Matt Chasco, Tel Rhehov

Matt Chasco, a student in the graduate program in Biblical archaeology at Wheaton College, Illinois, was a volunteer at Tel Rehov last summer, where he enjoyed the archaeological equivalent of “beginner’s luck”—he was involved in uncovering nine notable finds.

Last June, I had the great privilege to work with Dr. Amihai Mazar and his crew at Tel Rehov, in the shadow of Mt. Gilboa in the Beth-Shean Valley. I was posted on the south end of the tell, in area B, square F-19. In my three weeks at the dig I was able to learn—and then practice—various archaeological field methods. I learned from Dr. Mazar himself how to draw cross-sections of our balks (the unexcavated “walls” between squares), and I also assisted in recording elevation levels.

There are three main types of archaeological finds in Israel. First, and most common, are pieces of pottery and bone. Second are features or installations such as fire pits, grinding stones and walls. In the third category, and generally rarest, are “special finds,” such as a complete bowl or pot, a figurine or, most exceptional of all, an inscription. Some people work on digs for many years and never come across a special find. But I was fortunate enough to be involved in the discovery of nine special finds—all within the first five days of our dig!

On the very first day, before we even started digging, we discovered a clay loom weight (that’s what I’m holding in the photo) lying right on the surface. Within a few hours one of my partners came across a complete pitcher, a bowl and two wedjat (“eye of Horus”) pendants. Days two and three revealed a nearly intact basalt bowl and a gypsum loom weight. Day four brought my own personal “special find”: a 6-inch figurine of a woman playing a tambourine. Dr. Mazar dated her to the eighth century B.C.E. and commented that she had a definite Phoenician appearance. The woman wore an elaborate headdress, the details of which were unusually fine. However, what really struck me was the thought that I was the first person to lay eyes on her for almost 3,000 years. She may have been someone’s good luck charm, a household votive statue or a child’s toy. We may never know for sure what the figurine’s purpose was, but the sheer thrill of scraping away a bit of dirt and seeing the woman face to face is inexpressible.

I tell people that if they have the chance to dig, don’t question it, don’t worry about it, don’t debate it: Just go!

Angela Swanepoel, Dor

A math teacher in Stratford, Connecticut, Angela Swanepoel is studying for a Master’S Degree by correspondence with the University of South Africa. She is writing her thesis on Dor, a site on Israel’s Coast with levels that date back to the Middle Bronze Age (C. 1900 B.C.). One of her aims is to create an interactive Web site on the history and archaeology of Dor. Angela’s academic career began in South Africa, where she was a Biblical Studies major in college; she plans to continue her studies and to obtain her Ph.D.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work at Dor last summer. Dor is one of the largest and longest-running excavation projects in Israel. Twelve excavation areas have now been opened, revealing a wealth of information about the Iron Age and the Persian, Hellenistic and early Roman periods.The 2003 season was not planned as a typical field excavation, but was devoted primarily to researching the finds from previous seasons for publication and to preparing the excavation areas for exploration in years to come. So the focus wasn’t on digging; instead, it was on categorizing and computerizing years of excavation. Our team consisted of a broad international consortium of scholars, including volunteers and professional archaeologists. We were organized into various groups whose duties ranged from analyzing animal bones with two paleozoologists, to clarifying the stratigraphy and experimenting with graphics programs.

Some team members did have the opportunity to dig, which allowed them to study the stratigraphy of Dor up close. I concentrated on the study and classification of pottery pieces; the results of our work were later integrated with the stratigraphy findings, thus establishing which pottery types were associated with certain strata.

There is no substitute for actually being in the field and having the chance to explore an area so rich in history. It was wonderful to work with such a knowledgeable team. My experience at Dor has been invaluable to me as I work toward completion of my thesis. I would recommend volunteering on a dig to anyone who has a sense of adventure and hankers to discover the past.

Chrystian Boyer, Kinneret

Chrystian Boyer, a graduate student in history and religious studies at the University of Quebec in Montreal, is currently spending a year at the École Biblique et Archéologique in Jerusalem. There, he has nurtured his interest in Biblical studies, the origins of Christianity and the ancient history of Israel.

The BAR Dig Scholarship allowed me to participate in the 2003 excavation season at Kinneret (Tell el-’Oreimeh/Tel Kinrot). This site, located about 6 miles north of Tiberias, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, boasts impressive remains of a large, fortified Iron Age I city. The first systematic dig on this site was conducted by the German archaeologist Volkmar Fritz in the 1980s and 1990s, and the project is now continued by a team directed by Stefan Münger (University of Bern, Switzerland), Juha Pakkala (University of Helsinki, Finland) and Jürgen Zangenberg (University of Wuppertal, Germany).

This was my first experience working at an excavation site. Kinneret is an atypically large 11th century B.C.E. city in Israel, and may well have been a major political and economic center. The city is quite well preserved, and in many areas the architecture is very clear. I not only watched the experts working in the field—including ceramics specialists, paleobotanists and the dig architect; I worked along with them.

Every volunteer had the chance to find artifacts almost every day. Among the most interesting finds this season were beautiful Phoenician style juglets from Iron Age I, an olive press, some seal impressions from the Early Bronze Age, several figurine heads and pottery. There were also architectural elements, including a section of the Iron Age I city wall. I found flintstone blades, some pieces of a necklace, a ring, Roman glass, and many datable pottery sherds, some of them with fine motifs or even paintings. I also supervised maintenance work at the Iron Age II chamber gate, which will be open to the public once it is restored. This was really fun! Even though the Iron Age is the most investigated period, there are remains from almost every historical period—Ottoman back through Chalcolithic.

There were organized excursions to such places as Megiddo, Akko, Tiberias, Capernaum and the Mount of Olives. And I have to mention how enjoyable it was to live with other volunteers who came from many different countries, and to party with them in the evenings after a hot, hard day’s work in the field.

All this made my dig experience in Kinneret exciting. Indeed, there is simply no substitute for experiencing a dig hands-on.