When I told family and friends that I was going to dig in an excavation in Israel this summer, the most common response was “Oh, so, are you gonna be like Indiana Jones? Have fun finding Temples!”
The second most common response was, “Isn’t archaeology for finding dinosaur bones?”
Although these comments may seem silly, I took it in as the lack of enough exposure to what archaeology really is all about.
The media has portrayed archaeology to be something that is instant, something you can walk up to when visiting exotic sites. It seems like after one thrust of the trowel, something amazing will just pop up. The honest truth is that archaeology is not as glamorous as it seems. In fact, it is the farthest thing from anything glamorous.
If you can’t stand the heat, dust, dirt, scorpions, or any type of insects, archaeology is not for you. If you don’t have the strength to lift hundreds of goofas (dirt bags) to the dump, to pick axe the ground and squat and collect the dirt for hours, archaeology is not for you.
And anyone who knows me will be able to tell you that I am NOT in anyway someone who fits these requirements. I am the exact opposite, the worst candidate really, for going to an excavation. My definition of camping or “roughing it” is going to Stone Mountain, taking the cable car up, enjoying the view, and chilling and eating Korean BBQ. And even that is usually too much for me.
So how I ended up signing up through CIPA for the Lahav Field School is a mystery to many, and really, a spontaneous act from me. Don’t get me wrong, my interests definitely lie in the Ancient Mediterranean world. And I’ve taken many classes on Archaeology and most are specifically on Ancient Israel. But I never planned to actually go to an archaeological site to dig.
But the opportunity came through Dr. Borowski, the director of the Lahav Research Project, and now here I am, already two full weeks into the program.
Right now, I am staying in Kibutz Lahav and working on the site called Tell Halif. A tell, a common feature found throughout Israel, is an artificial mound created through constant human occupation with destruction layers between different periods.
Tell Halif is located in southern Israel near Beersheba, and is known commonly as biblical Rimmon. The areas we are concentrating are in Field V and are a domestic structure destroyed by the Assyrians in 701 BCE, outer city walls, and continuation of an area with a textile workshop and kitchen area that was previously excavated. I was allocated to work in the area pertaining to the textile workshop and food preparation with three other people.
A normal day at Tell Halif starts at 4:30 am. We start this early so that we can avoid being in unbearable heat later on in the day. I get ready by 5 and we all go up to the tell and work on each of our separate areas until 8. We have breakfast and start again around 9. We have a short break around 11 and then go back down the tell for lunch around 12:40. We gather together again at 4 to do some pottery washing. Finding pottery is the most common thing on the site, but still very important because people can read the pottery to tell what period it’s from and that will then date the locus or section you are digging. So we wash pottery for at least an hour every day. Afterwards, we listen to a lecture and then have free time until dinner at 7 pm.
This experience so far is nothing like I have ever done before. Sure, in the beginning, I wanted to take the next flight back to Atlanta because of all the physical labor I wasn’t ready for. And actually digging in the dirt was nothing that I could have prepared for through classes or lectures. However, it has been an eye opening experience so far as I continue to excavate and uncover the daily pottery, loom weights, bone and shell pieces, as well as other artifacts every day.
Yes it takes a lot of energy and effort, but all of it is worth it when you realize what exactly you are doing out in the middle of the desert. I took part in unearthing Iron age II vessels that could have been used for dinner meals. Though this is not a huge temple or gold figurines, I am enjoying finding even pottery because I am slowly learning what life was like in that era. I truly am delighted to be taking part in recording and uncovering history. With three more weeks left, I am sure that we will be finding even more interesting artifacts that will enlighten us about what life in Tell Halif consisted of.