Does a dig director look at an archaeological excavation differently than a volunteer? I have been both, so I am in an excellent position to answer the question. The answer is, well, yes and no.
Last summer Avner Raban of the University of Haifa’s Center for Maritime Studies and I co-directed our first season of excavations—on land and at sea—at Caesarea, the great seaport city built by Herod the Great on the Mediterranean coast of modern Israel. We call the expedition the Combined Caesarea Expeditions.
Twelve years earlier, in the summer of 1978, I had come to Caesarea as a volunteer. I vividly remember the beauty of the dawn that brightened the Crusader fortifications that first morning as I rode with other volunteers in one of the vans to the trenches on the site. I was pointed to Area G/6. I can still recall my excitement as I turned my first trowel of earth.
I had been trained as an historian, and I had come to study the Holy Land in a new way. I wanted to supplement the impressionistic evidence that ancient texts had given me with the hard facts of archaeology. To do this, I had to learn archaeology literally from the ground down. I was fortunate to have chosen Professor Robert Bull’s Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima (JECM).
Even before Herod the Great built a port on this sandy coast about 30 miles north of modern Tel Aviv, there was a small ship’s landing here called Strato’s (or Straton’s) Tower. Herod, however, built an entirely new city on a grand scale. This was almost exactly 2,000 years ago. Since there was no natural harbor here—not even an inlet or bay—Herod had to construct a port on the open sea without the benefit of any natural features, a remarkable achievement for its time. He built a 200-foot-wide, stone-and concrete breakwater that extended into the water for nearly a third of a mile. As it curved north, it was met by a smaller mole that created a large protected harbor. Herod named the city for his patron, the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus. Because a number of cities were so named, scholars distinguish this one by calling it Caesarea Maritima, Caesar’s city by the sea. Surrounded by a wall that extended to the sea on the north and south, Herod’s city comprised over 400 acres.
After Herod’s death, the city continued to prosper and expanded north and south along the coast, as well as inland. A city of pagans, Christians and Jews, Caesarea also thrived for most of the Byzantine period-the period that began in the early fourth century and ended with the Moslem conquest in 640 C.E.a After the Moslem conquest, the city began a slow decline, ultimately becoming an abandoned quarry for later builders. In the 13th century, the Crusaders built a fort at the harbor, which is still the most obvious landmark of the site. In the late 19th century, some Moslem refugees from Bosnia built a mosque whose remains can still be seen inside the Crusader walls.
Over the years I returned to Caesarea and finally advanced from volunteer to area supervisor. In the mid-1980s a traveling museum exhibition on Caesarea was organized, and a book was written to go with it. This exhibition included material not only from the land excavation conducted by Bull’s expedition, but also from the Caesarea Ancient Harbour Excavation Project (CAHEP), directed by Avner Raban, Robert L. Hohlfelder and others. The harbor project’s divers excavated underwater with air lifts and dredges, conducting a brilliant series of campaigns on Caesarea’s sunken harbors between 1980 and 1985. Along with dozens of colleagues, I worked on organizing this traveling exhibit and on writing a book to accompany it.
It was in that connection that I got to know Avner Raban. We worked together intensively for two years on the exhibit, and I found him a capable, energetic and dependable colleague.
Then, in 1989, as Professor Bull was preparing to retire from field work, I proposed to Avner that we continue exploring Caesarea, both on land and underwater, in a joint Israeli North American project. Avner agreed. That is how we found ourselves joint directors 036of the excavations at Caesarea, one of the largest and richest archaeological sites in Israel.
Perhaps I can best tell you about what we are trying to do here by introducing two other people I feel especially close to as a result of our work at Caesarea—a rabbi and St. Peter.
The rabbi is named Abbahu of Caesarea. He lived here around 300 C.E. We know about him from the Talmud, the so called oral law of rabbinic Judaism. Abbahu was a handsome, strapping fellow. One day he went to one of the city’s many bathhouses with two slave attendants. Their weight proved too much for the bathhouse floor, which broke through, plunging Abbahu and his two attendants into the heated hypocaust below. In a feat of bravery and physical prowess, Abbahu rescued the two slaves and himself by clinging to a pillar and pulling them from the wreckage.
Abbahu did something else that may surprise you. The rabbi taught his daughters Greek.
Here was a faithful Jew, indeed a leader of the Jewish community, who not only taught his daughters Greek but frequented Caesarea’s Roman style bathhouses, where men stripped, washed, exercised and cultivated their bodies among other men. Caesarea was that kind of place, a city of profoundly pagan culture. The rabbis called her “Little Edom” and “Daughter of Edom.” Since Edom was the code-name for Rome, they were really calling the city “Little Rome” and “Daughter of Rome”! Thus Caesarea invited her Jewish inhabitants to experiment with living as a minority among non-Jews, a role in which they have specialized ever since, selecting and adopting whatever in the broader culture does not seem to threaten their integrity as a faith or a community. In Rabbi Abbahu’s case, this was the Roman-style bathhouse and the Greek language.
Two and a half centuries earlier, just a few years after Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter visited Caesarea. According to the Book of Acts, he preached about Jesus and baptized a Roman centurion named Cornelius along with his family and friends (Acts 10). In doing so, Peter perhaps established the earliest church of Gentile Christians anywhere. Caesarea was also that kind of place, a bustling pagan city where the earliest Christians experimented with their historic role of reinterpreting the Jewish God for a non-Jewish culture.
We have not found the bathhouse that Abbahu damaged. Nor have we found any evidence of Peter’s visit to the city or the house where Cornelius and his family lived. But that is not what we are looking for.
We are at Caesarea not to prove the historicity or any particular interpretation of a sacred text (whether Bible or Talmud). We are here because we want to understand and illustrate the cultural environment in which both rabbinic Judaism and Christianity matured. This is the lesson of Abbahu in the bath and of St. Peter’s conversion of Cornelius.
But to conduct an archaeological excavation, we needed to be much more specific. In the first place, we needed a research plan. Archaeology is a scientific enterprise. Like other scientists, we would begin by formulating hypotheses, by asking questions that we could hope to answer by collecting archaeological data.
There are other rewards from digging at Caesarea, including doing exhilarating hard work in the trenches, meeting new friends and spending lazy afternoons on a 037sandy beach washed by the crystal-clear Mediterranean, but all this faded into the background as Avner and I made our plans. Now we had to look at Caesarea from the viewpoint of dig directors.
Like other coastal sites, most of ancient Caesarea is buried beneath a blanket of sand up to 30 feet thick, which drifted inland from the beach after the site was abandoned by the Crusaders. Caesarea was also heavily robbed both before and after the sand inundation. Later builders exploited Caesarea as a quarry for cut stone. In kilns, they burned marble statues, inscriptions, columns, capitals, and other architectural ornamentation of the ancient city in order to make lime for plaster and mortar. If you simply march onto a site like this and begin digging just anywhere, you are likely to produce a “dry hole,” or remains that are so fragmentary as to be meaningless.
For this reason, it is wise to explore ancient remains that still protrude through the surface, or, as in other branches of science, to stand on the shoulders of your predecessors and take up where other excavators have left off. That is what we have done at Caesarea.
Underwater, the harbor excavations of the early 1980s had left unanswered many specific questions about King Herod’s harbor, questions concerning the engineering of the breakwaters, the design of the harbor’s lighthouse and the dimensions of the inner harbor. We also wanted to know whether Herod’s great harbor survived into the third, fourth and fifth centuries. This would tell us what kind of city Caesarea was after Christianity took over in the fourth century, during the Byzantine period.
We also had some specific topics to investigate in the land part of the project. Herod had created a huge platform on a rocky ridge just east of the inner harbor. On this platform he constructed a temple dedicated to Augustus and the goddess Roma. No trace of Herod’s great temple remains on the surface, but a system of impressive stone foundations exposed there by an earlier team definitely looked promising. The foundations, plus marble columns, column capitals, floor slabs and a few other fragments lying about, suggested that another magisterial building had been built on top of the ruins of the temple. It appears to have been an early Christian martyrium from the fifth or sixth century C.E.—a large and elegant church, with the traditional octagonal plan of memorial churches dedicated to some now-unknown martyr. As the successor to Herod’s temple, the martyrium must have been one of Byzantine Caesarea’s outstanding religious monuments. Excavation of this church, now in progress, is helping us understand how Christianity, once limited to a few followers of the Nazarene, made its way into the very fabric of the ancient city.
We also noted that earlier excavators had rarely penetrated beneath the Byzantine, Islamic, and Crusader periods (4th–13th centuries C.E.). We therefore decided to include as a second pillar in our research program the excavation of an entire insula (city block) of ancient Caesarea all the way down through the earlier levels to sterile soil. We chose an area (Area KK) measuring about 250 by 350 feet, south of the Crusader fortifications but well within the Byzantine, the 038Roman and probably the Herodian city. Here we are looking at mundane, but fascinating, remains—at streets and alleys, domestic quarters and shops, fresh water supplies and drains, at what one might call the “infrastructure” of city life. We want to study what life was like for such people as the Roman centurion Cornelius and Rabbi Abbahu and how the Caesarea lifestyle changed over time.
Visitors to the site have asked me, “How long will it take you to finish excavating Caesarea?” Let me make it clear: We do not intend to excavate all of the ancient city, or even a significant part of its vast surface. We will leave most of the site to future archaeologists, who will have better tools and excavation techniques than we do. Equally important, we want to avoid squandering our limited physical, mental and economic resources. We don’t want to excavate trenches that contribute little to our understanding of the site. We want to avoid becoming mired in a sea of sand.
The research plan is only half of the beginning of a new dig. A number of other crucial steps are required. A dig needs a staff of professionals to supervise work and analyze the results. Trench supervisors, the key to the entire operation, lead the teams that actually excavate and record the results. We were fortunate to assemble an entire cadre of dedicated, trained professionals. We also obtained the assistance of a professional registrar and conservator who, with the help of several assistants, sees to it that whatever comes from the trenches is properly cared for, and that the finds make their way into our computerized records and eventually into the hands of the specialists who will study them. Architects and artists draw everything, and photographers take thousands of pictures. Administering the daily needs of 130 or so excavators and staff is more than a full-time job, so we bring a camp manager with us into the field.
Then there is the small army of scientists and researchers that work in Israel and North America analyzing the finds. They are studying pottery; coins; inscriptions in Greek, Latin and Arabic; glass; architectural fragments; sculpture; human skeletons and animal bones; botanical, soil, and geological samples; and what professionals call small finds or, as we call them, “doodads”—buttons, hairpins, dice and other metal, stone, wood and bone objects.
The so-called New Archaeology has encouraged us to include as well a broad range of scientific techniques in our research program. As a result, we have introduced, for example, carbon-14 dating and petrographic “fingerprinting” of mortars and cements. We have been tinkering with new sampling methods for floors and vertical trench sections. For example, we divided the floor of a room into a grid of smaller-than-usual squares and took samples from each of the squares; from the remains in each sample, we hope to determine what the ancient occupants of the room were doing. All these techniques naturally involve additional lab personnel; our staff is becoming very large indeed.
We have also been using a wonderful new apparatus for surveying and mapping. It is a laser theodolite, a surveying instrument that locates points on Caesarea’s topography and records them numerically in a computer. The computer then processes the data and prints the points on a large sheet of paper, from which we complete our maps and drawings with a high degree of accuracy. Of course, this technique requires not only several very expensive pieces of optical and computer equipment, but also experienced operators.
Sooner or later, a dig organizer must confront the problem of money—raising it, that is. The expenses of a dig can be enormous. The big-ticket items in our budget are air fares to and from Israel, living expenses and salaries for staff members. Fortunately, many of our staff are either graduate students or faculty members of 039colleges, universities and seminaries that have joined the dig. These staff members work without salary and generally pay their own expenses. They do this out of a love for archaeology and because the project enhances their professional careers as scholars and teachers.
Another major expense is the renting of vehicles, usually vans, for transportation to the site from the Ha-Poel Marine Sport Centre where we all live, right on the beach less than a mile south of the site.
Apart from photographic and surveying equipment and computers, the equipment for land archaeology is relatively simple and inexpensive. Underwater archaeologists, however, need, in addition to their personal dive gear, rubber “Zodiac” boats with outboard motors, compressors, air pumps, dredges, air lifts and two-way radios (for added safety).
Then there are the “post-season” expenses. This once meant only funds for drafting, developing photographs, and occasionally for support of scholars studying pottery or other categories of finds. Now you also need lots of money to analyze animal bones, fish scales, seeds, chunks of mortar and plaster and other specimens that we bring to our labs. Today it costs between $25 and $200 just for processing a single carbon-14 sample or soil specimen. A rule of thumb is that—apart from basic costs of room, board and transportation—a dig director should allocate at least half of the dig budget to processing data after leaving the field.
Altogether, our budget for the 1990 season, including post-season analysis, runs to more than $224,000. And we need still more money for processing finds. Moreover, our project is a relatively modest one.
Where does a dig director find this kind of money? Fortunately, the larger universities, and even some smaller colleges, provide funds for faculty research or development as part of their budgets. More than $26,000 in funds of this type came to us this year from the Universities of Maryland, Haifa, Colorado, Rutgers (Newark), South Dakota and Carleton in Ottawa, Ontario. University development officials also help the dig to raise money from national and private foundations ($30,000 for 1990) and from individuals (over $8,000).
But the bulk of our funds comes from volunteers. Caesarea is a volunteer project. A volunteer is an amateur whose enchantment with archaeology is so compelling that he or she is willing to work hard as a volunteer for two or more weeks during a summer excavation season and pay for the privilege. At Caesarea we charge a dig fee of $300 a week or $1,200 for the normal volunteer stint of four weeks on the site. Of this, about $170 a week pays for the volunteer’s room and board, while the rest is a tax-deductible contribution to the dig’s expenses.
Volunteers do most of the actual digging at Caesarea, on land and under water. We inherited volunteer archaeology—and many volunteers—from the previous excavation projects at Caesarea. In addition, some volunteers come through the pages of BAR.
From volunteer fees, we raised about $160,000 for the 1990 season, including the cost of room and board. We definitely could not proceed without the Caesarea volunteers.
With a research plan, staff and budget in hand—and with good prospects for recruiting many volunteers—Avner and I approached the Israel Antiquities Authority to request a license. The Antiquities Authority is the government agency in Israel, staffed mostly by professional archaeologists and headquartered in the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem, that is responsible for protecting the country’s archaeological treasures and for promoting research. Before issuing our license, the Antiquities Authority looked very carefully at the qualifications and accomplishments of our staff, at the adequacy of our budget and at our plans to publish the results in scientific books and periodicals, as well as in popular magazines like BAR. The Israelis are now extremely strict about assurances of publication. Like their counterparts in other countries, they have in the past been disappointed by archaeologists who did not fulfill their publishing responsibilities.
We also applied for affiliation to the Committee on Archaeological Policy of ASOR, the American Schools of Oriental Research. ASOR is the professional association of Near Eastern archaeologists headquartered in the United States. The Israeli authorities do not require ASOR affiliation before they issue a license, but ASOR’s stamp of approval does confirm for the scholarly and scientific community that the dig meets the highest professional standards.
We received both ASOR affiliation and a license to excavate. In late May, I stood at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv waiting to greet the volunteers as they passed, bleary-eyed but willing, through the arrival gate. My mind leaped back 12 years, when I was arriving as a volunteer. But I was thinking even more of the future. After months of organizing the dig, I was confident that the volunteers would be well repaid for their efforts. They would have the thrill of joining a team effort to discover the past of a city in which both Judaism and Christianity grew to maturity. Many of them would catch the bug so seriously that they would turn up at Ben Gurion year after year. I am still astonished—and gratified—at the commitment of these volunteers. If serious archaeology has a bright future at Caesarea, it is because of them.
Does a dig director look at an archaeological excavation differently than a volunteer? I have been both, so I am in an excellent position to answer the question. The answer is, well, yes and no. Last summer Avner Raban of the University of Haifa’s Center for Maritime Studies and I co-directed our first season of excavations—on land and at sea—at Caesarea, the great seaport city built by Herod the Great on the Mediterranean coast of modern Israel. We call the expedition the Combined Caesarea Expeditions. Twelve years earlier, in the summer of 1978, I had come to Caesarea […]