Ralph K. Hawkins

Tall Jalul

Ralph Hawkins is pursuing his Ph.D. in Old Testament history and archaeology at Andrews University, Michigan. He volunteered at Tall Jalul.

Last May, I had the great privilege of working in the field with Dr. Randall W. Younker, director of the Horn Museum and professor of archaeology at Andrews University, in Michigan. We worked at Tall Jalul, Jordan, one of a number of sites being excavated under the auspices of the Madaba Plains Project. Jalul, 3 miles east of Madaba, sits on a high tell. It is one of the largest ancient sites in central Jordan, and it contains substantial architectural remains of Late Bronze and Iron Age towns. The site is also significant for Biblical studies because it may shed light on the location of the Biblical Heshbon, the capital of the Amorite King Sihon, who was reportedly captured in warfare by Moses and the Israelites (Deuteronomy 1:4).

The 2004 season was not planned as a typical excavation season, but was devoted primarily to utilizing new Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment to develop accurate, three-dimensional maps of the site. To this end, our small team of about 12 spent much time simply clearing the site, which meant clearing grass and shrubs and removing collapse that had accumulated during off-seasons. We also continued excavation of an early Iron Age II paved road that had been only partially exposed during a previous season. While we did the prep-work, two scientists walked the site, taking GPS readings and entering them into their database. By the end of the season, they were able to project a 3-D map of the site onto a screen, rotate it at all angles and reproduce the stratigraphical relationships of objects found in-situ. This was amazing to see, and it will surely have major implications for the way sites are “drawn” in the future.

In our free time, we were able to wander the streets of Madaba and Amman, and we organized excursions to Selah, Hisban, Tall al-Umayri, Petra and many other places. We had food ranging from street-vendor falafel to McDonald’s “McArabia.” Jordan is rich in Biblical history, and there are ample opportunities for volunteering on a dig there. If you’ve ever wanted to do it, now is the time!

Filip Vukosavovicé


Filip Vukosavovicé, now a graduate student at the Hebrew University, was a volunteer at Hazor in 2003. His write-up of his experiences arrived too late to be included in last year’s dig issue, but we wanted to share it with our readers.

The summer of 2003 was my third season at Hazor and the second time that I was there for the full six-week season. Many wonder what is so exciting about waking up every morning at 4 a.m., working until 1 p.m. under the scorching sun, then washing pottery (the worst job of all), reading it and then attending all kinds of lectures … for six weeks. Yet it’s one of the best things I have ever done in my life. It is challenging and exciting, it makes you use your intellect, and you never know if you are going to meet the love of your life (as some did). I left Hazor after six weeks tired in my body but stronger and richer both mentally and physically. I know I have accomplished something great.

I worked in area A4, which is loaded with all kinds of exciting stuff. Among them are dozens of occupation layers from Iron Age Israelite settlements, each of which had to be carefully unearthed, registered, drawn and photographed. In addition, special objects and finds from the same period required special treatment. For example, Stef, a girl from Bulgaria, was a taboon (an ancient oven) specialist. Every time we would find a taboon she would be assigned to work on it. There was also a Late Bronze Age area that has yielded one of the most beautiful palaces ever excavated in Israel and a Middle Bronze Age layer that produced one of the most exciting finds of the previous season: A huge number of matsevot (standing cultic stones). Our work this season around those matsevot helped us understand their purpose and their connection to a Middle Bronze Age structure lurking underneath Late Bronze layers.

The dig offered something for everybody. Different people prefer different time periods. Peter, from Switzerland, loved Islamic-era finds and especially very beautiful and colorful Islamic pottery; Elisabeth preferred all kinds of handles, Stef collected stones while Daniel, from Romania, was excited about different rims. Ariel, from Israel, would always find something small and extraordinary; Robin, from Canada, couldn’t stop taking pictures; Anine, from Denmark, would always demand more buckets (to clear more earth); Kristina, from Sweden, loved the walls. I was eager to dig through a 9-foot-deep Iron Age layer in my section so that I could start working on the Late Bronze age level. Because the Iron Age layer was so deep, the season ended with 10 inches still between me and the Late Bronze. Fortunately I was richly rewarded by all the Iron Age artifacts I found. And there is always next season. I know those 10 inches will disappear fast, and my joy of working in the Late Bronze Age layer will be unparalleled.

There were a few things everyone had in common: All of us dug, participated in never-ceasing bucket chains and pushed the wheelbarrows. We would not stop doing archaeology, even on the weekends, when we visited many other sites around Israel in order to compare them to our site, learn about other places and gain more experience. Very close to Tell Hazor are other great sites such as Tell Dan, Banias, Gamla and the many sites around the Sea of Galilee.

I don’t intend to be an archaeologist, but I feel that my studies of the languages, history and cultures of the ancient Near East would not be complete without having some archaeological experience and knowledge. Thanks to my experience at Hazor, the way I read Biblical and ancient Near East literature and my knowledge of archaeology has completely changed. No book can replace the first-hand experience you can get by participating in an archaeological dig.

And if all that hasn’t convinced you: Have you ever seen the sun rise over the Golan Heights?

Külli Tõniste

Tel Zayit

Külli Tõniste, from Estonia, is currently working on her Ph.D. in Bible Studies at the London School of Theology. A volunteer at Tel Zayit last summer, she reports that she finally learned to “read dirt.”

I spent the 2004 excavation season digging at Tel Zayit, in the foothills of the Judean mountains, approximately 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem. Zayit is a small tell (mound) and was chosen in 1996 so that excavators could learn about village life in ancient Israel. Ironically, the discoveries of each season have revealed that Zayit was not the tiny village it was believed to be. The site was larger and more important in ancient times than we had thought.

Upon our arrival last year, we faced a tell that had not been excavated for two summers. It was overgrown with thistles and thorns; scorpions and snakes had made their home there. We spent our first week pulling weeds, digging fire trenches, burning the wild growth off the tell and filling sandbags in the hot sunshine. We looked like little sun-burnt dirt devils by the end of each day! This all had to be done before we were able to dig deep to the good stuff.

Our little tell did not disappoint us: Everyone found some pottery. My personal favorites were a fully restorable Roman cooking jar, a perfectly intact Herodian oil lamp and what appeared to be a stone measuring cup. We also uncovered a substantial Late Bronze Age Egyptian building, believed to have served a public function. It included some valuable stoneware and a large grinding stone. We also found a cylinder seal, as well as several monoliths that formed a circle on the top of the tell—something for the next dig season to uncover and for archaeologists to puzzle over. These monoliths are one more indicator that Zayit was not a mere peasant village but a more centralized administrative center.

We were a relatively small group of volunteers (50 people), which gave us the opportunity to work side by side with our supervisors, Egon Lass and Gabriel Barkay, and our dig director, Ron E. Tappy. We did much more than sift and drag dirt. We took measurements and drew surface plans, and we washed, labelled and documented pottery. We observed specialists who dated and restored the pottery. In the evenings we had lectures from world-famous archaeologists, and on weekends we took field trips—one to the Galilee and another to the Negev and the Dead Sea. The whole experience culminated with a visit to Jerusalem.

It was my first dig and I must confess that, at first, archaeology seemed more like a mystery than a science. All dirt looked the same to me, while supervisors seemed to make quite a distinction between dirt and dirt. How, for example, could one tell a dirt floor from the rest of the dirt? My last week on the excavation, however, made me a believer in archaeology. I was given the task of finding the dimensions of what I was told was a mudbrick wall. How does one tell a mudbrick wall from the midst of mudbrick debris and dirt? It was a challenging task to search for a wall that I did not believe existed! Finally I noticed two very weak silt lines—were they actually there or was it my imagination? It was a precious moment when the supervisor took out a tape measure, measured the lines, looked into my eyes and said: “Exact dimensions of an Egyptian mud brick.” Once I believed this was truly a wall, I could easily uncover the rest of it following those delicate lines. This proved to me that there are little clues in the soil. It just takes time and experience to learn how to read them. After years of experience in “dirt reading,” one can truly tell stories about ancient times and people.

I am addicted—I want to dig again! You might think I am crazy wanting to volunteer for this hard and dirty work. Yes, I am, together with all the other archeologists and volunteers who keep going back each year. You will never understand the attraction and addiction of archaeology until you have volunteered yourself. I hope I have a chance to return to this location to discover more of its story.

Val Bowden


Val Bowden is a senior at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where he is majoring in Anthropology. He volunteered at Megiddo, a Biblical site in northern Israel.

This was my first experience on a major archaeological dig doing hands-on work. I had visited and studied sites in the United States but had never participated in an excavation before. It was a fantastic learning experience. Workshops were held several times a week, and I had the opportunity to learn from the best of the best about such things as pottery, archaeological forgeries, epigraphy, zooarchaeology and animal bones. I also learned practical skills such as how to draw and map balks. Not only did I get a chance to learn more about archaeology and field methods, I also learned a lot about history, teamwork, what it is like living on a kibbutz and how issues of nationalism and ethnicity affect how archaeology is done outside of the U.S.

But the excavation team was truly the best part of the experience. I had the opportunity to work with professionals such as Israel Finkelstein and Norma Franklin. Our team had volunteers from several American states, the European Union and Israel. Every person was able to contribute his or her own unique experience. We lived together, worked together and came together every night to talk and laugh. I made friends with people from all over the world with whom I now keep in touch on a regular basis.

There was a great feeling of equality on the team, and everyone was able to see how his or her own work contributed to the whole. Everyone I spoke to shared similar feelings of the importance of what the team was doing, and even on the last day of the season, despite the hard work and team’s fatigue, the enthusiasm was overflowing. There was something about working at Megiddo and walking to the site before dawn every morning that generated a kind of energy that was just inescapable.

We found some impressive things. Volunteers found an alabaster mace head in nearly pristine condition, intact pottery with a variety of painting styles and decoration, numerous scarabs, complete human skeletons and bones, food remains, a bronze brooch pin and a signet ring. We also exposed many new plaster floors and sections of wall.

Initially, I was worried about the political situation in Israel. It is all you see on the news these days. However, had I let my concerns overpower me, I would have missed out on what I feel is hands-down one of the best experiences of my life. The last day of the excavation, I was able to dig in “Shumacher’s Monument,” where previous teams had tacked a weathered black and white photograph from the early 1900s of Gottlieb Schumacher, Megiddo’s first excavator, digging the same area. I could stand where he once stood and see all of the amazing architectural features from the same vantage point that he did. I felt that I was standing there with him, and it impressed upon me how connected the past and present really are.

Without the BAR scholarship, none of this would have been possible. Thanks, Biblical Archaeology Review. You helped make a dream come true.


BAR offers travel 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 BAR Dig Scholarships, 4710 41st St. NW, Washington, DC 20016, stating who you are, where and why you want to dig—and why you need financial aid. We require your address, phone number and the names, addresses and phone numbers of two references. The deadline is March 4, 2005.