We all know the big family names in Biblical archaeology.a Countless BAR articles have been written by or about the Mazars—whether it’s the late great Benjamin Mazar, who excavated at the foot of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in the 1960s and 1970s, or his nephew Amihai Mazar, who is a prominent Israeli archaeologist in his own right and directs the excavations at Tel Rehov, or Benjamin’s granddaughter Eilat Mazar, who has made a name for herself excavating a monumental structure in the oldest part of the City of David (she believes it is King David’s palace). Biblical scholar Eleazar L. Sukenik, who purchased the first few Dead Sea Scrolls for the Hebrew University in 1948, instilled his own passion for archaeology in his son, war-hero-turned-archaeological-superstar Yigael Yadin. And of course we know that many couples have shared their love—or even fallen in love—on an archaeological dig (see Eric and Carol Meyers’s story). But it was my own family that inspired the theme for this Dig Issue. My cousin Mike left home to study Biblical archaeology at Wheaton College not 034long after I started working at the Biblical Archaeology Society. Mike has spent the past few summers working at Ashkelon under his professor, codirector Daniel Master, and this past year, his dad (my dad’s brother Chris) joined him. I thought their story sounded like an interesting one, so I got in touch with a few other families who have gone on excavations together to see what it’s like to share the dig experience with a parent, child or sibling.
Depending on your viewpoint—or your generation—I guess some would say it’s all relative, but they’ll all tell you that the memories last a lifetime.
Following in His Son’s Footsteps
Chris and Mike Resig
This isn’t your usual story of a parent sharing a love of archaeology with his child. When young Mike Resig went off to Wheaton College in 2005 to study Biblical archaeology, it reignited in his father, Chris, a lifelong interest in ancient history and archaeology. As part of his studies, Mike joined the dig at Ashkelon as a volunteer in 2007 and then returned in 2008 as a staff member on the GIS (Geographic Information System) surveying team. Meanwhile, Chris looked forward to getting the occasional updates from his son. “It was just so enjoyable hearing all of the stories that Mike would tell of his time on the digs, in the lab or what he was learning in class. It took me to a whole new level of interest in archaeology and its application to the Biblical context.”
“My parents would joke about wanting to go along with me on the dig,” Mike said, “but as a volunteer and new staff member, I didn’t feel comfortable with that idea yet.”
Then, in 2009, Chris’s summer vacation plans to go on a cruise to Biblical sites in the eastern Mediterranean fell through, so he asked his 22-year-old son’s permission to come to Ashkelon with him as a volunteer for the first three-week session of the summer season. By this time a college graduate and a more experienced staff member, Mike agreed, but he was still a little nervous. “I dreaded that everyone would think I was a loser for having my dad around, but in fact I heard from other volunteers all the time that they wished they had another family member there with them.”
Chris threw himself into his work as “the lowly volunteer in the ‘pottery pit from hell,’” as he put it, digging through layers of a previous archaeologist’s fill. “Yes, it was hard physical work, but boy, it sure was fun,” he said. “I would do it again in a heartbeat.” And he certainly made his son proud. Mike had thought that Chris’s presence might change his relationship dynamic with the other staff members, but “they all just thought it was cool. My dad’s supervisors would keep coming over to tell me what a good worker he was and that he was doing a great job. It was kind of funny because it was like getting a report card from 035your child’s teacher, but I liked hearing it.”
Mike also enjoyed seeing his dad fulfill a childhood dream. “He always said that, as a child, there were three things he wanted to be when he grew up: an astronaut, an architect or an archaeologist. I think the first one’s probably off the list at this point, but he became an architect and now he’s gotten to try out archaeology too.”
Chris’s career as an architect enabled him to appreciate and better relate to the remains and building styles of ancient cultures at the sites they visited, but more important for him, “It was great to be able to see, touch and experience what Mike’s passion is and what he will be doing throughout his career.”
The highlights of their summer included teaching groups of Israeli beach-goers how to play Frisbee and getting to see Jerusalem together. But perhaps the best part is what they now share back home. Mike appreciates having a “translator” of sorts in their family discussions. “I’ve been studying this stuff for quite a while now, so sometimes I lose track of what ‘normal’ people will understand about archaeology. It’s good to have my dad there as a mediator.”
Unforgettable Family Memories, Despite Teenage Embarrassment
The Meeker Family
Joel and Marjolaine Meeker have long shared an interest in Biblical history, so when the husband-and-wife team got an opportunity to guide a group of young volunteers at the Ashkelon dig in 2000, they jumped at the chance. They even brought along their daughters, 9-year-old Fiona and 7-year-old Tatiana, because, as Joel said, “This seemed like a fantastic opportunity for our family to travel together, acquire a better understanding of the world, and help unearth artifacts that shed light on Biblical history.” Because the girls were so young, they and Marjolaine worked at the tell only periodically, but, Marjolaine says, “the archaeologists were extremely kind to our daughters, letting them dig when they were able and taking the time to teach them the basics about carefully excavating and washing finds, while treating them as full-fledged members of the expedition. Our girls learned a great deal and really loved it!”
The Meekers enjoyed the experience so much that they returned to Israel to excavate again in 2008—this time at Megiddo—with now-teenagers Fiona, 17, and Tatiana, 15. Although the girls were under 18 (the minimum age requirement for many digs), having their parents there meant they were able to participate fully in the dig. Joel, Fiona and Tatiana worked in the trenches while Marjolaine processed finds in the field office. “We teased her that we three did the muscle work and Marjolaine did the brain work,” joked Joel.
As parents, the best part for Joel and Marjolaine was being able to share the experience with their daughters, creating unforgettable family memories. “Working together allowed us to share a unique experience that each one of us could talk about and relate to. It brought us closer together as a family,” said Marjolaine. “My wife and I are always excited to offer our daughters unusual, educational exploration activities that increase their understanding of the world,” Joel added. “In some ways it was more important for me to know that they were having the experience than it was having it myself.”
And what did the girls think? With an already-strong interest in ancient history and archaeology, both Fiona and Tatiana were excited to have the opportunity to get some hands-on digging experience. They appreciated that having their parents with them on the dig created a built-in remedy against homesickness. Fiona mentioned that “it was nice knowing that I knew someone at the dig and that if I needed anything, my parents were there for backup support … It was also nice to have that reminder to go to bed early once in a while, even if we didn’t always listen.” Tatiana added thankfully, “Because of the age limit, I would not have been able to dig in the first place if I hadn’t been with my family.”
Marjolaine and Joel noted that, even in the midst of a family bonding experience, there were still the “usual tensions” that can occur between parents and teens. “We find that our teens like their parents to be minimally visible, especially when they are in the company of friends—apparently we’re rather old-fashioned.” When I asked Tatiana what the worst part was for her, she responded simply, “Embarrassment. I love them and all, but sometimes it seems like all parents do is embarrass you!” Her older sister Fiona summed up the positives and negatives of the experience well: “After being around them for such a long time (every day for a month!), working [on a dig] with family members strengthens your relationship and draws you closer together—whether you want it to or not!”
Work Ethic Makes a Father Proud
Jerry and Casey Jewell
Growing up near Ft. Hood, Texas, Jerry Jewell loved exploring the remains of old house foundations at the military base with his dad. Years later, as a student of Dr. Steven Ortiz at Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, Jerry learned about the excavations at Tel Gezer and was excited to participate in a real archaeological dig and once more explore the remains of a past society. When Jerry happily returned home from the successful 2008 season, it caught the attention of his son Casey. “My dad brought back pictures and stories from his first year on the dig, and I wanted to experience it myself.” So in 2009, Jerry and his 18-year-old son set off together from their home in Kempner, Texas, for another season at Tel Gezer in Israel—Casey’s first trip out of the country.
Jerry was now a square supervisor and was able to keep an eye on Casey as they worked away in the trenches. It wasn’t long before they got into the groove of digging. Casey explained, “Working together with my dad is nothing new. We work well side-by-side, and it just sort of goes rhythmically—we get more done faster.” Casey soon made a name for himself as one of the so-called “sons of thunder” at Tel Gezer (see Mark 3:17). His dad Jerry told us that’s what they nicknamed three of the young men on the dig whose strength and speed of digging put them in such high demand that they were called to other squares around the site to help clear away the dump piles from excavations by a previous American team and before that by R.A.S. Macalister of the Palestine Exploration Fund. “As a father, it was nice to see him getting into the hard work and enjoying it. He got along well with everybody and set a good example. I was really proud of his work ethic.”
This pride gave way to excitement as the Jewells’ square began to yield some important finds. In an untouched level they uncovered a plastered cobblestone glacis that measures 30–40 feet. Directly on top of the plastered surface was an inverted oil lamp dating to the seventh century B.C.E. According to Jerry, “we hadn’t previously been able to find any architectural remains from that time period [at Gezer], so this was an exciting find that filled a gap in our knowledge about the site.” The 2009 season also revealed a very large four-room house (the building style typical of the ancient Israelites) with a lot of pottery and grinding stones associated with it. Based on the pottery, the house is tentatively dated to the eighth century B.C.E., and its grand size may suggest that it belonged to a wealthy inhabitant of Gezer.
But it wasn’t all about the finds for Jerry and Casey. Having a growing boy like Casey along on the trip had an unexpected advantage for Jerry. “Casey needed a lot more snacks, so we got to know the local people at the shop in town from our frequent visits when he would get a big Coke and something to eat. Being out in town more gave me a much better sense of the culture than I’d gotten the previous year.” Another highlight for these native Texans was getting a little taste of home when they discovered a “meat burger” joint in Jerusalem—“We were pretty excited to find a place that served hamburgers in Israel,” laughed Jerry.
And although many teenagers sometimes try to distance themselves from their parents, Casey says he wouldn’t have gone on the dig at all if his dad didn’t go. “Ever since I was little, my dad and I would go on road trips together. It was kind of a thing between us. So, Israel was only fun because he was there with me.”
We all know the big family names in Biblical archaeology.a Countless BAR articles have been written by or about the Mazars—whether it’s the late great Benjamin Mazar, who excavated at the foot of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in the 1960s and 1970s, or his nephew Amihai Mazar, who is a prominent Israeli archaeologist in his own right and directs the excavations at Tel Rehov, or Benjamin’s granddaughter Eilat Mazar, who has made a name for herself excavating a monumental structure in the oldest part of the City of David (she believes it is King David’s palace). Biblical scholar Eleazar L. […]
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