Is It June 2010 Yet?

August 2, 2008

Liz Cannon writes:

Time is such a strange thing. Somehow it manages to move so slowly and so quickly all at the same time. How have four weeks passed by already? I can remember thinking after day number one that the amount of hard work, the early morning alarm buzzes, and all of the tiny unpleasantries about digging would surely drive me to illness or insanity. I didn’t think I could keep up the pace for an entire month.

Yet, here I sit in a beautiful garden in Even Yehuda, where I am staying for the weekend before moving to Jerusalem to attend Hebrew University, and I miss Megiddo.

The last day of excavation felt awfully strange. We spent the day articulating, defining balks, and sweeping everything in sight for the aerial photographs that would be taken on the last morning. It all sounds very normal considering that we had been doing that for the past several weeks, but this time I knew in the back of my mind that this was the last time I would be sweeping up dirt, articulating rock walls, and using our bulk tool “Kimmy” (basically, it’s just a pick-ax head). I find myself both tired and content, sad to leave and ready to go. I’ve finally learned how to identify rims, bases, bichrome, lamps, bowls, Cypriot (sometimes), cooking pots, and the like, but I feel like I’m just getting started.

As these things go, we stopped excavating right when Area H was about to get really interesting. Doron, a Tel Aviv student studying prehistoric archaeology, found a huge, intact storage pythos in the ground at E7 that must have been 30 centimeters tall. The mouth of the vessel was flush with the surface, which led Eran and Inbal to conclude that it must be standing on a floor surface, most likely of H-11. This means that just under our feet could be a milieu of fantastic pottery pieces and other beautiful items. This was the same square where Jane found the small Egyptian ankh. However, as it happens, we will have to wait until next season to harvest all of those amazing items that we know are right there, just below the surface.

Two years seems so far away to me. Will I be finishing my master’s program in time for Megiddo 2010? Will I have the funds to attend the dig? I will have to wait for those answers as I busy myself with other experiences and as I contemplate archaeology as a career. It truly only takes one dig to get a person hooked. I have so much more to learn about the Iron and Bronze Ages so that I can return to Megiddo ready and prepared to put that knowledge to use and to gain more.

I can’t wait to return.


There and Back Again

July 30, 2008

Sara Westfall writes:

This is my last blog post. I can’t believe I’ve been here for seven weeks, and yet I can also believe it. The time has gone by faster than I’d imagined, but the first day here, the first weekend, seems like a distant memory. I’ve had a lot of great experiences. It’s been tough, but also exciting and fun. I can’t help but wondering what things will stay with me and what things I will leave behind (and I’m not just talking about the socks with holes in them or my flip flops). Some things I will be glad to leave behind such as kibbutz food, the summer camp vibe, and I really hope I reinstate the 5 second rule. I’m not looking forward to leaving behind all the awesome people I’ve met. Some I’ve been without for 4 weeks already and some it will be sad to say goodbye to now. I hope some things will stay with me. I could definitely see myself eating peanut butter and peach jelly on a rice cake for lunch and instead of saying, “Let’s go”, saying, “Ya’llah!” I hope my sense of adventure and my anxiety-free attitude stay with me as well.

Over all I’m feeling a lot of different emotions and it still hasn’t completely hit me that we’re leaving in two days. I’m definitely glad to be going back home and ready to start my regular life again. However, I know I’ll be sitting in front of the TV at home or in my bed and think, “I wonder if Area Q looks like right now?” “Is Stanley the Gopher still there?” “I feel depressed, like there’s pottery stuck in the baulk and I can’t take it out.” “I miss Norma’s laugh.” “I’m feeling angry, can I pick-ax something?”

It’s easy to say now that I won’t be back. I can think of so many excuses: “I’ll have a job”, “There are other places to see”, “No, thank you, I don’t like waking up before the sun”, “I don’t want to think of dirt as a spice”. However, deep down, part of me knows that one day the archaeologist in me will remember the fun times I had here and say, “I think I’m quite ready for another adventure.”

Section Drawing 101

July 28, 2008

Liz Cannon writes:

With the third week of Session Two drawing to a close, I’m beginning to sense a sudden time crunch. I think we’re realizing that we have only one more week to accomplish the dig’s objectives, and that is making everyone a bit more irritable. Add onto that sleep deprivation, weeks of manual labor, and a growing aversion to kibbutz cuisine, and you’ve got yourself a nice combination for emotional explosions.

Imagine my delight when I found out I would be taking a break from the tension of square excavation to draw sections for Area H. Zack and I drew the western bulk, or what we lovingly call the apocalyptic section. It’s basically layer upon layer of destruction material with a few added pieces of mud brick, pottery, and rocks squeezed in somehow. Section drawing is relatively easy although time consuming. Area H had a crash course in measuring and drawing to scale during Eran’s techniques course, and after practicing our artistic skills on a wall next to the kibbutz basketball court, we were considered prepared to try our hand at interpreting the bulks of Area H in our own archaeological and artistic way.

Equipped with measuring tape and a trowel, I set to work clearing off unnecessary dirt around rocks, pottery, and other items of interest in the bulk in order to take coordinates of them. Zack was the grand artist of the day. Either we were too tired to argue or we happened to work together well, because the entire experience went quite smoothly. We found that if we worked from right to left, taking measurements of four points of each object, we could work more effectively and efficiently. Our most important features, however, were the levels of floor that could be seen in long stretches of dark mud brick material and white and black lines that hugged the main layers of mud brick. One can see the manner in which the floors are layered successively, and hopefully we can make a case that we have now broken through to H-11.

The entire process took the majority of the workday as I scraped off the bulk, yelled out coordinates, and waited until Zack drew the object. Luckily, Johnny and Casey were working in the same square, drawing the eastern bulk. Johnny was the measurer of the duo, and given the amount of downtime we had as Casey and Zack drew their pictures, we had plenty of time to find other uses for the measuring tape. Let your imagination take you back to Middle School, as Johnny and I fought with light sabers, played an assortment of sports from baseball and golf to skiing and cricket, filed our nails, shaved beards, used a metal detector, conducted symphonies, and found a variety of other rather bawdy uses for the measuring tape.

Besides our foray into a different form of archaeological fieldwork, we’ve set to work knocking down a few of the walls that are now either floating or are ready to be shortened. Thankfully, we have some new blood in our midst with the arrival of seven students from Tel Aviv University. We’re still feeling the growing pains during bucket line — they still have to get used to swinging a bucket with one hand to maintain a consistent momentum — but it is better to have more people in the Area to distribute the work.

As far as finds go, Garrett struck gold when he found a full vessel, a half-vessel, and a pair of turquoise-colored earrings in F8 in the bulk underneath a now floating wall on Thursday. It’s high time we start finding more artifacts in Area H. Eran no longer gives me a smile when I find yet another stopper. After all, we have cuneiform archives that we have yet to find. With one more week to excavate and clean, we have a lot of work cut out for all of us.

The Legend of the Ladle of Doom

July 22, 2008

Sara Westfall writes:

Today was a suspiciously dull day. No finds, just some pottery and bones. However, in our search for more equipment we came across a strange object. Joey and I were forced to make the trek down to the bottom of the tel when it came time to pick-ax and realized we had no pick-axes. We could’ve done mad petishing (the small pick-ax) by having two in each hand like Joshua did last week, but we decided to go search for more equipment as Q was short other items as well. We finally made it down to the equipment sheds only to discover that they were locked. We searched around the outside for any miscellaneous items that could be useful and we came upon a large wooden spoon sitting on a table. Not only was this a very large spoon, but it had tikis carved into the handle. Well, we instantly knew that this was the best thing we would find all day and since we couldn’t return empty handed, we took it with us. On the way back to the tent, we came up with a brilliant mythology:

The Ladle of Doom is clearly evidence of trade between Assyrians and Polynesia. The spoon came from the great island of Soupopolis, also known by its Greek name, Atlantis. The spoon belonged to Soupiluliumus II and was given to the ruler of Megiddo as a token of friendship shortly before burning the place to the ground, accounting for all of the separate destruction levels in Stratum IV. Shortly thereafter, the Celestial Soup Crater exploded and spilled the boiling but delicious broth all over the island, sinking it into the sea and eradicating its residents. The spoon is the last remnant of this great and intriguing civilization. Much of this was determined by a strange dialect of Nukumanu that we were not quite used to. As such, we had to consult linguist extraordinaire, Philippe Guillaume, who likewise demonstrated that the strange carvings on the Tiki described a concise political history of chieftain succession ending with the usurping of Chiko-Nudo-Soupo and his beautiful queen, Saltinou-Crakeru.**

Clearly, it was a dull day and we have been here far too long after coming up with this story, however the spoon got a good laugh from everyone and is actually useful for picking up dirt. I sense a future prank coming on.

**Story created in part by Joey Brown of Square D6, Area Q, Megiddo, Israel

The Stratigraphy is Clear

July 20, 2008

Liz Cannon writes:

We had quite the breakthrough on Thursday of this week in square F6, Area H. After the past couple of weeks of finding almost no architecture in our square, we finally found plaster and a floor on the south side of the tabun. We had been excavating our square in a fashion that looked almost like trench archaeology, pickaxing, tarea-ing, and discarding dirt with reckless abandon. Sure, we’ve found an assortment of interesting collectibles such as a Cypriot potsherd, bichrome sherds, flint, charcoal, an array of animal bones, burnishing stones, and a cache of lentils and olive pits; however, we’ve been looking for an H-10 floor amidst the layers of destruction.

Those of us in session two found ourselves ankle-deep in the last vestiges of level H-9 or Iron Age IA, level VIA according to the Chicago Expedition. One of our main goals was to break through H-9 and get to the next level of H-10. Earlier this week in E7, which is the middle square on the western bulk of Area H, we found solid evidence of an earlier time period than H-9. Inbal is basically working in ash and burned mud brick right now, but she and the other girls in E7 are finding artifact after artifact and more architecture than in all of the other squares. Next door in F7, Mary and Casey have found four round column bases that seem to line up with the ends of the walls that jut into my square E6. We’re finally getting to the interesting stuff in Area H.

According to Eran, we’re digging in Area H because there is a good chance that we might be near the archives, since we are only about 20 meters away from the Assyrian palace. That got all of us excited, thinking that perhaps one of us would come across a 3000-year old record of court life or military expenditures or something along those lines. I also was fortunate enough to find an ivory artifact on the north bulk of F6, which naturally made me overjoyed. Rumor has it that along with an archive, there may be a site of ivory production.

Dr. Finkelstein made his daily visit to Area H and came to square F6 just as Kristin was uncovering the floor and plaster. “Ah, suddenly it is all clear! The stratigraphy is clear,” Dr Finkelstein proclaimed. According to him, the floor we found is more than likely in level H-11, and we just blew through H-10 destruction over the past few weeks. In the last two weeks of this year’s session, we are expecting to find scores of very important items in Area H. Casey in F7 is still waiting patiently to find his cuneiform tablets. I’m still waiting to find priceless, engraved amulets.

This coming week then, we will be digging a bit more carefully and doing less Phillipe-ing, that is, pick-axing our way through the dirt. We’ll see if Mike, my square supervisor, is okay with this change in procedure. He’s been vying for the position of Phillipe’s predecessor.

We’re also saying goodbye to Caroline, who was with us for two weeks, but saying hello to seven Tel Aviv students who will be with us for the rest of the dig. It has seemed that we’ve been shorthanded in some ways over the past few weeks, although it could be from people missing the bus in the morning and sleeping through pottery washing. Perhaps the new kids on the Tel will help us pick up the slack so we can get some real work done.

Connecting Through an Egyptian Bead

July 15, 2008

Sara Westfall writes:

I’ve been in this country for a month and I’m almost positive that I hit the zenith (as far as digging goes) yesterday. We removed a possible 3 jars from my square (one of which was almost completely intact, albeit broken) and as we were leveling out we made a remarkable discovery. My square mate, Joey, was pulling back some loose dirt from an area we had just pick-axed and I stopped him because something caught my eye. Something turquoise colored was sitting on top of the dirt. I picked it up and realized it was a bead. As I started to clean it off my heart jumped. There was a design on it; and not just any design but an Egyptian Horus Eye. It was so beautiful. I immediately started jumping up and down and called for Norma. As awesome as it was to find this, it meant one thing: we now had to sieve all the dirt we pulled up to look for more beads.

We didn’t find any more beads, but as I sitting near my square, waiting for Sasha to finish his drawing, my mind began to race. For the first time since I’d arrived, I really began to feel an attachment to what I’d found and an appreciation that it had belonged to someone thousands of years ago. I wonder who was the girl that wore this jewelry? Was she Assyrian and had bought it or was she an Egyptian living in a foreign land? What made her leave this bead behind? How did she loose it? Did she think it was as pretty as I do?

As I sat thinking about these things a few tears came into my eyes as I remembered my grandfather. He died a few years ago and although I regret not getting to know him better, the one major thing he imparted to me was a love of Ancient Egypt. He would always give me books and documentaries as well as a variety of trinkets with Egyptian symbols on it (one was a necklace with Horus on it which I wore for good luck to Professor Cline’s final on Ancient Egypt – it worked). I wished he was still alive and that he could’ve come to share this experience with me. At the very least I wish I could’ve called him up to tell him all about it. I know he would’ve been very excited. I know he would be proud of me for being here. Instead I called my dad, with whom I also share a love of history. He was also very excited about my find.

For once I am at a lack for a good story about the history of this bead. It seems to me that anything but the true story of this bead wouldn’t do. I suppose the history of this bead and who it belonged to will have to remain a mystery, but at least now I can leave this dig totally satisfied. I finally made my personal connection with history at Megiddo.


July 12, 2008

Liz Cannon writes:

I’ve officially broken in my Marshalltown trowel. It’s been waiting patiently in my backpack for the past three weeks while I’ve been traveling in Jordan and Israel. But Sunday was the day. After arriving bright and early at 5 something A.M, I held my trowel in my hand, tightened my grip around the handle and watched the blade gleam in the first flecks of sunlight. I was ready.

Naturally, when Inbal Samet, Area H co-director, asked for volunteers to start scraping the bulk, I literally shot up my hand, purely so that I could use my trowel for the very first time…

So, welcome to Area H, which is located on the NE section of Tel Megiddo. Area H can be characterized as one of the smallest areas on the Tel, with only six squares, but it’s also one of the deepest areas on the Tel. We’re currently finishing a level dated at Iron Age IA, which we lovingly call H-9, and are trowel-deep in destruction material. Most of what we find is charred pottery, broken animal bones, charcoal, ash, and remnants of olive pits and seeds. With any luck, and more efficient work habits, maybe, just maybe we’ll break through to H-10. We do have some interesting installations in our grid, including a large and small basin, a tabun, and a possible tabun/large storage container, which is in my square (E6) and is currently undergoing excavation.

I’ve never had so much dirt and dust cover me, and I love it. Immediately after Inbal chose me to work on scraping the south wall, I went to town on it with my trowel, scraping away the thin layer of dirt, dust, and pebbles to reveal the darker color below. Perhaps at first the sound of metal screeching along the rock face could drive a person insane, but after a while, as the darker color of the rocks comes to the surface, the scraping sound is just another part of the job. Our first day was especially hectic since we were preparing for photographs to be taken of the newly leveled and swept floor the following day. Therefore, our area director Eran Arie wanted all the walls to be scraped, the half-hidden tabun sitting in front of the basin in the Southeast corner to be articulated, and the whole place to be swept clean.

Such a task raises a barrage of questions in the mind of a newbie:

1.    How do you know when the dirt is “clean”?
2.    Is this pottery or rock?
3.    Is this bone or rock?
4.    Is this flint or rock?
5.    Is this an artifact or rock?
6.    Is this an olive pit or charcoal?
7.    How do you know when you are done?

It’s quite possible that I’ve thoroughly annoyed my square supervisor, Mike, with my series of questions, but he hasn’t told me to stop asking questions yet. Look out, Mike, there’s more on the way.

I’ve completed my first week of excavation now, and I’m in that stage where I know just enough to be dangerous. I’m the keeper of the toolbox key, and I’m enough of a nerd to wear it around my neck on an elastic string for safe keeping. My favorite part(s) of the day is “Bucket Line,” and Eran has nearly convinced me to stop studying Modern Middle Eastern Studies and change to Archaeology, but something tells me that he’s just a little bias.

The novelty of finding a shard of pottery has worn off. That lasted all of 30 minutes, which is quite enough time to realize that the amount of pottery in the soil rivals the amount of rocks at times. Now I’m at the point where finding flint, charcoal, bones, olive pits, and even phytolith surfaces (of which I have found two) are starting to wear on my patience. I want artifacts. I want to be the one to find a bead, an Egyptian ankh, a nearly full and intact vessel, which by the way, have all been found in Area H.

I need to work on my techniques, though. Something tells me I dedicate too much time to sifting through the newly pick-axed “earth”— as Eran calls it – with my trowel. I’ll start sifting and get caught up in the search for items of interest as others are getting to work filling buckets with soil. My square is easily recognizable. It’s the one that is about 30 cm higher than the ones around me. I’ll have to work on that. I’m finding that excavation is a trial or error sort of job. You find what works and what doesn’t work, watch people who know what they’re doing, and stick to what does work.

Half Way Home

July 12, 2008

Sara Westfall writes:

Today I am officially half way through this trip. I’ve gone through a lot so far: excitement, home sickness, food cravings, fatigue, angst, fun, adventure, awe, reverence, and friendship. I think I’ve come far, learned a lot and not just about digging. Last week we said goodbye to the 3 weekers. I miss them dearly. I made some awesome friends and the group all around was fun and energetic. We really bonded in the short amount of time we were together. I don’t know about this new group. They seem somewhat quiet and reserved. However, I will be patient and give them a chance to get into the routine of things around here. Although my new square is frustrating (a wall and lots of random stones), my new square mate, Joey, makes it better. I also really like being a leader in my area. I guess I learned a lot from the first session after all.

On a lighter note (at least now it is) I had a crazy tourist adventure this weekend. My next door neighbor Justine and I went to Tiberias and Nazareth. Despite the ridiculous amount of money we had to spend to get around, everything went fine until we had to come back to the kibbutz. While waiting for the bus in Nazareth, a sherut passed by and asked where we were going. We told them we were going to Afula and from there to our kibbutz. He told us he would take us for 15 shekels each to Afula. We jumped at the opportunity and climbed in. Half way there, the driver tells us he’ll drop us off at Megiddo because it’s much closer to the kibbutz. In a moment of tourist stupidity we said okay. Now keep in mind, Megiddo isn’t a town and it was still Shabbat. We arrived at Megiddo Junction and the driver lets us off on the side of the road. I freaked out a little, but stayed calm. At first we tried to walk back. After 15 minutes we realized that wasn’t going to happen, so we walked back to the junction and into a gas station (walking over a watermelon field to get there). We told them our predicament and asked them to call us a cab. They were very helpful, but they said no cabs were available as it was still Shabbat. As we walked out of the gas station I started to really panic. We made it back to the junction. Thankfully a sherut came by and we flagged him down. We ran across two lanes of traffic and asked him to take us to Afula. After everyone got off the sherut in Afula, we asked him to take us to the kibbutz, but he said no and that there was a bus. Well, there was no bus and the whole city looked pretty deserted. We saw a cab in an alley and we ran for it. The driver didn’t speak much English, but knew where the kibbutz was. He way overcharged us, but it was Shabbat and he didn’t speak English. I was so happy to be back at the kibbutz – happier than even the toughest day at the dig.

So here are some tips for travelers to Israel that I learned this weekend:

  1. Be where you need to be BEFORE Shabbat begins (we really should have done Nazareth on Friday and gone to Tiberias before Shabbat began)
  2. Try to limit any travel on Shabbat – there are fewer cabs and the drivers know it thus charging you much more
  3. Don’t trust cab drivers in general
  4. If you want to get baptized in the Jordan River its B.Y.O.P. (Bring Your Own Priest/Pastor)
  5. Eat before Shabbat or bring food with you (or else you’re stuck at McDonalds)
  6. Do it yourself can be way cheaper than tours if you do it right

Beneath Our Feet

July 12, 2008

Sara Belkin writes:

One of the many things I think is so wonderful and magical about digging, is the unknown. Only a few centimeters below your feet, on dirt that you may have walked over a thousand times, may be a beautiful juglet, or a wall of a Early Bronze Age temple, or maybe a tablet that has an inscription that describes what exactly the burnt destruction is in Stratum VIA — ­ whether it was an earthquake or an enemy, or maybe both, that completely destroyed Late Bronze Age Megiddo. Today, down in Lower J, we are now digging a small 2 m by 2 m square that most likely contains the remains of the EB Ib wall that was connected to the temple that lies just above us. At one point during the day, I stood up, patish in hand, and incredously thought out loud, just how cool it was that only a meter below us we will soon see this wall. But, you cannot even begin to look at our square and know that a wall is somewhere beneath our feet. But, it is there, and that is what I love about archaeology ­ the unknown of what is beneath your feet. Every day, hour, and second on Megiddo we are standing on thousands of years of life. But, it is only through our actions, albeit sweaty and tiring actions, that we are able to bring those past lives to the present. This thought got me through today, where we packed hundreds of buckets full of dirt and rocks, so that in a few days we will be able to expose this Early Bronze Age wall and bring the past to the present.

Half-Way Point

July 12, 2008

Kristine Merriman writes:

So this morning marked the half-way point for all of us staying here for seven weeks.  The last three and a half weeks have seemed to fly past.  As a brand new batch of volunteers has recently joined us, we are still getting used to each other a bit- but that hasn’t stopped the fun!  I am having so much fun processing the artifacts from area K.  I love seeing the fun stuff (beads, amulets, scarabs, and mostly intact vessels) and even the growing pile of basalt grinding stones that never seem to be in short supply.  It never ceases to amaze me that people used each of these objects everyday in the past and now, thousands of years later, I get to see them uncovered and hold them in my hand.  Thinking about the life of an artifact is so interesting for me.  From its creation, through its use (or several uses), to be buried, found, and processed…it is truly an amazing journey.  If only stones could talk, we would know so much more.  Nevertheless, what they can tell us is truly unique.   I am having so much fun here.  It is incredible what we are learning and what we may and will learn in the second half of my stay here.  But for now, its off to bed… 4:30 am is still very early and something I may never get completely used to.