate in my first archaeological dig at Tall Jalul, a site close to the city of Madaba in Jordan. For the first two and a half weeks, I helped in Field W, where the reservoir was being excavated. Together with another participant, I helped supervise the workers in the square, excavate and also learn how to document each step that we took during the day. In the last two and half weeks, I worked in Field B, where more meticulous work was being done, such as the documentation of each new locus.
During the afternoons, the team read the pottery found on the previous day and washed the pottery found on the same day. After the reading, we documented the diagnostic pieces that would be sent to the Horn Museum at Andrews University in Michigan for further study.
It was an amazing experience to join the Andrews University dig team and be able to learn personally all the techniques and processes that occur on a dig. I enjoyed learning more about the water systems of Jalul, which will help me a lot in my research. Thank you to the Biblical Archaeology Society for the support given.
The opportunity to participate in the sixth season of the Huqoq excavation has made me more aware of the importance of archaeology and its subfields to the study of religion. Excavations at Huqoq give modern researchers and students like myself the ability to conceptualize daily life in the late ancient world, both through what remains and what does not remain. Working alongside paleoethnobotanists, zooarchaeologists, ceramicists and numismatists further revealed the incredible levels of interdisciplinary work that can occur on archaeological digs. In order to interpret this ancient synagogue and surrounding village, it takes the specialties of each excavator in order to produce coherent, groundbreaking conversation about Galilee under Byzantine rule. While participating in the Huqoq dig, I was involved in the excavation of the Byzantine synagogue and its subsequent medieval, Ottoman and modern layers.
Perhaps overlooked too often, participation on the site required learning how to dig, that is, how to use a pick, hoe or sledgehammer. The dig site required both physical and intellectual stamina. Even the small moments of the work day, like making “bucket chains” to toss out dirt more efficiently, made clear that every person could play a role in rediscovering history. Moreover, the opportunity to dig at Huqoq showed me that stratigraphy is never as clear as textbooks make it sound––dirt fills will overlap in convoluted manners and walls will shoot off in unexpected diagonal directions. As much as one wants to predict what will be found on an excavation, the act of digging breaks all expectations.
Abel Beth Maacah
I have desired to participate in an archaeological dig since I was a child, so participating in the dig at Abel Beth Maacah, directed by Dr. Robert Mullins of Azusa Pacific University and Dr. Nava Panitz-Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was literally a dream come true for me. It was my first experience digging, so I didn’t know what to expect or even if I would be useful to the project, since I have never formally studied archaeology. In the end, I had an incredible experience personally, and I felt like I was able to contribute to the overall goals of the project.
Present on the dig were people who had years of experience, people who were in the middle of their studies, and others like myself who had no previous experience or training in archaeology. I found that all of the directors, supervisors and experienced diggers were very helpful, patient and understanding of those of us who didn’t know what we were doing at first. The overall atmosphere of the dig was relaxed, yet still professional and academically focused. It wasn’t so strict that I felt incompetent all of the time, yet I felt that they maintained professional academic standards and procedures so that the findings of the site can be considered valid and helpful to the greater academic world.
There were three areas that we were digging this year: areas A, B and F. Area A was mostly dated to the Iron I period, area B was a mix of the Late Bronze and Iron I periods, and area F contained Early to Late Bronze layers. I worked in area A, so that is what I was the most familiar with. In the square that I was working in we discovered some walls, a tabun oven and a cooking pot that was sent to restoration. There were also numerous other pottery and bone pieces uncovered but nothing exceptional.
The day started around 4:15 a.m., at which time we woke up and prepared to leave. We usually ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the bus on the way to the tell. The first few people to arrive at the loading area brought the buckets of pottery pieces that had been washed and discarded the day before and loaded them on the bus. These buckets were then taken to the site and dumped in a certain area. We arrived on the tell around 5 a.m. The bus would drop us off at the base of the tell, and we would have to hike up to the top. It wasn’t really that far, but it was a steep hike and very early in the morning.
Once we arrived at our designated area, we collected our tools and waited for our square supervisor to give us directions on where to start and what his goals for the day were. Then we started digging. After a couple of hours, we had a tea beak. By this time, the sun was up and it was starting to get hot. Thankfully, the dig area was covered with a type of tent, but it still got hot even in the shade. After tea break it was back to work until breakfast, which was at 9 a.m. It seemed more like a lunch break, since we had already been working for four hours by that time, and it made the day a little confusing thinking this was only breakfast. After a 30–40 minute break, we headed back to our square and started digging again. Around 11 a.m., there was another break for juice and water, then we worked until around 1 p.m., when we finished work for the day. At the end of the day we had to carry the buckets of pottery, bone, dirt to be wet-sifted, and any other interesting finds back down the hill to the bus to be taken to the office at the kibbutz where we were staying to be processed.
By the time we arrived back at the kibbutz, it was time for lunch in the cafeteria. After lunch we went back to our room, showered (probably the best part of the day), washed out our clothes and had some time to rest. Later in the afternoon, we washed the pottery that we had brought back from the site, and some people wet-sifted the dirt samples that had been collected. After pottery-washing there was usually pottery-sorting, where the directors and supervisors would look through the finds and record what had been found, where it came from and what age it was from. This was always an interesting time for me because they took the time to explain what we had found, and it helped me to better understand the dating system that is widely used in Middle Eastern archaeology.
Later in the afternoon, there were often lectures by the various members of the staff about their area of expertise. This was also very enjoyable for me to see how different experts were able to look at different pieces of the puzzle and put everything together to make a whole picture. Lastly we had dinner, at which time we also prepared our peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the next morning. Then those who still had energy could stay up and talk, but I usually just went to bed. The days were very full but satisfying, because I always had a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day knowing I was able to contribute to the success of the project.
As previously mentioned, this was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me. In addition to having the opportunity to dig in the dirt, I also learned a lot about archaeology in general. Besides being introduced to various digging techniques and styles, I now have a better understanding of some of the difficulties of the science. I thought you just dug until you discovered something, but the process is much more complex than that. In some ways the actual digging seems to be one of the easiest or at least most straightforward aspects of archaeology. It is the interpretation and understanding of what you find that seem to be the hard part. Having to create a hypothesis based on a pile of stones or a piece of a wall is a lot harder than moving dirt. I saw even in my brief experience how the ideas and theories constantly changed as new evidence emerged from the ground. Issues of dating the site or discerning the function of what you have uncovered are often very confusing and complex. I certainly have a new appreciation for those who dedicate their career to studying and trying to interpret and understand the relics of the past.
I am very grateful to all of the experienced people working on the dig who took the time to explain things to me. Rather than just telling me to move bucket after bucket of dirt, they explained why we were doing things the way we were and even asked my opinion about interpreting certain things about the site. I don’t know if my ideas were really that useful to them, but I appreciated being included in the discussions on-site.
In summary, this was a fantastic experience for me, and I would love to be able to participate in another dig in the future, possibly returning to Abel Beth Maacah. Even if that opportunity never arises for me however, this was a very enriching experience and has helped me to understand a lot about this aspect of Biblical scholarship. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the generous donors who contributed to the scholarship fund, to the Biblical Archaeological Society and to the Biblical Archaeology Review magazine for making this experience possible. Without the generosity of others who are passionate about Biblical archaeology, I would not have been able to have this incredible experience. I appreciate the work done by BAS and BAR to promote Biblical archaeology and make it accessible to people such as myself, and for providing the opportunity for a hands-on experience.
This summer I was able to turn a childhood dream into a reality, thanks to the incredible generosity of the Biblical Archaeology Society, and worked on the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon. This was the very last year of the Leon Levy Expedition, which has been working out of Ashkelon for 30 years. Ashkelon, one of the five original Philistine cities, is located along the coast between Ashdod and Gaza and has been continually settled since the Canaanite period—turning into a rich tell. Over the years, the expedition has uncovered everything from a Roman basilica to the original Canaanite gates of the city. This year, I was lucky enough to work with the team as we uncovered both the Philistine city and the very first confirmed Philistine cemetery.
I spent my first month with the excavation working in Grid N5, the Philistine cemetery. We started at what we believed was Roman-era disturbance and quickly realized was actually the remains of a Roman vineyard. We were able to identify the tree pits from the original vineyard as round-shaped changes in sand color and even found the stone remains of tree posts. But beneath that lay the real “treasure trove.” We uncovered a Philistine cemetery we believe to have been in use for over a hundred years or so. There we found the perfectly preserved remains of Philistine men, women and even several children, most still in their original burial pits with their burial goods.
The typical Philistine burial style we observed included the individual laid out straight in their pit, either with hands by their sides or on their pelvis, with two jars, a bowl and a juglet by their head or feet. We even found bodies still with their iron rings, toe rings, bracelets and earrings. There was some variation, the most exciting of which were the three stone burial chambers we uncovered, one of which still contained its bodies and another of which was still sealed completely. From what we observed, several individuals would be buried within the stone chamber over a long period of time. We are still waiting for DNA results to inform us if there is family relation between these burials.
The last two weeks of the excavation, I worked in Grid 51, the Philistine city. We had started with the city at what we understood was layer 604 B.C.E., the layer of destruction left after Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, stormed the city and burned it to the ground. Our goal was to get below this layer to what we understood as pre-604. I was able to take part in the excavation of what we believed to be a merchant’s store-house or shop, where we found coriander seeds, bread-baking instruments, jewelry and quite a bit of gold. I also was able to excavate the remains of a pre-604 winepress whose shell plaster was still mostly complete. We found several wine presses in Grid 51, as well as taboons, stone walls and the original Philistine street beneath the Persian one. We also found much smaller items, like scarabs, lapis lazuli and even alabaster stone from Egypt—cementing Ashkelon’s reputation as a trading port city.
In the field, I learned so much from my incredible grid supervisors. They taught us, hands-on, how to see walls in rocks, how to find dirt floors beneath more dirt and how to tell destruction ash from cooking ash. Outside of the field, where we worked for eight hours every morning, I worked at the dig compound, where I spent time washing and dating pottery, marking and filing, helping restore broken vessels, performing flotations on soil samples, and, primarily, cleaning the human remains that were uncovered that day. Through bone cleaning, I learned about the human body in detail and grew more confident ordering and labeling the bones. After we returned from work, before we could go to sleep, we had night classes with our incredible mentors, where I learned the history of Ashkelon, stretching from the Canaanite period until the Ottoman. We reviewed the work of past years of the excavation on the site and took the minute details we’d spent all day with and put them in a larger context. Together, we learned how history gets made.
It’s difficult to put my gratitude into words but I am so humbled and grateful for the generosity of the Biblical Archaeology Society and its benefactors for enabling me to take part in this incredible excavation and for making all of this learning and growth, both educationally and internally, possible. Thank you.
Thanks to the support of the Biblical Archaeology Society, I was able to participate in an amazing, life-changing excavation season at Omrit, Israel. I have wanted to be an archaeologist since the sixth grade, and I was incredibly lucky to have had my first experience at Omrit, a site that exhibits a fascinating intermingling of many ancient cultures. Between the pagan temple—the earliest phase of which dates back to the Hellenistic period—the Christian church from the Byzantine period, and later occupation by Muslim groups all on a site in a largely Jewish region, Omrit offers a unique view of contrasting cultural perspectives in the ancient world.
Just as the people of Omrit changed over time, the architectural findings on the site also appear in a state of transition, namely, the shift in importance from public to private space happening during the Byzantine period. The perfect example for this societal change is Omrit’s colonnade, which I helped to excavate this season as we attempted to discover more about the community the temple served. My square was located in what would have been a covered shopping area under the colonnade, but as we dug through layer after layer of construction fill, we unearthed a ridiculous amount of walls crisscrossing the square where, through the years, the walkway was divided up into different areas. As we dug farther down, we discovered plaster fresco on many of the walls as well as a large part of a niche. Unfortunately, the walls had been cut down and part of the niche removed when the colonnade had been renovated, but most of the decoration could still be seen. Many of the fresco walls had faux-marbling or geometric patterns, and one appears to be a fragment of a tree with vegetation surrounding it. It was always exciting to get back the day after finding a fresco to go and see what the conservator had uncovered, and to see colors and patterns on what had been plain brown the previous day. We were even more excited when we saw figural art on the plaster niche where the interior was painted with a river scene of ducks and fish. I got the opportunity to assist in the conservation of the niche, and this experience helped me to pursue a career in conservation. There were more exciting days on the site when I found three ceramic phallus amulets, the first to be found at Omrit, and when I got to help weigh and record the diaxis on coins found during the season.
My time at Omrit was incredibly enlightening while also a lot of fun! Every day was an adventure, and it was the most significant experience of my life so far. I hope to return next season and to continue to pursue the fascinating history of the site as well as my own personal growth as an archaeologist.
I had a wonderful experience at Tel Gezer this summer. We started in a square that was entirely covered with stones piled there during excavations in the 1970s. It was hard work, but we eventually moved the large pile and made it to the soil. We then finished our first week by digging out the fill left by R.A.S. Macalister’s trench and fill method. By the end of the week, we had uncovered a Hellenistic wall that Macalister had also included in his notes on the site, but we found little material culture due to previous excavations.
When we removed the wall, there was a destruction layer beneath it that was quite substantial. In it we found some restorable Iron Age pottery and some other diagnostic remains. Considering the history of the site, the remains we found could be linked to an attack on the settlement made by Tiglath-pileser III. By the time we were finished, the three of us assigned to the square had removed around two and a half meters of soil from the steepest side. The hope is that next year’s excavation in the same square will begin to reach the Late Bronze Age.
This was an excellent experience guided by a knowledgeable staff. I learned far more from my time there than would be possible through study alone. There is no substitute for hands-on learning. I look forward to having many more such ventures in the future.
Photo: Dr. Sam Wolff.
“Don’t push me off the tell!” According to my roommate, I uttered these words in my sleep one night during the excavation at Tel Gezer this summer. Thankfully I was never in danger of that actually happening. This, being my first dig experience, was made possible thanks to the Biblical Archaeology Society that granted me a travel scholarship.
The excavation and field school at Tel Gezer, under the exceptional co-directorship of Dr. Steve Ortiz, Professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Sam Wolff, Senior Archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, has been immensely helpful in understanding how an excavation progresses and functions. Advancing my knowledge of archaeology is something that I have been working toward since high school, but participating this summer at Gezer has allowed me to fully realize that dream and to understand what I hope to get into as a career. I learned that excavating is hard work. There are days that feel like you are only removing dirt, but those days are necessary to find the whole vessels, figurines and answers to research questions. The days of using large tools pave the way for the small, delicate ones.
I appreciated the understanding nature of the directors and supervisors. As a beginner, I was not sure what to expect. However, I was able to learn the strategy of excavating, the common terminology, how to think through questions, and even how to do the paperwork involved. Participating on this dig connected the dots from the theory I learned this past year as an archaeology student to the method of the field. I believe that academically I will benefit from this experience. I am more familiar with what it means to excavate and what types of limitations archaeologists face in the field and in the classroom.
The early mornings proved to be difficult and rewarding. Beating the sun to the top of the tell meant that I was able to gaze over the Shephelah and witness some of the most beautiful sunrises. This also meant my days of sleeping in were over, but I quickly adapted to that. Early bedtimes and mornings became the new norm.
Our first morning on site began with a tour of Tel Gezer, including both its history and its past excavations. The current excavation project at Tel Gezer has two artificially separated fields, East and West, on the central southern part of the mound. A healthy rivalry between Field West and Field East arose, but Field West was obviously superior (the field I was placed in!). Our main research goal in Field West was to reveal more of the Late Bronze Age stratum. However, we did not necessarily succeed in that because of the discovery of an unanticipated transition phase between the Late Bronze and Iron Ages. Perhaps next year! I was able to remove one bowl and part of a sunken storage jar in our square, as well as discovering another whole bowl in another square. I also moved a lot of dirt and used a pickaxe, finding a lot of rocks. I am thankful for the varied opportunities I was able to participate in.
Weekends were filled with participating in study tours throughout the beautiful country of Israel. That meant that rest was a scarce commodity, but it was worth it. Some of my favorite sites were the Dead Sea, Hezekiah’s tunnel in Jerusalem, the boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, and Magdala. It was amazing to walk around such historic places and to revel in the history that took place in them.
Throughout all of these experiences, I was able to make some amazing friendships. I loved being able to work with people of different ages from all across the United States. There was a range from those who had never dug before, such as myself, to professors from universities across America. We ate, studied, traveled and breathed in the Gezer dust together. It is quite a bonding experience, and I am excited to connect with them back home!
I am thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in the field school at Tel Gezer and would recommend it as a great place to dig for a beginner or anyone who would like to take part in an amazing dig at an amazing site.
My time at Tel Dor was spent learning about the process of an archaeological excavation, in and outside the classroom. Every volunteer dedicated themselves to better understanding the site and was eager to make progress in their respective areas. The unit I worked in throughout the four-week season was newly opened at the start of the season. This meant a lot of removing top soil, but in the end uncovering the first feature and beginning Phase 1 was exciting for a first-time digger.
For the field school, myself and the other students learned how to use a variety of equipment, the basics of drawing stratigraphy and making a top plan, and how to write unit and artifact reports.
Overall, I had a wonderful time learning about archaeology, art history and meeting people who I hope to work with again in the future. I intend to continue taking part in digs and to pursue further education and a career in art history and archaeology.
During this excavation, I learned many things. I learned how to make top plans as well as how to enter information into the database. I also had one day where I was able to use the GIS station. This was an eye opener. I hope to go on another excavation soon.
During this excavation I was able to learn how you can tell where one level starts and another begins. I was also able to see how they conducted the pottery reading every night. Before the reading, we would have pottery washing. We did this so that it would be easier to read the pottery and tell not only what age it was from but also who may have lived there.
Overall, this was one of the best things that I have ever experienced. I hope that many other people will feel this way when they go for their first time. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Megiddo and Tel Lachish
How about digging at two different sites, with distinctive teams, who hold conflicting academic perspectives? This summer, this idea was made possible by the generous support of the Biblical Archaeology Society dig scholarship. As a student of Israel Finkelstein in his seminar course “Megiddo in the Bronze and Iron Ages,” it seemed necessary for me to actually dig at what was introduced during class. On the other hand, having heard about the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from the words of my own teachers at Tel Aviv University, it also seemed valuable to actually dig with the Hebrew University team.
On June 19, 2016, I got on a bus from Jerusalem to Tel Lachish, the famous Biblical site the Assyrian King Sennacherib besieged and captured during the reign of King Hezekiah. On the bus was Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, director of the Lachish expedition, as well as Dr. Hoo-Goo Kang and Dr. Choi, who both supervised my job in Area CC. Dr. Hoo-Goo Kang was especially helpful for me, having shared with me his ideas on Biblical history and field archaeology. I was brave enough to set up debates between me and four others: Dr. Hoo-Goo Kang, Prof. Han-geun Cho, Dr. Choi and Mr. Sang Yeup Chang. Our topics ranged from Biblical history to Christian theology. For me, an excavation is not only about digging a site, but also “digging” about people. For me, a fundamentalist Christian, it is always easy to find differences between me and somebody else. I encouraged myself to talk with people to find our differences and exchange ideas on meaningful problems.
The excavation in Area CC was all about a city wall, and the research questions were simple: Does it belong to Level V, which dates to the early Iron Age IIA? And if so, was it built as early as in the time of King Solomon? Or King Rehoboam? Or even later into the ninth century B.C.E.? The main task, according to Prof. Garfinkel, was to acquire olive pits sealed below the foundation of the Level IV mudbrick wall and to carbon-date them in order to get the latest possible date of Level V. It was a simple and concise scenario for me to practice archaeological inferences, hypotheses and an experimental mindset, because the structure and spatial relations emerged as we were digging and contemplating.
My two weeks at Tel Megiddo were quite different. I worked in Area K, directed by my teacher, Mario A. S. Martin, where previous excavations had already reached the Middle Bronze Age residential area. The Middle Bronze Age inhabitants in Canaan were used to burying their deceased beneath the floor. When I arrived at my appointed square at Tel Megiddo, two babies buried in jars had already been discovered, and one more baby burial was to be found in the following weeks. The square was led by my classmate, Danilo Giordano, who was informative and instructive about field archaeology and Area K. As someone like me, who only picked up archaeology as a second degree and who had experienced a total of seven weeks of field excavations, some basic concepts of field archaeology were still unfamiliar to me. For example, it is only through Danilo that I knew about phytoliths, which are the mineral remains in plants (e.g., reedgrass).
Not many structures were found in my square during my two weeks excavating at Megiddo, but I kept on spying the other squares and excavation areas and listening to explanations. I was wise enough not to waste my time sitting in coffee breaks, but I would visit the other areas. In Area Q, listening to the discussions and debates between Prof. Israel Finkelstein and Prof. Matthew Adams, I realized how, in order to figure out the spatial and stratigraphical relations within an area, architectural features, orientations, elevations, overlying relationships, subsequent disturbances, etc., are combined with an active imagination. That is why I am attracted to archaeology.
I give special thanks to the Biblical Archaeology Society and its donors, who generously provided a large part of my dig expenses; and to Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, who granted me a third week to dig without paying for the boarding. What they provided was an eye-opening opportunity. I realize that even though I am not in an excavation now, I am preparing for one. I wish to be more prepared to exchange ideas with people about archaeological, historical and theological problems, to make archaeological observations and to think as I dig.
The excavation project being conducted at Huqoq in northern Israel is extremely unique. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work at this site in June 2016, and thanks to the Biblical Archaeology Society, I had the necessary resources to go.
During the time I was in Huqoq, I learned about the many different aspects of archaeology. I was able to get hands-on knowledge about how a dig is operated, how to use materials such as pottery and coins to date different layers of strata, and how to conserve important finds like mosaic floors.
The excavation of a Roman-era synagogue located at Huqoq has led to the discovery of ornately decorated floors made up of mosaics depicting Biblical scenes. This season I had the chance to help uncover two of these mosaic panels. These panels depict the parting of the Red Sea and the loading of Noah’s ark. It was amazing to see the magnificent scenes appear as the thin layer of remaining soil was being swept away.
This trip is an experience that I will never forget. It has given me a greater appreciation of what’s around me. What I used to view as just dirt has now turned into different strata. Each strata has its own story, and I now have the ability to determine what it might be. I greatly appreciate the support that I have received from the Biblical Archaeology Society, which gave me a chance that I might not have had otherwise.
It was a moment I’ll never forget: as the work day was drawing to a close, our site director, Jodi Magness, waved for us to gather in the center of the dig site. There, in the deepest area of the excavation, our conservator, Orna Cohen, was painstakingly excavating a new section of the mosaics. The individual stones of the mosaic were now visible, but the thin layer of dirt on their surface still held their colors hostage. Once everyone had assembled, Jodi gave an excited nod to the pit. Orna took a damp cloth and, with a swift yet delicate sweep, cleared the dirt away, evoking exclamations from her onlookers. A few more passes of her cloth revealed a scene that had not been visible for well over a thousand years: an Egyptian soldier being devoured whole by a shark-sized fish of the Red Sea.
With the generous support of a Biblical Archaeology Society scholarship, I was able to participate in the archaeological dig at Huqoq, in the Galilee region of northern Israel. This was the sixth season that researchers have dug at Huqoq, and during the four weeks of this season, I helped excavate portions of a modern Palestinian village, an Ottoman-era village, a medieval-era monumental building and a Byzantine-era synagogue. Although the newly-uncovered mosaics of the synagogue drew the most attention, I gained an appreciation for each of our site’s occupation levels—especially the medieval level, where I worked to uncover the section of the medieval building’s stylobate.
My understanding of archaeological methods and interpretation increased exponentially during the month I spent at Huqoq. As a first-timer, I spent much of my time wielding a pick-axe or hoe, but a great deal of academic instruction went on on-site as well. My square and area supervisors taught me how to analyze stratigraphy, how to comparatively date materials we unearthed, how to make sense of ambiguous structural remains, and how to meticulously record everything we excavated. Most evenings during the season featured lectures on a variety of topics from the world-class scholars working at the dig: they covered historical Jesus studies, paleobotany, art conservation, geoarchaeology, numismatics and other fields. Instruction also took place during the numerous field trip; I particularly enjoyed visiting sites with ancient synagogues, such as Capernaum, Magdala and Sepphoris. Getting to hear Jodi Magness lecture about Galilean-type synagogues while examining the synagogues themselves was a singular experience!
While the work was grueling and sometimes tangential to my interests, I benefited greatly from the experience and am extremely grateful that I was able to participate. Archaeology is increasingly working its way into textual studies, and unfortunately many historians have little background in archaeology to help them in interpreting ancient texts. My experiences at Huqoq have prepared me to read field reports and other archaeological writing far more astutely than I could before; I will be better able to evaluate archaeological claims and use archaeological research in my own scholarship. This experience also gave me phenomenal networking opportunities, both with established scholars and also other graduate students. Most importantly, it also introduced me to a field that I am genuinely interested in, and despite my abiding love for texts and languages, I hope to be able to participate in more excavations in the future. I am profoundly grateful to the Biblical Archaeology Society scholarship program and the donors who make experiences like mine possible.
A three-hour drive to O’Hare, a layover in Newark, and I was on my way to Israel for my first experience on a dig site. Another three-hour ride north delivered me to Kibbutz Kfar Szold, my two-week-long home while digging at Tel Dan. Located in the northeast corner of the country, Dan is famous as the northern border city in the Biblical phrase “from Dan to Beersheba.”
Dan is a beautiful location to dig, covered in vegetation and located near one of the powerful springs that feed the Jordan River. This season’s directors, Dr. David Ilan, Dr. Yifat Thareani and Dr. Jonathan Greer, chose Area T1 (located at the southwestern end of the High Place) and Area B (inside the Iron Age upper city gate) as our excavation locations. Legendary for setting the scene for the “House of David” inscription discovery, a tour of the site amazes any visitor with its well-preserved gate from about 1750 B.C.E., a gate complex from the divided monarchy, and a cult site where Jeroboam’s golden calves may have been placed.
Fortified by a pre-dawn peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I was transported every morning to my real-world classroom, where handpicks replaced pens and the sound of a scraping trowel was a satisfying substitute for a clicking keyboard. Using muscles long forgotten, I picked, scraped, brushed and hauled buckets of dirt and rocks in search of that strata’s mysteries. Several hours into the day, breakfast is delivered to great rejoicing. As others returned to their squares, I began my shift in our on-site “bone lab.” Bag after bag of animal bones had to be carefully spread out in aluminum foil trays, identified and documented—a skill that I had recently begun learning in the Hesse Memorial Archaeological Laboratory at the Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. After returning to the kibbutz for lunch, we looked forward to an evening filled with pottery washing, reading and writing. Evening lectures filled the hour before dinner.
A dig is a great place to learn new skills, as I was introduced to taking elevations, floatation and wet sieving. It is also a wonderful way to meet great people and make new friends from all over the world. It developed within me a new appreciation for the hard work and dedication to science involved in the field. My experience was overwhelmingly positive and could have only been accomplished through the generosity of the Biblical Archaeology Society and its donors.
Learning how to analyze the human skeletal remains excavated from the Roman necropolis at Sanisera was a great experience this summer. Sanisera is located in Menorca, Spain. Occupation of the site is estimated between the first century B.C.E. and the sixth century A.D., with Roman and early Christian influences left behind for us to learn from. Sanisera, which means “to run or flow,” got its name for being a shore line to the Mediterranean Sea. Having its own lighthouses, military control, military camps and basilicas, with multiple cities surrounding Sanisera, there is no wonder why there was a need for a necropolis. My aim this summer was to use advanced osteological techniques to understand the lifestyle of the people who lived many, many years ago.
I was assigned to lot/grave 452–3351 with my partners Justine, Katelyn and David. I began working on the southwest section of the grave. There were a few vertebras sticking out of the soil (which was more like concrete). Also I saw a possible upper limb bone (fractured) along with possible “infant” fragments. Later on, we discovered that these infant bones were actually rodent bones. There were also two fractured skulls, hind limbs and a foot (left side) in our lot. As the days progressed, more faunal fragments were found. We may have uncovered the femora head of a femur, but it was fragmented and we saw no fovea capitis (which is a great feature on the femur to identify with). As we slowly began to even out the soil, we would also sift the dirt for any disposed bones. If any bones were recovered from the sift basket, we would tag them and place the bones into our bone bags. Cleaning up for the day consisted of covering the lots, taking grave pictures and taking the tools back to the storage area.
In the lab, we studied the remains of individual UE–3304. With many different sources of information and the experience of this field school, my group and I were able to re-create the biological life history of the individuals buried at this site. In the laboratory, the goal was to identify possible pathologies, piecing together any fragmentary bones, applying standard techniques of bone measurement, age estimation, sex estimation, classification of dental pathology and tooth wear. Overall, a complete osteological analysis of the individual, including paleodemography, paleoepidemiology and identifying trauma (if any) in archaeological bones. We discovered that individual UE–3304 was a male with an estimated age range between 23 and 57 years old. Pathologies include costovertebral joint arthritis of mid-ribs, Schmorl’s nodes in the lumbar vertebrae, marginal lipping, which may be associated with ankylosing spondylitis in the lumbar vertebrae, and cleft bifida in C1 (cervical vert. 1) and L2 (lumbar vert. 2).
I greatly appreciated being able to apply these methods and techniques at Sanisera to my own work. I still have a lot to learn, and I can’t wait to gain more biological anthropology (bioarchaeology) experience and knowledge. Thank you to the Biblical Archaeology Society!
Tel Hazor was home to the greatest of Canaanite kingdoms before the arrival of the Israelites, according to the Book of Joshua, and this is evident in the incredible array of ruins seen at the site. While only a fraction of the site has been excavated, Hazor has told archaeologists much about interregional politics and trade, Canaanite culture and achievements, as well as Israelite history. The site is run by an experienced and irreplaceable crew working under the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, from whom I learned many basics of archaeology.
It was at Tel Hazor that I acquired skills, unforgettable relationships and a greater devotion for what I know to be my passion. I would like to thank the Biblical Archaeology Society for making it possible.
Kasey Nichole Shell
Thanks to the help of the Biblical Archaeology Society, I was able to make the journey to Israel to dig for two weeks at Tell es-Safi/Gath. This excavation, directed by Professor Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, is one that has had and will continue to have a great impact on my future career in Biblical Studies, and is one that I will not soon forget.
The dig at Tell es-Safi, widely known for being the likely location of the Biblical Philistine city of Gath and the hometown of Goliath (1 Samuel 17), has made this site and this part of Biblical history so much more than merely an abstract place inhabited by an unknown people mentioned in the Old Testament. Now, thanks to my many experiences there, I was able to be surrounded by professors and experts in the field who have an immense knowledge and passion for this place. By learning under their guidance, I was able to see far more than just the dust beneath my feet and the stone peeking out of the ground. I was able to see and imagine the life that happened around the oil presses and the shattered pots and destroyed walls.
Though digging in the field ended up being much different than I had imagined—it involved far more pickaxes and wheelbarrows than tiny brushes—it allowed me to wipe away the previously held assumptions I had had about archaeology and replace those with a real, firsthand knowledge of what working in the field is like. I no longer have to wistfully shuffle my feet in the Indiana soil, longing to know what it is like to be an archaeologist in the Biblical lands. I can confidently say that this experience has changed my life and my future path in no small way, and that only happened because of the Biblical Archaeology Society donors. And for that, I will always be thankful.
I had an amazing time at Tell es-Safi in Israel this summer! I got to help open a new area, and it was awesome to see it go from weeds and bramble to strung-out squares, and from the removal of topsoil to finding floor levels from the ninth century B.C. It was such challenging work, but ever so addicting, as well! We opened the area because of an enormous olive press that natural processes were slowly revealing on the surface. In just a few days we uncovered another large stone installation and a crushing stone, too. There looked to be the remains of a wall cutting through one square, an area covered with rocks that are yet to be understood, and all throughout we turned up a great deal of pottery.
One of my favorite moments was when I picked up a rather unremarkable sherd and turned it over to find grooves left by the potter’s fingers as he pulled up the clay and formed it 3,000 years ago!
I am so thankful for the huge role the Biblical Archaeology Society played in getting me out to the field this summer. I could not have done it without you guys.
I am thankful to the Biblical Archaeology Society for providing me with the opportunity to excavate at Tell Keisan this summer. For four weeks in July, I worked as an assistant square supervisor in Area E, a new square just north of the trench dug by the French in the 1970s. The current Tell Keisan excavation is directed by Dr. David Schloen of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and Dr. Gunnar Lehman of Ben-Gurion University in the Negev.
Photo: Miller Prosser.
Tell Keisan is situated on the Acco Plain 9 miles northeast of Haifa and 5 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea. The tell offers a commanding view of the rich agricultural region of the Acco Plain and a branch of the ancient international coastal highway that followed a pass between Mount Carmel and the western hills of Lower Galilee. Tell Keisan was an important Canaanite city of the Bronze Age and Phoenician city of the Iron Age. It has been identified with Achshaph, a city known from the Amarna letters, the city list of Thutmose III, and the Bible (Josh 11:1; 12:20; 19:25). The Phoenician inhabitants of Tell Keisan may have had close economic and cultural connections to the nearby Israelites.
Our days began with first breakfast at 4:30 AM, followed by departure from kibbutz at 5:00, and we began digging at the site at 5:30. We took a break for second breakfast at 9:00 and a fruit break at 11:30. We dug until 1:30 PM and returned to the kibbutz for lunch at 2:00, followed by free time until 4:30. In the afternoon we would wash pottery from 4:30–6:00 followed by evening lectures and dinner. My work as an assistant square supervisor included digging, capturing and recording coordinates and elevations, labeling finds, and entering data in the OCHRE database.
Over the course of the four-week season, we uncovered lots of pottery and we articulated a mud-brick surface, four walls, a few small pits and one massive pit. We identified numerous small finds, ranging from mosaic floor tiles to flint sickle blades, animal bones and even an inscribed jar handle.
The opportunity to dig at Tell Keisan was physically demanding but also intellectually stimulating, and I am deeply grateful to the Biblical Archaeology Society for making this experience possible. I enjoyed learning about the science of archaeology and the importance of documenting and processing the finds. I believe that this experience will help me advance my academic goals as I pursue a career of research and teaching in Bible and archaeology. I would love to return to Tell Keisan next season to continue working on this exciting project.
I cannot begin to convey my gratitude for the amazing opportunity afforded me this summer through the Biblical Archaeology Society’s Dig Scholarship. I am a first-generation student who comes from a low-income background, and without the assistance provided through the scholarship, I would not have been able to participate in my excursion and fully explore the amazing field of archaeology during the excavation. I hope that I did BAS’s contribution honor with my hard work this summer in the field school. Thanks to the assistance of the scholarship, I was able to travel to the Lahav kibbutz located at the southwestern edge of the West Bank inside of Israel. This kibbutz is situated next to Tell Halif and served as the base of operations for the Lahav research project, which tasks itself in the excavation of the tell. Some occupation levels at Tell Halif have at times been identified as Biblical Rimmon.
The Biblical Archaeology Society’s commitment to providing opportunities for undergraduate experiences in archaeology allowed me to assist in the excavations of the Iron Age II Jewish settlement inside the tell that was destroyed by the Assyrians in King Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah and Israel around 700 B.C.E. This destruction layer has left the precious remains of what an Iron Age Jewish settlement looked like and offers us some great insights into what life for an average Joe must have been like as we explored the pillared residences along the wall.
The experience I had due to the generosity of the Biblical Archaeology Society has fostered a deep interest in archaeology, an interest which is set to last a lifetime and drive me to contribute as much as I can to the scholarship surrounding the field. I cannot emphasize in so few words how important the Dig Scholarship is to giving disadvantaged students a chance to develop archaeological skills in the field. Without it, aspiring archaeologists such as myself would have been restricted from nurturing our burgeoning interest in the discipline.
I hope that the Biblical Archaeology Society is able to continue to provide this fantastic opportunity to individuals with circumstances such as mine in the future, and I hope that those individuals receive an experience that was as amazing and developmental as mine. God bless you all.
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