Dig Scholarship Winners
Nothing brings the excavation experience to life like hearing from volunteers—everyday people who finally decided to make their dreams of going on a real archaeological excavation come true. Here two of our 26 Dig Scholarship winners from 2009—a second-grade teacher and mother of five and an enthusiastic archaeology student—share their stories as first-time volunteers. From skeletal remains to sewage drains, they never knew what they’d be working on next.
A Far Cry from My Vegetable Garden
Linda D. Perkins
In June of 2009, I took off on an unexpected adventure. As a young adult I had always wanted to go on an archaeological dig, but a military husband and five children pushed that dream into the far crevices of my mind. After the death of my husband, I began teaching elementary school and found myself creating fun ways to teach science and history to second graders. I decided that I wanted to learn about archaeology first hand on a dig site and incorporate this into my second-grade teaching of science, history and the Bible. Several weeks later I was signing my name to work with Dr. Jerry Mattingly and the Karak Resources Project in Jordan.
On June 19, just two weeks after sending my second graders home for the summer, I stood side by side with my square supervisor, Dr. Friedbert Ninow, surveying our site at Mudaybi, southeast of Karak, Jordan. The fort sits on the edge of the fajj al-Usaykir, which served as an ancient caravan route. Our assigned field square was part of an Iron Age gate structure now in the final stages of excavation. I felt excited knowing I was working on a Moabite fortress. Could I be standing where a woman like Ruth the Moabite worked and lived?
Having only dug in my own vegetable and flower gardens, this experience gave new meaning to the 041word “dig.” Trowels become your hands as you scrape each layer of soil away. How easy it was to miss a sherd thinking it was only hard dirt. I learned to train my ear to hear the sound of my trowel hitting rock or pottery. I trained my eye to see objects in the sieve. I am still amazed at all the preparation and paperwork required to document all of our work. I learned that a dig site is a unique kind of classroom: I learned how sites are organized and structured, how to read topographical maps, how to clean and log artifacts, and how what we find translates into information about the past.
Every day I participated in this dig project was filled with anticipation. The possibility of my trowel hitting an object in the sand was thrilling. The first full day of scraping got us almost 8 inches deeper, but not one artifact or bone. I loved every minute anyway—even with sore muscles that screamed for me to stop, dirt everywhere and hot blowing sand.
On my third day, I found a slender 5.3-inch bone. We thought it might be a camel bone. The next day I found several smaller bones, two of which were going back into the balk wall area. I was given the go-ahead to start removing the balk area down to the bones. Now my trowel was traded in for very small digging instruments and brushes. I painstakingly brushed the sand off to reveal the skeleton of a young woman. I was overwhelmed by what I had found. Wouldn’t my second graders be surprised? But after three days of brushing away as much sand as possible, my emotions changed. I was thrilled to have found an entire body, probably around 400 to 500 years old. However, I was suddenly grieved that I had disturbed the burial site of an unknown girl. I suddenly wanted to know everything about her—who she was, why she had died. I wanted to carefully cover her back up, but I also wanted to keep digging.
I stayed in Jordan for 30 days. I watched the sun rise every morning at our dig site. I found pottery sherds, some animal bones—even a bird’s skull—and the floor of the room in this part of the gate structure. What we didn’t find was a door to the room, which was a surprise. I’ve learned that with archaeology, we always learn something from what we find, but it is not always the information 042we are hoping to find.
My second-grade students will benefit from my experience in a mock dig I set up for them. As aspiring archaeologists, they are full of questions. I will give them time and guidance to find the answers, just as my square supervisor gave me.
Digging Through Sewage and I Couldn’t Have Been Happier
I first read about Khirbet Qeiyafa in the January/February 2009 issue of BAR, which funnily enough was the first issue where I had seen mention of both the scholarship and the multitude of field opportunities for aspiring archaeologists. I remember growing immensely excited about the site and showing it to many of my friends, an act usually accompanied by the line “If I could go to field school anywhere, that would be the place.” Everything about the site intrigued me, from its relatively unexplored nature to its controversial place in the high/low chronology debate. So when I visited BAR’s Web site and found that Qeiyafa was seeking volunteers, I could barely contain myself (my reaction was something along the lines of jumping about and possibly squealing like a ten-year-old girl). Here it was, my first opportunity for field work, and I was already passionate about the site without having set foot in Israel.
After being accepted to the dig and receiving the scholarship (and, if I remember correctly, a bit more squealing), I began to prepare myself for what I knew would be a physically demanding, albeit thought-provoking and potentially life-changing, experience. I was right on all counts. The first day on the site will remain with me for the rest of my life, both because of the beauty of the location as well as the surreal experience of finally doing what I had spent a great deal of my academic career studying. For me it was something akin to finally being able to stand in front of a beautiful work of art, one which had previously been seen only in photographs. I can still paint a vivid picture in my mind of that first sunset over the Elah Valley.
But to get to that sunset we first had to open our squares; needless to say it was much harder than I thought it would be. Though Qeiyafa wasn’t too overgrown, the site was littered with stone cobbles that made progress through the topsoil a tedious affair. But at the end of the first day, the beginnings of squares began to appear throughout the site. It was not long after this that I was first shuffled to another area. At first I was a bit peeved to be moved, as I was hoping to see an area from start to finish, but when I learned what was in store for me, I soon changed my mind.
My first reassignment brought me to the gate that had been excavated in the previous season, where I was to work with a supervisor and a microfaunal-remains expert in an effort to excavate one of the gate’s two drains. The drain itself was significant because it was still covered by large, flat stones and thus would prove to be a nice time capsule (especially if it was closed after Iron Age II, prior to the later levels of occupation). Working one-on-one with a specialist of this sort proved to be an invaluable learning experience, and I did everything I could to soak up what I could from my superiors. Writing to my friends and telling them of my experiences also put my future profession in perspective, primarily because there I was digging through 3,000-year-old sewage, and I couldn’t have been happier. The sewer excavation also gave me experience in the necessary tedium of archaeology, which came in the form of 100 percent wet sifting of all excavated sediments. After the first few hours of picking through sand grains with a paint brush, I quickly learned why such activities never made it into the romantic accounts of archaeology. But 043after three weeks of sorting material in my time off of the actual site, I quickly learned the value of the information we were gathering and came to a simple conclusion: All of the work that I did on the site, no matter how tedious, or in some cases exhausting, it was, served a purpose in the grand scheme of the dig itself.
The actual excavation of the sewer was a rather short endeavor, though processing the removed sediment took us quite a bit longer. So upon completion of that project I was yet again reassigned, this time to Area A, which at the time was tentatively referred to as the “Hellenistic Fortress.” I was then notified that our guest supervisor would be Dr. Guy Stiebel, the head of excavations at Masada. Even had the area itself not been such a joy to work, the lessons learned from Dr. Stiebel made the trip worth it. Everything he asked us to do was treated as an opportunity for teaching, and I learned more in the three weeks I worked under him than in any amount of classroom time prior to my departure.
After we managed to battle our way through the collapse layer (none of us will ever forget the day of many boulders), Area A began to produce many astonishing finds, almost all of which led us to reevaluate our initial assessment of this particular level of occupation, thus giving it a much later date. This, however, did not detract from the value of the area, as it continued to produce a large quantity of finds, including coins, a few small pieces of jewelry, numerous examples of pottery and different utilities for milling grain. The most beautiful find in our area was also the product of a freak accident. In the course of working within the walls of Area A, one of the volunteers dislodged a portion of stone from the wall. Before the reprimand could be vocalized, we noticed light reflecting off of the niche in the wall that the collapse had created. Closer examination revealed a nearly intact glass vessel with a stunning blue patina, lying on its side, having been protected from the collapse of the building we were excavating. Dr. Stiebel managed to extricate it, revealing that only the bulb of the body had broken, leaving rim, neck and handle fully intact, but separated from the base. It is occurrences such as this that allow even the most disinterested individual to appreciate the romantic appeal of archaeology.
My time in the field in Israel was life-changing to say the least. It affirmed my intended career; it provided me with invaluable experience, and it connected me with amazing people. In the four weeks I was in Israel, I developed many close friendships with people from all corners of the world and all walks of life, with whom I will remain in close contact. I am eternally thankful to the donors and the Biblical Archaeology Society for allowing me this opportunity, as it would not have been possible without their help. I now feel confident that I am walking the right path in my life.
Nothing brings the excavation experience to life like hearing from volunteers—everyday people who finally decided to make their dreams of going on a real archaeological excavation come true. Here two of our 26 Dig Scholarship winners from 2009—a second-grade teacher and mother of five and an enthusiastic archaeology student—share their stories as first-time volunteers. From skeletal remains to sewage drains, they never knew what they’d be working on next. A Far Cry from My Vegetable Garden Linda D. Perkins In June of 2009, I took off on an unexpected adventure. As a young adult I had always wanted to […]