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.

I Can’t Believe It, I Am Going To Miss Waking Up at 4AM to Dig a Hole…

July 5, 2008

Helen Alesbury writes:

It is the last day. Last day.  It is the last day.  I just keep telling myself that it is ending, this is when I go off to the airport and leave Megiddo behind.  Maybe if I say it enough it will set in before I land in New Zealand, my next stop.  Maybe that way I won’t be hit with a sledgehammer realizing too late that it is the LAST day.  I think most people find themselves lamenting the speed of time when an adventure ends.  “It’s too fast”, “I can’t believe we are done!”, “why has time STOPPED?!”.. etc. Time, no matter how we prepare ourselves for it, has a funny way of sneaking up on us and going the speed we least expect (and usually desire) it to go.  But really, what is the normal speed of time? And when it is normal, do we think it is too slow?  After three weeks in Israel, I have come to the not-so-startling realization that time NEVER moves as you want it to.   That time between morning and breakfast on the tel, those minutes before 8:30 seem to crawl by as if time is taunting us.  But, at the same time, we are speeding through the days faster than I could have ever believed.  The countless sunrises, over Megiddo, Jerusalem, Masada… seem so much closer together when you look back on them.  How did this happen?

Well, to begin with, we all sort of worked hard. Really hard.  Potential slave labor hard.  Oh-my-God-I-am-so-tired-I-want-to-die hard.  The exhaustion that sets in at 8PM and seems never to be cured with sleep creates a mind numbing sensation where time has no control.  Day after day of pick axing, digging, burning, sweating, yelling, hitting snooze, eating hummus, hiking the tel, hydrating, clearing areas, sweeping….oh the sweeping. Never has time moved so slowly as when you are instructed to “sweep your square to clean it up”.  Honestly, archaeologists seem to have missed that crucial day in 3rd grade about how dirt is DIRT and is DIRTY and is the opposite of CLEAN.  We have had some amazing times on Megiddo, during the ungodly hours of the morning when your body is raging against every movement–this is made only slightly better by the amusing fact that the prison down in the Jezreel Valley that we get a view of has morning calls at 7AM…7 seems like such a luxurious lie in, those prisoners have it GOOD.  People start asking what time it is around 6, waiting for that “breakfast!” call that seems to never come.  Some yell “no! I don’t want to know”, as if they could hide from the unrelenting, overpowering grip of time.  You can run, but you can’t hide.  Come to think of it, I don’t really know why we were so excited for breakfast…after the tenth or twelfth cheese sandwich with cucumbers and onions at 8:30 AM, breakfast starts to lose its luster, and turns into more of a social hour.  In fact, this whole dig is like a social hour. Pottery washing become like the archaeological café, sit and chat with your friends for a time.

In fact, more than that, we have all become a family. In area Q the bonds that have been forged are astounding.  I find I keep hearing “did you/they know each other before this?”, as if it is impossible to become so close in so short a time.  But, alas, time never does what you expect.  I think when you wake up at 4 with someone everyday for 3 weeks, you start something stronger than a friendship, you start connecting.  After breakfast when we take the second hike up the tel of the day we all were rejuvenated, fresh and ready to dig.  We area Q-ers usually came back to find that Stanley, the resident gopher has left some nice little piles of dirt around the area, as if saying “dig here, you are going too slow”….every couple of hours you hear a “Stanley!” and you know that a new hole has been discovered, and that again time has been disrupted…as cute as he is (we imagined), Stanley is messing with our precious stratigraphy.

It really is amazing how much has happened in the last three weeks, the weekend trips to Jerusalem, Ashkelon, Gezer, the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi, Nazareth, Tel Aviv.  The incredible sites that we see everyday and may take for granted.  I have never appreciated a good breeze as I have in the last three weeks.  You can see it in everybody’s face when they stand up, spread their arms and close their eyes to feel the wind…they have NEVER felt as good than in that one fraction of a moment.  This week has been spent with silences of just appreciating that we are in freaking ISRAEL on an ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG, followed by a heartfelt “I’m going to miss you guys” as if we are in some stupid teen movie about camp and we have all become best buddies….well, we kind of are.  More than once I have heard people exclaiming “is this ACTUALLY happening? Am I going to wake up and this is not really real?”.  Clearly this has been a positive experience for all, I know I will be one of those crazy people sitting alone who starts laughing to herself because of something that happened weeks ago…I bet it is going to be something Philippe did.  I can just see the fit of hysterics and the looks I will get as I recall the excitement over those damn astragal bones and start giggling while waiting for my flight.

So, as we wind down the last hours and minutes it seems too rushed, time is going too quickly again.  I just need one more day, just one more cheese and cucumber sandwich for breakfast with crappy powdered coffee that may or may not have some sort of dirt mixed in (I am going to say it is from area L).  During the last couple of days we have been going over what we are going to miss, and how amazing it is that we are all so close and that this has been so great…who knew that 4AM was one of the most beautiful times of day, or that 6AM has its own unique smell that is nothing like 7AM, or how you only realize how hot you are when it cools.  You only realize how much fun you are having when it is almost over.  Well…anyway I took the liberty to create a list of all the crazy reasons why while we may miss things, it is clear we need to go back to real life for a time before we come back:

Top 10 Signs You Have Been at Megiddo Too Long:

10. You have more than once considered sleeping with your backpack on so that you can literally just walk out the door at 4:40AM…or going in your pajamas.

9. You have started to name the features in your square and have become emotionally attached (“Don’t sit on Shishaq! You’re hurting him!”)

8. The 5 second rule no longer applies to anything.  New rule: if it is food….eat it.

7. You think being thrown down the Tel would be cool…and ask Rafi and Paul to push you over in a wheelbarrow

6. You have in depth conversations about the subtle soil change you uncovered that day…and are actually interested in it

5. You forget that people don’t actually bring beer to lectures in the real world.

4. You have started licking bone even when you don’t need to see if it is bone….because you like the taste.

3. You can ID the different areas of Megiddo…by taste.

2. Sleeping ’til 5 AM sounds freaking awesome

1. You start to think of dirt as a spice.

Every once and a while I think about all of the things I am going to miss, the 4AM bus, that early morning trek to the Area Q (yeah area Q!! Exposure, but no penetration), those black millipedes, the ant vortexes, the chocolate bars with pop rocks, the sore hand from holding a trowel for 8 hours, the weekend trips to wherever, the horrible kibbutz food, the great kibbutz food, hummus at EVERY meal, the pub, the lectures with drinking games, the excitement over breakfast, my random-Israeli-candy-bar-of-the-day, sandwiches for breakfast, Turkish coffee, having a guard, the sticky heat, the excitement over finding a small bead, pottery washing, bone washing, Tel tours, tourists taking pictures of us, sleeping on the bus, walking down the tel at 1PM, that first shower you take after getting back, having just eggs and chips for dinner, having no dinner, sunscreen, those damn flies, spider bites, Norma, the undying desire to find a really big wall, the unrelenting urge to destroy really big walls, pick axing, sleeping in wheelbarrows, elevensies, port-a-potties, those white drinking water containers, naming pottery buckets, sitting around with everyone on the last day, enjoying the sun, the Brits, the Israelis, the Norwegian (Smile emoticon), the Australians, every person I met, Ian, Philippe and his crazy rock removal, the fact that the wheelbarrow path is the highest priority, watching Cline run around with his camera, feeling gross and dirty, not missing TV, passing out at 8PM, thinking 10PM is REALLY late, Ben’s laugh, Norma’s laugh, Area Q, Area K’s sing along that we could hear everyday at elevensies, Jen’s fruit leather, Marshalltowns, finding bones, the prison breakout sirens, watching the sun rise every morning, the Jezreel valley, hearing Rafi complain, watching Robyn yell at Rafi, hearing Mario all the way in Area Q, dumping stuff down the Tel, the shade, seeing how far we have come since the first day, pretty much EVERYTHING.

So, as the 3 weekers depart and the dig goes on for the 7 weekers (make sure the new people don’t mess it up!) I am reminded of how much I hate leaving a good thing, but then again, change is good, and time will never let us have our way, the 7 weekers will be exclaiming “how did it go by so quickly?!” in no time, and soon Tel Megiddo will have no more diggers and lay waiting for us all to return in 2010, if not for digging, than to at least watch more sunrises and feel one more great breeze….


End of First Session

July 4, 2008

Eric Cline writes:

The first session at Megiddo has come to a successful conclusion.  The second session will begin in a few days.  Hopefully we will have another crew of bloggers beginning to post soon.  Stay tuned!

Days of Dirt and Bones

July 1, 2008

Sara Westfall writes

More news from Area Q. For the last several days, we have found absolutely nothing in our square. After removing the pavement, two walls, the plaster floor, and part of the Jacuzzi wall, we have found only one thing: LOTS and LOTS of dirt. We were all very demoralized and I have about 20 mosquito bites all over my body.

Today we felt a change in the wind. First, I forgot my camera, which would be the first sign that we would find something. Second, since we were all very demoralized, Zach brought us juice, Pringles, and Oreos (which he’d never tried before). We took one strip of our square down to the level of the Jacuzzi and found nothing. We were sure we were going to have to level the rest of the square as well. However, first we decided to find the base of the giant stone in the middle of the Jacuzzi. While pushing back the top layer of dirt, I noticed several bones. I began pushing back some more of the dirt and realized we had a lot of bones, in fact it looked like a whole skeleton. Don’t get too excited now, it’s not human. Our resident zoo-archaeologist believes it is either a dog or a cat (or several, as it appears there is more than one skeleton). The more popular theories are either a cat-rat or an ancestor of Stanley (our resident and very elusive gopher).

The mystery further deepened when Zach uncovered a multitude of cartridge shells and the top to a mortar round on the other side of the rock. Even more puzzling, we couldn’t find the skull of the animal. Toward the end of the day, we still weren’t sure whether the animal was from 1948 or earlier. Of course as I was sweeping up, I discovered a spent bullet cartridge right next to one of the skeletons. There’s still too much unknown for me to piece together an exciting and highly fictionalized version of what happened. Professor Cline was musing that perhaps it was an attack dog that was in the trench with the soldiers. Of course the animal is like the size of a poodle, but he makes a valid point that those can be vicious. Maybe next week I can put together a story, possibly involving an Israeli named Mordecai, an Arab named Ahmed, and the sad story of an attack poodle named Zebedee.

On a personal note, I visited Jerusalem this weekend. I went to see most of the main holy sites and haggle in the markets. I got to bring in Shabbat at the Western Wall and kneel at the site where Christ was crucified in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It was really awesome to feel such a deep connection not only to the divine but also to history.

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.