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.