Dreaming of Digging…or Digging in Dreams

June 29, 2008

Sara Belkin writes:

I think digging has taken over my life. This is evident by the fact that last night, as I was sleeping all the way down south in Jerusalem, I woke up in the middle of the night, and thought I was lying down in my Lower J square. For a few seconds I really believed I was in the dirt, with my trowel, digging. This shows that the Megiddo excavations are following me, even in my dreams. But, luckily, digging at Megiddo, has proven to be a fulfilling experience. I have been to Israel twice before, once on Birthright, and secondly, as a study abroad student at Hebrew University; both two very different experiences. And Megiddo is no different, I love being able to watch the sunrise and know that a whole day of possibilities (of new finds, new friends, and new experiences) awaits. I love the swim in the Kibbutz pool that washes away all the stresses from the day, and I love that we get such wonderful hands-on experiences in archaeology –­ something that I, as an archaeology student, am really grateful for. Therefore, digging at Megiddo is different than anything I have done previously in Israel. Even being in Jerusalem this weekend, with my Megiddo friends, has shown me that Israel is never the same, even three times around. Thus, the lesson I learned from my night stay in Jerusalem is that I can experience many different Israels each time I travel here, and also that sleeping next to a wall might lead me to think I am lying 3 meters deep in a 4×4 meter square.


Third Week in Area K

June 29, 2008

Kristine Merriman writes:

So another week has passed for Area K at Megiddo.  As the third week begins (the last for quite a few people), I am amazed to see what we have accomplished and the bonds which have formed.  First, Area K looks completely different than it did just two weeks ago.  We have taken down the rest of the baulks, removed a few walls, and reformed the baulks again.  Wonderful artifacts have floated across my desk, and hopefully some questions have been answered though we will answer more.  Great friendships have formed, potential relationships have begun, and a few have been tested.  All of this is what makes an excavation worth it.  You would never know how much we all look forward to eating, showering, and that afternoon Coca-Cola.  I have often wondered why I love digging so much (I’m not necessarily a fan of being covered in dirt and sweat most of the time).  The answer is the relationships that a dig forces you to make with the present and the past.  I realized this morning that I only have four days left with some of these people before others come in.  More than that, I will miss them.  This is not to say I’m not excited about the next four and a half weeks, but everyone of us is different.  Where else can you be totally filthy, exhausted, and feel like you’ve known people your entire life after only two weeks?  I doubt that another place like this exists.  All of us have come to connect to one another, but more importantly to connect to history.  It is amazing that so many people with such different backgrounds and personalities can connect in positive ways over such a seemingly minor thing.  However, history is major to us.  It allows us all to get up at 4:15 in the morning, work hard all day, be dirty and without makeup, and still have a ton of fun.  It’s truly an opportunity not to be missed.


Learning to See

June 28, 2008

Loren Crow writes:

I’ve spent the last two weeks plowing through almost a meter-thick destruction layer that occurred between the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age. Most of what I’ve encountered has been junk: burnt mud bricks, burnt wood beams, a huge fire pit, and lots of burnt pottery (can you sense a theme here?). Almost nothing “fun” appeared. What I had hoped would be a lovely clay tablet with an inscription on it turned out to be merely a flat piece of basalt. The one bronze artifact I came across was so degraded that it was impossible to see what it had been before it broke into about twelve little pieces. I’ve had no fancy finds, nothing that will make the cover of NEA or BAR, not even anything that sounds exciting in a blog.

But that doesn’t tell the whole picture, and part of the problem is that I have to learn to see correctly. When we first begin digging in the morning, the sun is not yet out and a grey half-light barely illuminates the depths of the trench in which I’m digging. For this reason, I usually try not to do any of the kind of archaeology that might require throwing stuff away. I might loosen the soil with a pickaxe, or get the tools in place for work, but I refrain from the careful sorting through dirt until there’s enough light. I’m afraid that, in the pre-dawn murkiness, I’ll miss something really important.

I think this may be a good metaphor for the rest of the day, as well. I need to remind myself that not everything worth noticing is shiny and beautiful. Even some of those burnt mud bricks can be important from the standpoint of making sense of the destruction. The fire that raged throughout the whole of Tel Megiddo was incredibly hot and completely pervasive.

But what was the cause of this? Some scholars think the city was purposely set on fire after it had been defeated in battle, either during the Israelite invasion or at some point after that. Others ascribe the destruction to an earthquake (earthquakes are commonly associated with fires). The question has yet to be answered to the satisfaction of everyone.

At the very least, I think we can try imagine what an ordinary person might feel at the sight of an entire city engulfed in flames, with flames reaching perhaps 30 meters into the sky and a plume of smoke visible for miles. I imagine that some people might have seen the spectacle and realized that their own end was fast approaching. Others, perhaps, thought that they had been delivered from the tyranny of the city that clearly would have exacted taxes from people living throughout the entire area. A few probably went a step further and interpreted the fall of Megiddo as the work of a holy God whose care for the poor and landless led Him to “bring down the mighty from their thrones.”

And I think they may have been right; it’s just that I have to learn to see it.


One Week Left (for the first session)

June 27, 2008

Helen Alesbury writes:

Damn.  Only one week left (for the first session).  One more week of back breaking pick axing, toreah (giant hoe on steroids) work, moving tons of stones and earth, painfully bending down to articulate walls, and sweeping dirt from dirt.  What. A. Shame.

No really, this time has slipped by very quickly, despite the fact that we get up at 4 in the morning every day and drag ourselves to the bus and then up (in area Q’s case) to the top of the tel to begin some invigorating 5 AM pick axing, this week seems to have gone pretty quickly.  Well, most of it. There is something wrong with the time between 5AM and 8:30AM while we wait for breakfast.  I am fairly certain that at some points, time actually STOPS.  No matter how much time you spend staring at your square, or pointing out the gopher holes (our area gopher has been named Stanley) or just sitting on the balk when you are not supposed to, it remains 7:15 for about 45 minutes. No joke.  We have attempted to keep the “do not announce the time” rule in effect, but when it starts to be about 8:15 and we get all excited (hell, even when it is 6:15 we get excited…..the sun is officially up!), we can’t really help it.  There are cheese and onion sandwiches waiting for us at the bottom.  I must say, it was interesting the first couple of days to have the cheese/hummus/tuna sandwiches for breakfast, now, after two weeks, it has gotten kind of bland and ordinary.  We need some pancakes…..no, I cannot, nay, will NOT think about tasty foods that are quite impossible to obtain in the near future.  But really, we all need a good, hot, perfectly brewed cup of coffee and a lawn chair, rather than a wheelbarrow to recline in.

After breakfast we go back up to our areas and continue the relentless pick axing and clearing. We have come a long way in area Q.  We started with nothing but a rocky, grassy terrain and now have our 5 by 5 squares that are getting quite deep.  My square (along with Christopher and Naomi from Norway and England respectively) has a very substantial wall and some impressive pottery pieces, though that is nothing to the whole pot, and grind stone with pestle that our neighboring squares have discovered.  Whatever, they don’t have walls like ours.  Overall, area Q has gotten quite interesting

Now, as the week reaches an end and everyone is organizing the weekend, most are going to Jerusalem, and a good amount are first going on the field trip to Gezer and Ashkelon on Saturday to have a tour of their digs.

No matter where we are going, we are all just hoping that it cools down.  We knew it was hot, but apparently it has been abnormally hot for Israel the past few days and especially the last couple of mornings we have been waking up to a cold damp haze that sits on our skin and prevents any cooling later in the day when the sun breaks through the hazy clouds.  The humidity just sits on my skin and makes movement hard, much less pick axing.  Regardless, we keep digging, keep on sweeping dirt (as crazy as that sounds) on the off chance that we find Josiah’s diary, or Solomon’s underwear.  This weekend though is mainly just to enjoy Israel and explore Jerusalem, because sadly we only have one week left…what a shame.


Area J Picture Pavement

June 26, 2008

Rachel Navarro writes:

Now that the week is over, its a lot easier to look back and consider some of the great things that happened.  As mentioned in my previous post, I found previously unnoticed incisions on an already exposed slab last week.  Around two edges of the rock there are small “cup-marks” or indentations that are clearly man-made and intentional. Dr. Ussishkin told me I had earned my breakfast that day, which I later learned was actually a compliment.  It was my first semi-major archaeological discovery, and I was more than a little excited. It was most encouraging because we knew that the University of Chicago excavators had removed all of the pavement slabs that they had noticed in the 1920s.

Finally after taking a week and a half of digging and removing approximately (or maybe slightly exaggeratedly) 16 cubic meters of dirt, we finally have reached the pavement in our square.    It was one of the most gratifying things I have done to finally brush the dirt off the large slabs of limestone and basalt in our square. There weren’t any that were noticeably incised with drawings but there were a few that at least seemed to have intentional lines scratched into them.  On Sunday we will clean them off more and take a closer look.

Last night, Adi, our supervisor and expert on the picture pavement, gave a lecture to the entire expedition on the drawings found by Chicago and argued that the incisions were done by Egyptian artists because of the artistic style and subject matter.  The more I learn about Megiddo in the Early Bronze Age the more intrigued I am by the area.  Megiddo was a massive cultic center that would have drawn worshipers from a large area, including the huge area of the Jezreel Valley that was covered by Megiddo’s domestic area.  I would love to excavate that area and see just what these people were up to.  The Early Bronze 1 B temple was bigger than any monumental architecture in the Levant, including Egypt, which makes me wonder just what kind of role Megiddo played in the development of culture across the region.  Working in this area and working to answer some of these questions has been a blast this week, and I can’t wait to see what discoveries the coming week will bring.


Staring Contest with Masada

June 25, 2008

Sara Westfall writes:

Our first weekend here in Israel has come and gone and although it was a short one, it was jam packed with fun and adventure. Myself and fourteen other people toured Masada, the Dead Sea, and Qumran…all on Saturday before 1pm. We left the kibbutz Friday afternoon for Jerusalem where we would catch our tour. Our taxi driver didn’t speak any English (and apparently not much Hebrew either) and didn’t know where our hostel was. After a lot of awkward moments and asking people on the street we finally found our hostel in the Armenian quarter next to the Jaffa Gate. Since our tour started at 3am, we decided to sleep on the roof with mattresses. The view was unbelievable. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was no more than 3 or 4 blocks to our left and straight ahead was the Dome of the Rock. I can’t describe how awesome it was to fall asleep with the Dome all lit up straight ahead of me. When I woke up an hour later it was freezing cold. I turned on my back and looked up at the stars and managed to find the Big Dipper…hmm just like back home. It still blew my mind that was in this place that I had wanted to see since I was a child.

I wanted to stay there for days, but that would have to wait. We had other adventures to tackles that day. We boarded the bus at 3am and headed south. I fell asleep with the cool breeze blowing through the window. I woke up to very hot air blowing on my face. At first I thought, “Who turned off the air conditioning?” However, that was not the problem. We were now in the desert and not just any desert but one that was a part of a chain of deserts that stretches from North Africa to China. We arrived at Masada while it was still dark. I thought to myself, “No problem, we’ll be to the top by sunrise.” Ya right. That was the most arduous climb I’d ever been on and I was sure I was not going to make it. However I was determined to see the sunrise. As I got nearer to the top, the light started to grow over the hills beyond the Dead Sea. I found my last reserve of energy and picked up the pace, pleading with God to delay the sunrise until I got to the top and threatening the sun that it better not think about rising before I got there. It started to peek over the hills just I was getting to the top. I raced to a viewing point and it was the most breath taking thing I’d seen in a long time. I’m not a morning person, so I don’t see many sunrises (until this trip of course) and it was incredible to see the whole earth just light up and the big fiery ball climb up the sky. This was definitely something I had to do before I die and now I can cross it off the list. So I made it to the top before sunrise on the most grueling climb I’ve ever made. Masada and I had a staring contest and Masada blinked. We explored the ruins for a while and then an hour after I’d made that epic climb, I came right back down it. I bought a shirt in the gift shop that reads, “Masada: I came, I saw, I climbed.” I think I earned it.

Next we headed to the Dead Sea. I was really excited to be able to just sit in the water and float there. We put on our bathing suits, ran down to the beach, and treaded over hot sand and jagged rocks to get to the water. I pushed myself off the side of rocks and there I was: effortlessly floating on the water. Myself and a couple other girls floated next to each for a few minutes. However suddenly there was a change and a burning the likes of which I’d never felt before came over me. All the girls looked at each other and we knew we all felt the same pain. After trying to put up with it for several minutes, we all bolted for the beach and up the hill to the cool refreshing showers. I was disappointed, but at least I can now say I’ve been to the Dead Sea.

Lastly we headed for Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We saw a short film about the site and went through a small museum. Then we headed outside to explore the ruins of the ancient site. I could’ve walked a ways up to the caves, but I was far too burned out at that point to make such a trek. I just enjoyed the views from afar, the hills in front of me and the sea behind me.

When we got back on the bus, our driver cut open a watermelon for us and it was the best watermelon I’d ever had. For an extra fee, we were taken back straight to the kibbutz. All in all, it was a pretty great one day weekend. However, I was very burned out and am just now recovering from it. But it’s a small price to pay to now be able to say I’ve seen the sunrise over Masada.


Another Week Bites the Dust

June 25, 2008

Kat J. writes:

A week of work and one exciting weekend have taken their toll on some of our spirits but nothing that a night at the pub couldn’t remedy…and so we are slowly getting ready to say goodbye to some of our 3 weekers and looking forward to meeting the newbies.

All of us at Area J have been busy with prepping our squares for digging and although they have not yet been officially assigned, J has been delivering the goods. The J pavement area has been understaffed for the last couple of days but many great finds have come out of the ground including beads and large basalt grinding stones. In J proper, we have found what appear to be two large benches in the temple complex which is very exciting but as usual, more questions than answers arise with each passing day. But that’s the beauty of archaeology…you never know what each day will bring. We also had some important visitors on Tuesday who helped us to decide the fate of certain structures at J that need to be removed for safety and other reasons.