Matthew Richardson, King’s College London
My first day on the dig at Lachish confronted me to the somewhat most obvious yet most over-looked aspect of an archaeological dig, i.e. that it entails a great deal of digging. Perhaps one of the main requirements for someone aspiring to become an archaeologist is for them to be an avid fan of the outdoors. In addition to this, I found that of the near fifty people involved in the dig the majority of them were either Israeli or American. Needless to say, the intellectual aspect of archaeology is paired with hours of physical toil in the field, which in Israel can often be in the scorching heat. The gruelling physical work in the heat became the most rewarding however as the results of the effort I put in could be immediately seen, the progress of which was becoming ever more evident with each passing day. Despite this, it became apparent that archaeology isn’t just fun in the outdoors. After my first day of work out in the open, the scale and gravity of the project that we were undertaking began to be conveyed to me. After all, this was the 4th expedition to the site, there were people that had spent years preparing and working on what lay potentially a few feet under the surface of the Tel’s soil.
In order to grasp a full understanding of the expedition, I sat down with Dr Garfinkel to ask him what was the purpose and aim of the expedition to Lachish. Prof Garfinkel explained that the main goal was to find a legitimate development of the Judean kingdom before the 7th century BCE. Then began an impassioned and detailed account of the gravity of our excavation. He affirmed that the dating of the Judean Kingdom was a very important factor in the biblical tradition, as it would allow for a type of historical narrative to go alongside with it. Then, he addressed the academic criticism he has faced, as he has been blamed for having a political agenda. He does not seek to prove or disprove details in the Bible. Rather, it could have some impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it would be utilised by either side to add substantial historical narrative to their claim to the land.
This idea changed my perception of my dig. This was not some distant academic thought experiment that was devoid of current events; it was a very real and very serious moment that played a part in a larger commentary that was as significant as the dig itself was to do who organised.
I settled into the new routine of 4AM starts and working in the hot Israeli sun. I soon found out that a positive aspect of a dig was the rapid growth of camaraderie between the other diggers and myself. In the first few days of being there, I got to know who exactly was swinging pickaxes and shovels only a few feet away from me.
My square supervisor, Noam Silverberg is a current undergrad student at HUJ, the other square supervisors include Itamar Weissbein, Igor Kreimerman, and Marina Shamir, all in the postgraduate study of Biblical Archaeology. Although it turned out that Igor had an undergraduate background in a different discipline much like myself, however, it was difficult to match mathematics with religion, philosophy, and ethics. Despite the language barrier (although all four of them spoke in almost perfect English) and cultural differences they made me feel included and a valuable member of the team.
These supervisors that could identify the time period and possible origin of the large piles of pottery that we had uncovered. My excitement at finding a single pottery shard went into overload with the cornucopia of Bronze Age shards that we uncovered. The sheer magnitude of holding an item that hadn’t been seen or touched in over 3000 years was completely beyond my imagination. I didn’t quite grasp the value or significance of what I was actually holding, yet, I soon learned that there are a lot of pottery shards that get uncovered and although all of them may be important to some extent we were mainly to look out for shards that resembled bases, rims, and handles—the indicative pieces that are the most use in determining chronology.
Over the coming weeks, I learnt much about the people I was with: students, volunteers, professionals, and academics. How does one become an archaeologist? One of the best answers that I heard came from my square supervisor Noam. When he was a young boy, Noam would collect a small piece of pottery or brightly coloured stones in his garden at home. Throughout the years he retained his interest in ancient history and after his years in national service decided to pursue archaeology as an academic project. Whilst Noam told me about his childhood, I too remember myself as a child sitting on the Grandes Rocques beach in Guernsey. I loved to bury my toy cars in the sand before hastily “excavating” them.
I also wondered what was there to enjoy about waking up an hour before sunrise. Marina seemed to be the most cheerful to respond to this question, as she absolutely hated the 4am alarm clock but nevertheless was eager to get outside and start digging in the outdoors.
In addition to this, for Marina, digging was not only a chance to escape the library but also the opportunity to make new exciting discoveries and to see how these finds relate to the bigger picture. The ‘bigger picture’ featured quite a bit at Lachish. Marina loves the interconnectedness of different archaeological points to form one historical narrative, a love of intellectual endeavour that can be mirrored with Noam’s intrigue in what he found in his garden as a child. Regardless of nationality or cultural creed it was an aspect of the dig that we all in fact shared.
One of the integral parts of my trip was to investigate the place of academic diversity in archaeology. One person that I met on my trip gave a fascinating and profound insight. Jody Bloom, a Brit much like myself, found solace in being amongst the numerous Israeli and American archaeologists, so much so that managed to understand each other’s academic and personal background.
While writing this report, I unfortunately cannot recount much of what was discovered at Lachish until the initial report from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem gets published. This short essay is therefore less on the discoveries that were made in the summer of 2016 at Lachish and more of what it felt like to be in this environment—my reasons to encourage young people from diverse backgrounds to become involved. Perhaps I will apply to archaeology as a postgraduate course after all.
Benjamin Robson, Queen’s University Belfast
With the generous financial support of the AIAS I participated in the 2017 season of excavation at Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel. This was my second season working on the tell as part of a diverse, multi-national team of experienced archaeologists and students. The multi-period site of Tell es-Safi has a highly important geographical location on the border between the Shephelah and the coastal plain of Philistia. Since 1996 a long-term archaeological project has been undertaken at the site, directed by Dr Aren Maeir of the Institute of Archaeology, Bar Ilan University, Israel.
Excavations at Tell es-Safi indicate that the site was settled virtually continuously from the Chalcolithic until modern periods. In my first season of volunteering on the dig in 2016, I worked in Area E, which is a large domestic Early Bronze Age III non-elite quarter in the eastern end of the tell that has been undergoing intensive excavation since 2004. These excavations have uncovered a residential neighbourhood with architecture typical of EB houses in the region. They contain the standard repertoire of domestic artefacts, but also many non-local elite types. These suggest that the inhabitants may have been merchants involved in long distance exchange. Finds such as metal from Timna; donkey, goat and an alabaster macehead from Egypt; bitumen from the Dead Sea and basalt from the Golan Heights point to the participation of the residents in an integrated robust and sophisticated exchange system across the region.
On this, my second year of digging at Tell es-Safi, with the financial support of the AIAS grant I could volunteer for the entire 4-week dig season. This year we were excavating in seven areas in total, on the four on the upper tell and three in the ‘lower city’ below. I was again working on the eastern side of the tell, but this time in the extensive 50m by 30m Area A, co-ordinated by Dr Louise Hitchcock of the University of Melbourne, Australia. I was part of a small team working in this area on what was the final year of digging for Area A, the longest running area of the excavations. Area A has yielded a continuous sequence of Iron Age remains dating from the early Iron I (c. early twelfth century BCE) until the Iron IIB (late eighth century BCE). The late Iron IIA destruction level (Stratum A3) is the predominant level in this area, and serves as a stratigraphic anchor due to its excellent preservation. A series of features from the Iron Age I levels at Area A indicate it was a ritual feasting locale of the Philistines, including a pebbled hearth, pits with single animals, and refuse deposits with decorated pottery and animal bones commixed with figurines and other tokens of memory.
The objective for this dig season at Area A was to expose the earliest phases of the Iron Age. By the end of the first week of the dig, we started to uncover a large amount of Philistine (Bichrome) pottery in the Iron I. A very nice find at this early stage of the dig season at Area A was a large fragment of an Iron I female figurine and a large lamp sherd from the same period. In the second week, we were working in the Iron I and Iron IIA in our two squares respectively. In the early Iron I square, we uncovered a nice body sherd with a Philistine bird decoration. By the start of the third week, we were firmly in the Iron I in both squares, uncovering some new architecture in the western square (70C), where I was focusing most of my efforts. We dismantled an Iron IIA wall in this square to reveal an Iron I wall beneath it, which featured huge foundation stones.
It was a privilege to be part of the final dig season for Area A, with the inspiring leadership of Dr Hitchcock and camaraderie of fellow students and volunteers. Through hands-on experience I developed my skills at stratigraphic excavation and engaged with previously unpractised techniques such as section drawing, planning, artefact recovery and recording, and using a total station to record points.
I am extremely grateful to the AIAS for supporting me through the award of a travel grant, without which this invaluable trip would not have been possible.
Rebekah Welton, University of Exeter
I am very humbled to have received the Nicholas Slope Award in order to return to the excavations on Mount Zion, Jerusalem for my fifth season. Nick was missed by all of us at the dig this year but he was in our hearts and minds during the excitement of the excavation. While this was my fifth year with the project it was my first year as an Area Supervisor, a role I was only capable of fulfilling thanks to the experience I had gained in previous seasons which were also supported by the AIAS. I am overwhelmingly privileged to be a part of the Mount Zion project and utterly appreciative of the opportunities that have been offered to me through the support of the AIAS and the dig directors of the project, Shimon Gibson, Rafi Lewis and James Tabor.
The dig this year attracted a record number of participants which meant that at any given time I was managing circa 20-25 volunteer diggers across the so- called Lower Area of the site. Instructing them about how to use equipment, how to collect finds, how to identify pottery from tabun fragments from animal bones and how to spot coins was one of the most rewarding aspects of my role this year.
My diggers were so enthusiastic, willing to help with anything and patient when we needed to wait for elevations or photographs to be taken before digging could continue. I couldn’t have asked for a better first team to supervise.
On reflection, I believe it would be much easier to be an Area Supervisor if it were possible to be in five places at any given time. This is simply because just at the moment when a coin is found another volunteer needs you to check the soil in a locus, a dig director wants to explain the excavation plan for the following day, the draftsman wants to know which wall to draw and the field recorder wants to know the description of the most recently opened locus. I was very grateful to have had an assistant area supervisor to aid me in recording data such as opening and closing elevations, special finds, and generally making sure operations ran smoothly.
We dug from 5am to midday every day and in the afternoons the staff worked on organising the daily photographs and filling in the required paperwork. After two weeks of digging there was an interim week for participants to have break and to go site-seeing across the country. Meanwhile, staff worked on dig reports, Harris matrices, and pottery sorting with Shimon Gibson. This offered a helpful opportunity to reflect on what had been achieved so far and what plans should be made for excavating in the final two weeks of the season. Writing the dig report and drawing the Harris matrices were useful exercises in thinking about how different loci related to each other and how the site was developing generally.
2017 was a good season for solidifying the dating of various structures in this multi-level site. One of the most interesting areas of the Lower Area was a large collapse of stones which we were debating over. Some of us thought it may have been from the earthquake of 363 CE, while others thought it may be from the destruction of 70 CE. As we began to remove the collapse we saw that it extended underneath an Early Byzantine wall and the pottery from the fill below the collapse dated it to the Early Roman period. It is therefore possible that the destruction is from 70 CE but we will need to wait for data from cleaned coins to know more. Being an Area Supervisor challenged me in many ways, but what I have learnt as a result is immeasurable. The added responsibility of being a supervisor forced me to think about the excavation is much broader ways while simultaneously dealing with the smaller yet ever important problems of the daily running of the excavation. Thank you once again to the AIAS for the support I have been given on this journey over the last four years.
Rebekah Welton (2016), University Of Exeter
Returning to the Mount Zion excavations in Jerusalem for the fourth season this summer was only possible due to the very generous support of the AIAS travel grant for which I am utterly grateful. The excavation site is just outside of the old city by the Zion Gate and is a continuation of excavations that commenced in the 1970s by Magen Broshi. In previous seasons remains of a first century domestic building containing a mikveh, three ovens, a cistern and a bathtub were found. In the deepest area a large mosaic and partially constructed archway was found from the Byzantine period. The field director this season was Dr Rafi Lewis to whom I am extremely grateful for his direction and support.
This year I was responsible for excavating some wide baulks left by Magen Broshi in the west end of the site. The baulks were particularly interesting as stratigraphic layers were visible in the external sections which allowed for very careful excavation of each one. They contained particularly important information due to their proximity to a possible Crusader dry moat which we would like to date more accurately. My responsibilities were for a team of workers in this area as well as the recording of all locus descriptions, special finds and sifting operations. Some loci were fills containing artefacts including coins, fragmented metal blades, a metal bell, a murex shell, a ring and a pearl. There were also layers of mosaic in this section, the southern was clearly disturbed but in the northern area remains of the mosaic were still intact. We also came upon the top of a partially collapsed terrace wall. These collapsed stones were excavated separately and a metal cosmetic spatula was found amongst them. The dating of these features and fills will become apparent after the collected pottery artefacts have been analysed. I thoroughly enjoyed having the responsibility for this dig square and supporting a great group of participants.
I also assisted Kevin Caldwell, another area supervisor in the excavation of two other areas. One was a deep pit, also previously excavated by Magen Broshi, which had collected forty years of modern contamination and needed to be cleared before further excavation could be commenced. One further area in the south of the site appeared to be an Umayyad collapse featuring two columns. Next season we hope to uncover more of this collapse and reach the living surface, the results of which should give us a better idea of the lives of the Jerusalemite inhabitants in the Umayyad period. The grant from the AIAS also enable me to stay for one week after digging finished in order to aid with the recording of the site, which entailed cleaning it up, removing shades, and then drawing sections and taking photographs.
I was also invited to give a lecture to the Graduate Seminar Series at the University of the Holy Land in affiliation with the Albright Institute of Archaeology. The series theme was ‘Daily Life in Ancient Times’. My lecture was entitled ‘Food and Alcohol Production and Consumption in Relation to Iron Age Israelite Religion.’ The comments and questions I received after this lecture were truly insightful and I am overjoyed that I was given this opportunity to discuss my research with such a great audience of fellow archaeologists and students. My thanks to Dr Shimon Gibson for making this possible. I would also like to extend my sincerest thanks to Dr Nick Slope, who whilst a committee member of the AIAS was also an area supervisor on this excavation at Mount Zion and showed me the greatest amount of support and encouragement both on the dig and also for my future in this field. I am truly grateful to the AIAS for allowing me this opportunity to further my personal development in the skills and knowledge of archaeology which is something I know will continue in years to come.