Gina Fugate—Ashkelon

Gina Fugate is a senior English education major at Berea College in Kentucky. In her letter of application for a 2000 BAS dig scholarship, she displayed an educator’s understanding of the importance of firsthand experience: “As a future teacher,” Fugate wrote, “I know that one of the grandest ways to learn something is to literally get into it.” And that’s exactly what she did at Ashkelon, where she learned the lessons of history not by reading books and listening to lectures, but by personally uncovering the relics of an ancient culture.

Sometimes the sun was so hot and the dirt on me was so incredibly thick that I would think, “What have I gotten myself into?” I had no background in archaeology or theology. I was simply an English education major who wanted to teach high school English to “at-risk” kids. So what on earth was I doing on a dig? I was literally getting into history in a way that no traditional classroom would allow.

Excavating is tough work. There are so many different tools—not only pickaxes, trowels and goofahs (baskets made from cut-up tires), but also measuring tapes, stadia rods, grid paper and meter sticks. Almost every moment requires intense concentration. The grid I was working in seemed to be one huge puzzle: Do all of these walls meet? Why is there a gap in the middle? Why on earth would we find the remains of a human baby in a pot?

During the second week of digging, I found part of a figurine dating to about 1200 B.C. Probably connected to the Baal cult, the piece resembled a pig-calf creature and was roughly the size of my thumb. As I studied the figurine, I remembered the story of the golden calf in the Bible, and suddenly I felt connected to the narrative as I never had before.

As the weeks rolled by, the discoveries in our grid continued: We found oil lamps, beads, bowls, cooking pots and more figurines. All of this brought ancient Ashkelon and the Philistines to life for me. The stories of the Bible became personal, for I was able to get a glimpse of life as it was lived in this region nearly 3,000 years ago. Working on the Ashkelon dig was an experience I will definitely take with me into the classroom and beyond.

Jaqueline du Toit—Tel Harasim

Jaqueline du Toit used her BAS scholarship to dig at a site where she had been a volunteer in 1999. A Ph.D. student in the Department of Jewish Studies at Montreal’s McGill University, du Toit returned last summer to Tel Harasim, in the Shephelah (the low hilly region between the mountains of Judah and the Mediterranean coast), where she served as the dig’s recorder. She also recorded a few of her impressions for our readers.

To me, archaeology is a great democratizer. On a dig, expert and novice work hard together and share in the experience of discovering what neither yet knows. For two summers now, I’ve been part of that experience at Tel Harasim—a site that dig director Shmuel Givon has been studying for the past 11 seasons.

The name Tel Harasim means “Mound of Pottery Sherds”—an apt description of this site. At first glance, perhaps, it is a rather unimpressive tell, situated on a large, sloping mound in the middle of an agricultural field. But Tel Harasim is both fascinating and tantalizing, primarily because of its proximity to the Biblical period Philistine cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. Clearly an Israelite site, Tel Harasim probably was once an important border town, though its Biblical name is a matter of speculation.

This past summer I served as registrar for the excavation. Because Tel Harasim is a relatively small site, my duties as registrar left me with ample time to take part in other aspects of the dig experience: Paperwork became a welcome reprieve from the physical labor required to move large amounts of dirt and debris.

The most exciting part of returning to the same site is that the bigger picture begins to come into sharper focus as each discovery is fitted into an ever-clearer historical and cultural context. During the 1999 season, we excavated part of an imposing city wall on the northern side of the tell. In 2000 we dug down to an Iron Age floor in the same area. We also dug inside the city wall, where we uncovered mudbrick walls, storage areas and storage jars, as well as a thick layer of ash, charred objects and other signs of destruction by fire. “Let’s hope they grabbed the cats and trusted that the insurance would cover the rest,” joked one of the archaeologists as we started digging into the ash layer.

The excitement at the dig was all the more palpable because the program was structured so that each individual could participate in the daily pottery sorting. Volunteers also learned about surveying techniques and got involved in the reconstruction of vessels. The artistically inclined were encouraged to try their hands at drawing the figurines, scarabs and other artifacts discovered at the site. The educational program was further supplemented by field trips to important archaeological sites in the area and a weekend excursion to Jerusalem. Nothing reflected the close-knit commitment of our team more clearly than the night I found myself standing in a group at 11:30 p.m.—toothbrush in hand, dog tired, but completely caught up in an animated discussion about our finds of the previous day.

Jason Schlude—Omrit

Jason Schlude is a student at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he is pursuing a triple major in religious studies, geology and classical archaeology. His diverse interests converged in 1999, when he participated in the first season of excavations at Omrit, in the Galilee. Inspired by his initial experience, Schlude applied for and received a BAS scholarship to participate in a second season at the site. Here’s what he had to say about the 2000 dig.

“It’s 4:30—time to get up.” Accompanied by a persistent knocking on the door, these were the words I woke to each morning. The ritual was an invariable part of the day for those of us involved in the second season of excavations at Omrit. And although it required a bit of acclimation for most of the participants—seasoned archaeologists and first-time volunteers alike—we all quickly realized that the thrill of excavating a site that hosts a Roman temple and a once-lively Byzantine market area was well worth the early wake-up call.

Omrit is located at the headwaters of the Jordan River in the northern Hulah Valley, where the Galilee and the Golan Heights converge. The first season of excavation at the site yielded important standing architecture—in particular, a limestone podium wall (called a stylobate) that once supported a row of columns, as well as an architrave, a cornice, a pediment and a roof belonging to a Roman period temple. Excavations nearby revealed an associated complex with a colonnaded way leading up to the temple. A possible Byzantine domestic and industrial production center was also uncovered, as indicated by the presence of an industrial-size olive press and an associated Byzantine structure.

As we undertook the 2000 dig, we assumed that the previous season would be difficult to top. But all doubt was cast aside during the second week of excavations, when a second, earlier temple podium was found about 5 feet inside the podium we had discovered in 1999. Thus, a site with a single Roman period temple quickly became a site with a multiphase temple complex.

I was asked to supervise a square on the southern slope of the temple hill. Here each day seemed to bring some unexpected discovery. By the end of the season, we had uncovered three floors, one of which was probably associated with the second-phase temple, and a circular wall, which probably served as a limestone kiln. I found it both challenging and exceedingly satisfying to contribute to the development of this significant site, even as I was adding to my own understanding of archaeology and the Roman period in Israel.

Although I now have two seasons of digging under my belt, I don’t think my days in the dirt are over. On the contrary, I look forward to the next season at Omrit, and even to the possibility of a career in archaeology.


BAR offers travel scholarships of $1,000 every year to a few people who would otherwise not be able to volunteer. In 2000 the three individuals whose reports appear here benefited from the scholarships. To apply, simply send a letter to BAR Dig Scholarships, 4710 41st St. NW, Washington, DC 20016, stating who you are, where you want to dig and why, as well as why you need financial aid. We require your address and phone number and the names, addresses and phone numbers of two references. The deadline is March 5, 2001.