Katie M. Heffelfinger

Archaeology took me out of the library and into a hole in the ground.

My summer dig experience at Yavneh Yam got me out of what has become my natural environment and into an exciting new world of digging [see cover photo—Ed.], sifting and carefully examining each spadeful. Sometimes there would be a green glimmer in the dirt, a sure sign that something metallic was lurking. Of these metal finds, coins created the most commotion. The coin would be held up in the air with the shout “Special find!” and sometimes someone with a metal detector would come along to see if other coins might be hidden nearby. I found one coin lying directly on a sandstone floor that I had just spent several days carefully exposing. I hope it will help give a clearer picture of when that floor was in use. Two other green glints turned out to be arrowheads, one bent from impacting a wall or a person.

The ancient seaport city yielded many fascinating pottery vessels, called amphorae, used for transporting liquids by sea. It seemed as though nearly every day there would be an intact or nearly intact jar, often almost 3 feet tall, in one of the nearby squares.

While I found many pieces of pottery, I always felt I was waiting for that one big, intact find. Finally, on the very last day of the dig, I heard the by-then familiar sound of my metal spade scraping over a pottery sherd. I began removing the dirt that surrounded the sherd and, rather than quickly coming out of the ground and showing itself to be a 2-inch-by-2-inch sherd as so many in the past had done, this piece grew larger the more dirt I removed around it. Gradually, a nearly intact juglet about 4 inches long emerged. My supervisor said it was a Persian-period table vessel for wine or oil. I could almost imagine an ancient family passing this little juglet around the table.

Though special finds punctuated the dig with excitement, more important and ultimately more gratifying work involved exposing architectural structures, which usually meant moving a lot of dirt and removing stubborn rocks. First, the dirt was loosened with a pickaxe, a task I quickly fell in love with. Then the dirt was loaded into buckets and hauled away. Often the task was simply to dig lower and evenly throughout the square until something—a stone, a series of stones, a change in dirt color—gave an indication that a change was occurring. Early in the dig I was often skeptical when I was told that what looked to me like a pile of rocks was going to be a wall. Sure enough, though, when the dirt around the rocks was removed a smooth wall appeared.

By the end of the dig, I was amazed to see how much dirt we had removed and how much the site had changed. After just five weeks, what had been a sloping sandy dune on the beach still had its commanding view of the breathtaking Mediterranean, but now the layers of history that had lain hidden beneath the sand were exposed by 6-foot-deep squares. One wonders what is under the surrounding sand. Only future years of excavation at Yavneh Yam will tell!—Katie M. Heffelfinger, graduate student in Hebrew Bible at Emory University

The Other Dig Scholarship Winners:

Kasia Chudzik,

graduate student in archaeology at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada, dug at Tell es-Safi/Gath.

Kristen Ehrhardt,

graduate student in classics at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, dug at Dor.