For the Young and the Young at Heart
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve dreamed of being part of an archaeological dig. To help you make the switch from dreamer to digger, we present our annual guide to excavations (with lots more information at our special Web site, www.findadig.com). Don’t think you can do it? Take inspiration from the stories in the pages that follow, which show that you can make an important contribution—and have lots of fun, too—no matter what your age. We profile four dig volunteers—two young and two not-so-young—who toiled in the hot sun for no pay, and loved every minute of it.
|Israel||Ashkelon||May 31–July 12||Lawrence Stager||617–495-5756||LeonLevyExpeditiontoAshkelon@gmail.com|
|Israel||Tell Assawir||Aug. 31–Sept. 24||Ron Beeri||011–972-4–firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Israel||Bethsaida||May 18–June 6, June 15–July4||Stephen Reynolds||402–email@example.com|
|Israel||Tel Dan||June 22–July 17||Nili Fox||513–221-7444, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Israel||Tel Dor||June 29–Aug. 1||Sarah Stroup||206–email@example.com|
|Israel||Tel Gezer||June 23–July 25||Steve Ortiz||817–923-1921, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Israel||Tell Halif||June 2–July 4||Oded Borowski||404–email@example.com|
|Israel||Tel Hazor||June 22–Aug. 1||Sharon Zuckerman||011–972-2–firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Israel||Hippos/Sussita||June 29–July 24||Michael Eisenberg||011–972-4–email@example.com|
|Israel||Jerusalem/Mt. Zion||March 2–28, June 15–July 15||James D. Tabor||704–firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Israel||Kfar HaHoresh||June 15–Aug. 1||Michal Birkenfeld||011–972-2–email@example.com|
|Jordan||Khirbet al-Mudayna||June 13–July 28||Christopher Gohm||519–firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Israel||Khirbet Qeiyafa||June 22–Aug. 1||Yosef Garfinkel||011–972-2–email@example.com|
|Israel||Tel Kinrot||July 7–29||Stefan Münger||011–41-31–firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Israel||Megiddo||June 15–July 31||Norma Franklin||011–972-52–email@example.com|
|Israel||Ramat Rah.el||July 20–Aug. 15||Omer Sergey||011–972-54–firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Israel||Tell es-Safi/Gath||July 6–Aug. 1||Aren Maeir||011–972-3–email@example.com|
|Israel||Tamar||Sept. 1, 2007–May 31, 2008||DeWayne Coxon||616–firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Israel||Tiberias||March 8–April 3||Shulamit Miller||011–972-2–email@example.com|
|Israel||Temple Mount||On-going Sifting Project||Asaf Avraham||011–972-54–firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Israel||Yavneh-Yam||July 13–Aug. 8||Ilan Shachar||011–972-3–email@example.com|
There’s More on the Web
This section will help you get started on finding an archaeological excavation that’s right for you, but there’s lots more on the Web at www.findadig.com, which we developed to focus on digs looking for volunteers and on the dig experience.
The chart provides key information on 21 digs. On the Web you’ll find a full description of each site, the excavation’s goals for the coming season, important finds from past seasons, Biblical connections, profiles of dig directors, related articles from BAR, stories by dig volunteers, lots of photos of diggers at work and at play, an interactive map and a timeline. The right site for you might be just a click away.
The Belle of the Tell
When we contacted various excavations in search of a mature dig volunteer, a staff member of the Megiddo excavation urged us to call Denise Gold. “She is loved by all,” the staff member said. It’s easy to see why. Gold has a wonderful sense of humor, and her conversation is frequently punctuated by lively laughter.
In addition to many years at Megiddo and elsewhere in Israel, Gold has dug at numerous sites around the world, including Italy, France and on New York’s Long Island. She has been a volunteer on the Megiddo excavation since 1994, when that site was reopened for excavation under the direction of David Ussishkin and Israel Finkelstein. Gold had started her career as a dig volunteer in 1978 under Ussishkin at Lachish, the major site in central Israel that yielded much evidence of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 B.C.E. Gold explains, “I told him [Ussishkin] I started my dig career with him, and I’d end it with him. He teases me something fierce, but he’s wonderful.”
Gold’s interest in ancient history started very early. When she was in elementary school, her class took a school trip to New York’s Natural History Museum. The class was shown an altar and told it had been used for human sacrifice. “I couldn’t believe it,” Gold says. “I came out of Europe during World War II, so I knew people were cruel, but this seemed farfetched.” It wasn’t until later, though, that Gold could act on her interest in the ancient world. In 1978 she informed her husband that while their kids were at camp that summer, she would join a dig. “I was raising kids and a husband,” she says with a laugh, but immediately adds that her husband was very supportive of her decision. Since her first experience at Lachish, she has dug almost every summer and has volunteered regularly at a museum; she also teaches a course on archaeology in continuing education programs.
In addition to working under Ussishkin again, Gold had high expectations for the Megiddo dig. “I thought it would be wonderful because it’s such an important city. It covers a lot of time periods. The Canaanite period was just phenomenal.”
Gold brings a motherly attitude to the excavation. “I call myself the ‘Belle of the Tell’ but I’m always cleaning with that damn broom,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve become a great baulk cleaner,” she adds, referring to the sides of excavation squares that are left intact to preserve a record of the area’s stratigraphy.
“I’m also the one who tells everyone to drink water,” Gold continues. “At Area K at Megiddo, when they hear, ‘Drink, drink,’ they know it’s me.”
“I try to keep their spirits up,” she says of the younger diggers. “It’s hard work, but when they find a potsherd, they’re so excited.”
Gold can also boast of another specialty: laundry. After a day on the hot and dusty dig site, “I fill a bucket with water and detergent, take a shower, then when my feet are clean, I step into the bucket. That’s the rinse cycle,” she says with another hearty laugh.
Gold is clearly fastidious; she’s also brave. At Lachish, where the diggers slept in tents, Gold raked the earth under the cots smooth so she could see if any creatures were slithering across. There were scorpions, a common visitor to dig sites. She overcame her fear of such creepy-crawlies when a fellow digger found a small creature and announced, “It looks a little like a lobster with a bent tail.” Recognizing it for what it was, Gold said, “That’s mine.” Gold made herself hold the scorpion to overcome her fear. “You have to tell 031yourself you’re bigger than they are,” she explains, laughing again.
What does it take to be a good digger? Gold answers immediately, “A good back, a good kneepad and a good trowel.” She adds, “I hope you get the idea that it’s hard work but also a lot of fun.”
When we tell Gold we’re focusing on diggers who are no longer young, she says, “Say ‘mature,’ not ‘old.’ ‘Sophisticated’ is even better!” When we ask how old she is, she jokes, “Are you crazy? Figure it this way—I was born during the [Second World] War. But don’t you dare write a number!”
She also extols the work of her contemporaries on a dig. “People who are older are truly the hard workers. They may not have the strength of a 25-year-old breaking dry earth, but they’re more dedicated,” she says.
When asked about her plans for next year, she says she expects to be back at Megiddo. “I’ve been told I’d be welcome any time I want.” It’s not hard to see why.
Bitten by the Bug
Frederic Courtois is only 20 years old, but he already has eight years of dig experience under his belt. A student of applied economic sciences at the University of Antwerp, in Belgium, Courtois started digging with a local youth group when he was just 13. The kids would camp out in the woods on summer nights and help professional archaeologists during the day.
For the past four summers, though, Courtois has been digging with a full-fledged excavation at Hippos/Sussita, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.* “It’s a very different scale,” he explains to us by telephone from Belgium. “You’re much more involved [as a full-time volunteer]. The experience is so much better.” Digging is “kind of a virus, I guess,” he adds.
Courtois came to the dig at Sussita by accident. His father is an ambassador who was serving as Belgium’s Consul General to the Palestinian Authority. Growing up in the Middle East, Frederic was taken to ancient sites by his parents. Wishing to encourage the dig bug, Frederic’s father checked the Web and discovered the Sussita excavation. Frederic joined the dig when he was not yet 16. “This was the real deal,” he says. “Getting up at 4 a.m. and stepping into a 40-degree [Celsius; 104° F] sauna [the dig site].”
Frederic does not try to hide his enthusiasm for excavating. “I just love digging. You never know what’s going to show up—a huge boulder or small pebbles,” he laughs.
On the dig he met people from all over the world, from all levels of society. “One guy was a banker, another a fisherman. They are open-minded people. People who are willing to study the past have a much better understanding of the present.”
Courtois admits, though, that it was tough at first for a 16-year-old on the dig. “The heat, the communal showers. I was a kid in an adult world.” [We should note that excavations generally do not accept volunteers under 18.]
He was helped through the experience by his roommate, Barney Trams, a former high school teacher from Washington, DC, who had become a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. Trams took Courtois under his wing. “I have a very deep respect for him,” Courtois says. “Barney Trams put up with a spoiled brat for four weeks.”
On the excavation, Courtois helped uncover a mosaic in a building dubbed a “churchagogue,” a church that the excavators at one time thought might have earlier been a synagogue (they no longer think so). He also worked on the city’s north and south defensive walls and helped find an escape tunnel through the southern wall.
After Courtois finished his first season of digging, his father told him, “You went there as a kid, and you came back as a young man.”
This past summer, Courtois spent three weeks at the Sussita excavation. Despite the presence on the dig of Muslims, Jews and Christians, the political debates never got out of hand. “Everyone gets along,” Courtois says. “We’re all there for the same purpose—to kick some dirt to see what’s underneath.”
Scholarship Winners “Tell” All
Last summer, thanks to the generosity of several donors, we were able to help 23 people join a dig. Two of their stories follow; you can read more at www.findadig.com.
Though these two scholarship winners are widely separated in age, they are united in their passion for uncovering the past.
Digging Ashkelon: The Dirt That Sings and Teases
Frustrating. Fulfilling. Arduous. Exhilarating. Any number of seemingly contradictory words could describe my first excavation in Israel, but what it all amounts to is the best experience of my life. Having completed my first year of graduate study in the archaeology of Israel at the University of California at Berkeley, I was so excited to finally go to Israel for the first time and be part of this thing that I love above all else.
Thanks to the generosity of the Biblical Archaeology Society, I was able to volunteer last summer at Ashkelon on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. The 22-year-long excavation is headed by Lawrence Stager of Harvard University.
Home to Canaanites, Philistines and Phoenicians, Ashkelon was an important seaport of the southern Levant for more than 5,000 years. This year’s excavation concentrated on Grid 38, located in the central part of the tell, and unearthed Late Bronze Age (1600–1200 B.C.E.), Iron Age I (1200–1000 B.C.E.) and Iron Age II (1000–586 B.C.E.) remains.
I spent my time at Ashkelon digging in two Philistine houses from the 11th century B.C.E. As this was my first excavation in Israel, any location in the grid would have been an excellent learning experience, but since one of my primary research interests is household archaeology (along with the archaeologies of religion and gender) this particular position was ideal. I learned how to identify and excavate mudbrick walls and beaten earth floors, which is no small feat, and household features like storage bins and a keystone-shaped hearth. I also became quite adept at locating and excavating pits and postholes, even earning the nickname “Pit Girl.”
I thought I was mentally prepared for the grueling labor of an excavation, but Israel offered its own set of surprises that even warnings by others had not prepared me for. Of course, there was the heat and the sun. We were down deep enough in the tell that the cooling breeze from the Mediterranean Sea never salved our sweat- and sun-drenched skin. Then there was the labor itself. My muscles were definitely not ready for picking down walls and floors and hauling gufas [bucket-like containers made of rubber] of dirt, especially not for eight hours a day.
Our schedule was equally intense. Digging started at 5a.m., with three breaks of various lengths throughout the day, and ended at 1 p.m. However, our day didn’t end with field work. After lunch and some downtime, we headed 033for the pottery compound, where we washed and sorted the pottery we were excavating and also helped process pottery that had been discovered in previous seasons.
Given all that I learned, though, I wouldn’t have changed a moment of it. The intense labor was incredibly satisfying and rewarding.
Not only did I become stronger and healthier because of the dig, but I also found an especially interesting infant pit burial. The infant burial was the seventh found so far in Grid 38 and, like the others, it was located next to a wall right under a floor in the house. These infant burials all date from roughly the same time period, though the exact cultural circumstances surrounding them are still unknown.
The most important find I excavated, though, had to be the longest piece of jewelry ever recovered at Ashkelon: a necklace that was made up of more than 700 multicolored frit beads. The beads of the necklace were still lined up even though the string had long since disintegrated (see photo). I spent a whole day with those hundreds of tiny, fragile beads, carefully restringing them to recreate the pattern we had seen in the ground.
The dirt of Ashkelon, in its shades of brown, gray and orange, is a beautiful thing. Whether serving up finely preserved walls and floors seemingly untouched by the millennia or frustratingly hiding the remainder of a floor just as you’ve halfway exposed it, the dirt speaks. Sometimes it sings and sometimes it teases. Either way, it infects you, gets in every pore and refuses to get out. But why would you want it out? It has such beautiful secrets.
Hazor—50 Years Later
Aytan Stromberg’s application letter for a BAS dig scholarship certainly caught our attention immediately: It began, “I would like to return to participate in the archaeological dig at Hazor … [ellipses in original] after an absence of almost 50 years.”
In 1958 Stromberg was an American teenager who had pursued his Zionist ideals and was living on a kibbutz in Israel. The kibbutz happened to be near Hazor, which was being excavated by the famed Yigael Yadin. “That experience,” Stromberg wrote in his application letter, “left me with a love of archaeology and a love of the land that continues to this very day.” He concluded, “I can be on site, ready to work, from June 24th to August 3rd.”
He was true to his word. At age 67, Stromberg volunteered for six weeks at the Hazor excavation. “Three-quarters of the diggers were college students,” he told us after his return. “I think I was the oldest. The kids weren’t sure if I arrived at the site or they dug me up!”
Stromberg has had an adventurous and colorful life; he has two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in social work. He grew up on New York City’s Lower East Side and has spent his career in social work and community organizing. He has served in the American army and has been a reservist in the Israeli army. He’s also a good-natured and no-nonsense type of fellow. When we told him, “We’d like to talk to both young diggers and—” he interjected, “and old farts like me.”
We asked Stromberg what it was like working on a dig today compared to 50 years ago. “Back then, there were more Israelis and less international participation,” he told us. “The lingua franca at the dig was Hebrew. Now it’s English.”
When we asked Stromberg what it was like digging again after 50 years, he replied, “I expected it to be tough. You’re under a canvas, and you’re doing pick-and-shovel work. The heat was brutal. We worked until 1 p.m. on the tell. My friends thought I was crazy.”
His listed his various tasks for us: operating a small backhoe, using picks and shovels, being part of the bucket brigade, pushing a wheelbarrow. “The dig’s attitude was, ‘we’re all adults.’ You have to say ‘when,’” Stromberg told us.
“It was great exercise. I certainly wasn’t the fastest. After dinner, the young kids were partying late; I can’t party late,” he added.
Stromberg made it clear, though, that the rewards made all the hard work worthwhile: “You’re reaching down into the dirt and pulling out 3,000 years—it was that dramatic for me.”
BAS offers scholarships of $1,000 every year to a few people who would otherwise not be able to volunteer. To apply, simply send a letter to BAS Dig Scholarships, 4710 41st St., NW, Washington, DC 20016, stating who you are, where and why you want to dig—and why you should be selected for a scholarship. We require your mailing address, e-mail address, phone number and the names, addresses and phone numbers of two references. The deadline is April 2.
For the Young and the Young at Heart