Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 26: A Return to the Cistern

When I arrived at the site this morning at 5 a.m., I expected to spend a day measuring and drawing features of the two squares in our area.  Thirty minutes later, I was face first in a dirt filled tunnel, wriggling to get my body through the narrow opening of a system of cistern far underground.



Shortly after our arrival at the site, an area supervisor requested our area to help his area move a small pile of stones.  Many hands make light work, so after about 10 minutes of work the pile had been moved.  We were begrudgingly resolved to return to our square to begin the tedious (but necessary) task of drawing the minutiae of our squares.  Dr. Matt Grey, the area supervisor who we had helped, invited us first to tour his squares and look at what likely is a wall of an ancient synagogue.  As we watched, a Jewish man named Enon approached us and became very excited to see the exposed stones of a wall of a possible ancient synagogue.  After the excitement died down, our two areas were made aware that Enon was at the site for the day in order to explore and document the ancient cisterns and tunnels running below the site.  Dr. Jodi Magness asked to two volunteers to aid Enon and every hand in the area shot up.  In a somewhat lame vie to be selected, I spoke up that I was not at the dig for credit and therefore would not want others to go down who needed to submit square drawings as part of their final grade.  With a look of disgust from many hopeful volunteers and a slight look of approval from Jodi, Jodi selected me along with Jessica, a girl with whom I had explored the cisterns once before.
Toward the end of our time in the cistern.
My clothes were clean when I went in.

Once we were able to contain our excitement we spoke with Enon and learned that we would spend the entire morning clearing tunnels just wide enough so we could squeeze through an see what was on the other side.  The prospect of what would be a claustrophobic's nightmare only excited us more as we donned hard hats and head lamps in preparation for our decent.

I cannot remember exactly, but I believe Enon went first down the ladder, which stretched approximately five meters (only a guess), Jessica went second, and I went third.  Once in the bottom, we surveyed the situation as Enon developed a plan of attack to clear selected tunnels--tunnels that no one may have entered in nearly 2,000 years.

At the bottom, in what I will call the main cistern, we could see three tunnels from our perch upon a vast pile of dirt.  The tunnel on the left was cleared enough for people to slide through.  This was the tunnel that Jessica and I had explored upon our first journey under Huqoq.  This tunnel and open room were not our focus this morning, however, for a second tunnel existed directly in front of us and a third on our right.  Our first task would be to lie on our stomachs and venture through the narrow opening of the tunnel on our right to allow us to explore the enclosed room that we could just make out on the other side.

In order to get through this tunnel, I filled a few buckets of dirt to make my way easier.  After passing the buckets back to be emptied, I shimmied through the narrow opening into what would be a large room if it was not nearly filled to the top with dirt and mud.  I had just enough space to turn around if needed, but not enough space to rise to my knees.  I stayed on my stomach as I crawled around and explored.  On two of the walls, I spied (after Enon had told me to look for them) indentions that had once held ancient candles or oil lamps.  This room had been large and had once housed people.  Where the people were there for digging or for hiding during the First Jewish Revolt (as Josephus attests to) will be a question to be pursued in the future once we are able to bring pottery out of the cistern.  For now though, our goal was to explore and to map what we saw.

Once in this dirt-filled room, I spied two tunnels.  One directly to my left and one on my right.  I could barely squeeze into the tunnel on my right, but the dirt fill quickly prevented any further exploration.  Jessica then crawled into the room with bucket in tow, and I again filled buckets until enough space existed that I could fit my body through the narrow tunnel.  This tunnel went up toward my right for about a meter before turning sharply to the left.  I continued to dig, both with my hands and with my trowel that I had brought with me, as I inched my way forward.  I eventually cleared enough to dirt to crawl my way into a third small room.  In this small room, I could squat on my legs, but I could not do much else for it was extremely small.  On three sides, I was surrounded by limestone walls, but on the wall across from me, stones appeared to be stacked on one another with a type of mortar between them.  At this point, I yelled back at Enon and reported what I was seeing.  He yelled with excitement and told me that I could come back whenever ready.  After five minutes of wiggling, shimmying, and any other verb that involves crawling on your stomach with progress measuring by the centimeter, Jessica and I maid it back to the main cistern and to Enon.

Enon went in after us and after a few minutes, he too had reached the room in which I had just been.  Yells of excitement commenced immediately.  Upon Enon's return to the main cistern, he told us that where we had been was likely a chimney of sorts in which individuals in antiquity were able to climb in and out of the cistern and its vast array of tunnels.  Enon then said that he believed we were in a network of tunnels likely used during the First Jewish Revolt during the first century CE.  (This is only a hypothesis for now.  We must find evidence of this early dating and even more evidence for this use.)

After the excitement of discovering this "chimney room" began to subside, we began work on clearing a second tunnel--the one that sat across from us upon our arrival from the surface.  We spent at least 30 minutes with trowels and hoes clearing dirt to make the tunnel wide enough for a person to get through.  Enon volunteered to go first, because no one had yet been through this tunnel and what could be on the side was a matter of imagination.

The middle, skinny tunnel.
So happy not to be stuck!
After his first attempt, the tunnel proved too narrow so we again began digging.  Several attempts later, Enon disappeared as his head lamp grew dimmer and dimmer in the tunnel ahead.  A few minutes later, we heard a shout of acclimation, "Wah Wah We Wah!" as Enon found something that he had hoped to find--plaster floors.  Enon reappeared and invited us to go in.  I volunteered to go first and shortly regretted that decision.  The walls of this tunnel were as wide as my shoulders.  In fact, I had to place my arms fully in front of my body for my shoulders to fit.  Just enough space existed above my to fit my head if I dragged my nose in the dirt below.  I raised my knees and inch, moved my body forward an inch with my hips, and repeated the process countless times.  At one point, I was sure I was stuck and that I would need Enon and Jessica to pull me out by my legs.  I continued to try to technique however, and after about five minutes of being cramped on all sides, the tunnel opened up.  I could not believe what I saw.  The two meters of narrowness opened up to about ten meters of a fully plastered tunnel.  This palster was very different from the plaster in the other rooms (it was a whitish red, while the others were gray), and pottery stuck out from within it at certain junctures.  This second section of the tunnel was wide enough for me to squat, which I was more than happy to do.  I moved forward slowly, trying my best not to damage the damp plaster below me as I attempted to take in all that I was seeing.  I followed the tunnel to its end only to come to a fork in which both divergences were filled with dirt, mud and rocks.  I turned around and took the same time and care exiting the narrow tunnel as I had getting in.  Jessica then went and returned as we began to develop a game plan hopefully to remove some of the dirt from one of the tunnels of the collapsed fork.

Right after we had gotten out!
Unfortunately, 8:45 a.m. had rolled around which meant breakfast was being served.  We began our climb back to the surface after spending two and a half hours exploring underground.  When I had entered the cistern, my clothes had been clean (and in fact, recently washed).  Coming out, however, I was covered in slick mud from head to foot (not to mention the many slugs that had adhered themselves to my shirt, shorts and skin).  We emerged from the depths of Huqoq just as a group of 40 students and professors from another ongoing excavation in the Galilee were touring our site.  They looked at us somewhat in amazement and somewhat in surprise.  A few fellow volunteers from Huqoq applauded our reemergence and quickly grabbed cameras to take pictures of our filth.  We wore our dirt and filth as a read badge of courage--a testament to the work we put into exploring the site below the site.  After many pictures and much laughter, I realized that I could not eat breakfast with how filthy I had become.  I walked down to a spring at the base of our site and submerged myself, washing both my shirt and my shorts.

Taking a dip in the natural spring.
After breakfast, we decided to take a break and two other students went down to begin drawing a map of the tunnels and open areas that we had uncovered.  These two students came back to the surface shortly before the day ended, and the four of us decided to take another dip in the spring to clean all of our clothes.  We also realized that with soaking clothes, we would probably not be able to ride back on the bus, so we decided to walk back to the kibbutz which was only a mile across some fields from the site.  We spent a good twenty minutes playing in the fresh water before we began our journey back.

An intersting side story.  Two Jewish men came to the spring as we began to pack our things to leave.  I spoke with them briefly and they said that the were submerging themselves in the natural water for the sake of purity.  One of the men told me that this spring was the traditional spring from which the prophet Habakuk had drank.  I spoke with them for a few more minutes until they began their ritual bath and we began our trek back to the kibbutz.

Archaeology is a lot of tedious, meticulous (but rewarding) hard work.  It is not often that an opportunity arrises that invites archaeologists to explore such well preserved and long abandoned channels and tunnels.  Enon was very firm on how fortunate we were to be able to do what we were doing while were underground.  The time and effort it took to clear tunnels wide enough for us to squeeze through was well worth what waited on the other side.  We only explored a small portion of what might exist below Huqoq.  With only two days left on the dig site, I am unsure if we will be able to return underground to explore the dark and mysterious depths of Huqoq again.  If we are in fact unable to return underground this season, our imaginations will serve the role of exploration until we (or others if I do not return to this site) are able to venture back below next season.  Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Days 16-19: Our Journey South, Part 2



I know that I am nearly a week late, but I will conclude our journey south this past weekend with a sharing of my favorite part of the trip--our time at Masada.

We awoke slightly earlier than we had the previous day to prepare for a trip to Masada and to the Dead Sea as we meandered our way back to the Galilee.  I awoke earlier than I intended, but I grabbed a book and planted myself in a hamock just outside the room to read until others began to stir.  I did not rest long before a friend came by and asked me if I cared to join her and another guy for a walk.  I put my book up and we ventured forth into the morning happenings of Kibbutz Lotan.

Our path drew us to the goats of the kibbutz.  We stood outside and watched a couple of people milking and feeding the goats.  After a few moments, one of the men invited us inside to watch more closely.  Upon entering, we met a couple of other people from our group who had had a similar idea.  It was a fascinating short period of time in which we met three different men with three very different stories.  When we felt the hunger pains of breakfast calling us away, one of the young men asked us to help fill the goat feed with him.  We complied with excitement, for now we could say that we had partaken in the socialist inner-workings of an authentic Israeli kibbutz.

We ate breakfast quickly and then boarded the bus for our two hour ride to Masada.  Masada derives from a Hebrew word meaning "fortress."  And to look upon its sheer cliffs, I doubt that I could name it any better.  Masada sits high above the Dead Sea with cliff sourrounding three sides.  The fourth side, I would still classify somewhat as a cliff, but a small winding road somehow manages to snake its way the very top.  (Both today and in ancient times, this skinny path is and was known as "the way of the snake.")

One of Eighteen Cisterns
The original fortress of Masada harkens from the Hasmonean times, the period of Jewish autonomy between Hellinistic rule and Roman rules.  This original Hasmonean fort has never been excavated, however, for upon Herod the Great's ascension to the Jewish throne as a client king of Rome, Herod not only expanded but nearly teraformed the top to mold Masada's features to his likings.  Herod's vast building project included two palaces, giant cisterns (when I say giant, I mean huge!  One cistern contained enough water to quench the thirst of a thousand individuals for over a year), bath houses, and nearly any other convenience a Roman citizen could name.

Herod built Masada along with four other fortresses near the border of his kingdom in order to disuade any Jews from rebelling.  Herod's claim to the throne was weak, as he was only Jewish on his father's side and he originally had no connections with the Hasmonean throne.  Masada stood as a testament of Herod's power and as a reminder to Jews that Herod was their king.

One of the Legionnaire Fortrs
Masada is most known for the role that it took following Herod's reign during the first Jewish revolt.  The story comes to us through the ink of Flavius Josephus, a client of the emperors Vespasian and Titus.  Josephus writes that a group of rebels took Masada and that these rebels were joined by more in the year 70 CE after Jerusalem had fallen.  Rome, not wanting to leave a hint of rebellion in the land, left a contigent of 5,000 soldiers (2,500 legioares and 2,500 axuliary troops) to besiege the fortress.  Rome quickly realized that the Jews could far outlast the Romans in a siege, for the Roman supply line was thin and expensive while the Jews above cast water below, taunting the Romans with their comfort and abundant supplies.  At this point, we are not sure how long the siege lasted but it is guessed to have taken place between two to six months.  In this time, the commander of the Roman contingent, Lucius Flavius Silva, built a circumambulation wall and a series of eight fortresses surrounding.  This wall completely encircled Masada, allowing no on to enter or no one to leave unless the Romans approved.  (This was standard practice in any Roman siege.  It worked tactically as well as psychologically.  Can you imagine looking down and seeing Roman camps surrounding a vast wall, lit aflame, demeaning any thought of escape or survival?)

The Romans then began the last phase of the siege, the construction of a giant ramp to the fortress.  The purpose of the ramp was to allow siege weapons (think things like battering rams) easy access to the walls of the fortress.  The Romans constructed large wooden boxes, placed them next to Masada, filled the boexes with rocks, packed earth upon them and repeated until a massive ramp formed before them.  At this point, the archaeology and history blends with myth as we rely on Josephus to recount what happened next.

According to Josephus, the Jewish rebels accepted their fate around this time during the siege.  The leader of the rebel contingent, Elazar ben Ya'ir, convened a group of men who decided that a mass suicide would be a kinder end than serving as slaves to the oncoming Romans.  After the decision had been made, the group of men went forth and slew the women and children.  The men returned to cast lots.  Ten men were chosen to kill the remaining men.  After they had accomplished this deed, each man turned to kill one of his companions, leaving a lone man at the end to commit suicide (so in the mass suicide, only one person actually commited the Jewish sin of suicide).

The story continues that a couple of women hid a cistern and eventually survived to tell the tale of the brave warriors fate.

A View from the Top of Masada,
looking down at the Snake Path
Masada is an insanely interesting tale from antiquity, riddled with mysteries both archaeolgically and historically.  I have studied the site several times, beginning with an archaeolgoy class that I took in college.  Nothing could have prepared me for actually standing where these events occured.  The scale and size of Herod's building projects loomed larger than anything I could have possibly imagined.  The pictures I took while there fail to encompass the majesty and horror of Masada's history.  But maybe that is for the best.  Seeing the world through the lens of a camera can sometimes be a dangerous thing.

I am very far behind on blogging.  In every dig, there is somewhat of an emotional slump.  It hit hard when we got back from our trip and just lifted in the past couple of days.  It was a period when no one can really remember when we began the dig, and the end still seems to far away.  This past week was a lot of sleeping, a lot of digging, a lot of eating, and not a lot of much else.  A few highlights, however, I will write about later.  These include a trip to Migdal on Tuesday (the home of Mary Madgalene) and a special trip to Sepphoris with Dr. Byron McCane and his Wofford students.  I will write more about this hopefully later today or tomorrow.  Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Days 16-19: Our Journey South, Part 1


I want to delay writing this blog because I have no idea where to begin.  Whatever I write will most doubtedly fail to convey the vast sense of amazement from our trip this weekend.  That being said, I might as well attempt to put it all into words.  Here it goes.

We took off an hour early on Thursday so we could return to the kibbutz and begin our trip to southern Israel by 2 p.m.  Our normal bus driver was home resting and preparing to drive us south while another bus driver, one we have had a few times before, picked us up.  Like every other time he has driven us somewhere, he has played an eclectic mix of music.  One of the songs being this one:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ff_SaCxs2VY  (watch/listen at your own risk).  After listening to this song several times before this on the bus, a few of us decided to join in.  We sang for a few seconds before Dr. Byron McCane grabbed the microphone and joined our cacophony. Needless to say, the drive loved it and replayed the song.  This time, the entire bus rose in one voice as we belted the tune.  This was the start to our trip.

We will fast forward the next bit.  It involves getting on a bus and driving for 5.5 hours to Kibbutz Lotan.  On the way, we drove through the West Bank, alongside the Dead Sea and in between archaeological sights on all sides.  More on these sites later.

Kibbutz Lotan is an authentic kibbutz, meaning that it holds to the socialist origins from which it began.  Most things on the kibbutz are communal and the kibbutz is financially self-sufficient.  It's mainstay is a vibrant dairy farm comprised of many many goats.  We spent the first night at Lotan in "Club Kibbutz," Kibbutz Lotan's local, socialist dance club.   DJ Comrade, as we called him, played his music under a painted hammer and sickle.  It was awesome, albeit a copious amount of reggae music (including, of course Matisyahu).

The solar powered stove.  Intense.
The next day, we arose and started with a tour of Kibbutz Lotan.  Incredible.  Kibbutz Lotan is at the forefront of the eco-village / green movement in Israel (at least that is my understanding).  Our host took us around areas of the kibbutz where a converted antenna dish was used as a stove top, human waste was combined with straw to produce soil, and a natural water filtration system.  Kibbutz Lotan offers summer classes, and if I have time during my next trip to Israel, I would love to take one.

After our tour, we headed to the beach tourist town of Israel:  Eilat.  Eilat, at least the part we saw, was comprised of hotel after hotel and a gigantic mall that sits on the Red Sea.  I had a debit card snafu and wound up running around town with a friend for a majority of the day trying to get it to work to no avail.  After I admitted defeat, we met up with some others and spent the last hour of our time snorkeling along the coral reefs of the Red Sea.  We saw a vast array of fish and other sea creatures (including a snake!).  To describe it all would take too long.  But it was incredible.

Pat and James on our camel, Jafar.
We completed our day with a two hour camel ride.  For those of you who followed my trip last year might remember that our group at 'Ayn Gharandal went on a nine hour camel trek through Wadi Rum.  This was far shorter and far easier.  There were not enough camels for all, but we paired up in threes and traded off where two people would ride the camel at first and a third would lead it in line with the others.  We went out to a beatufil look-out over the Great Rift Valley (stretching from Turkey to South Africa), which exists as a valley due to the pulling apart of the Asian and European tectonic plates.  From this vantage point, we could see Kibbutz Lotan, and far in the distance, the area of 'Ayn Gharandal in Jordan.  It was a breathtaking sight and worth the ride out.

We returned to the kibbutz just in time for Shabbat dinner.  We arrived in the dining room just in time for everyone to join hands and wrap arms around each other to sing a blessing over loveas of bread and bottles of sweet wine on the tables.  The first song was a song for the sweet wine, which at the conclusion we each took a small sip from our glasses.  The second song was for the bread, which at the conclusion we broke bread and shared with one another.  A feat poured forth from the kitchen.  We were served rice, fish, beef, and much much more as we sat around our table and discussed our exciting day and the prospect of tomorrows exciting visit to Masada.  With that in mind, a few of us stayed up long enough to journey yet again to Club Kibbutz before finally calling it a night.

It is almost dinner time here and I am not sure if I will be able to finish the remainder of the trip in one post.  I will cut it short here and try to recount our Saturday trip to Masada and Dead Sea after dinner or after we get back from the dig tomorrow.  Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 15: Omrit and Exploring the Cistern


Yesterday we went on a field trip to a fellow Galilean archaeological excavation to a site known as Omrit.  The partnered universities (I cannot remember their names) have continually excavated the site since 2000. So far, a majority of their work has focused on excavating a large temple that went through three phases of building.  The phases span from before the time of Herod the Great to the Byzantine period.  As to whose honor the temple was built remains a mystery, but one that the excavating team hopes to uncover as soon as possible.  One interesting idea (but one that cannot yet be soundly academically supported) is that the second phase of the temple may have served as a a building project of Herod the Great in honor or Augustus.

Today Mickey, one of the Israelis working on the site and main go-to-guy for anything that needs to be built or fashioned on the site, allowed Jessica (a fellow student working in our square) and I to explore a cistern that was uncovered the first day of excavations.  Each day this past week, Mickey has led two students down the cistern to explore below the site.

During our breakfast break (at 8:30 a.m.), Mickey grabbed Jessica and I and equipped us with head lamps and hard hats.  We pulled back a protective covering that blocked the entry to the cistern.  At first glance, I did not think that I would be able to make it.  A ladder extended into the darkness below in a hole about the width of my shoulders.  Mickey assured me that it would be an extremely tight squeeze but that I would be able to fit.  Mickey went first and after a yell from the bottom of the cistern, I began mine.  As I slowly climbed into the depths below, masoned rocks quickly turned to limestone walls that maintained the hint of plaster from ages past.  My shoulders and back squeezed against the stone with each step as I pressed my stomach and chest against the rungs of the ladder.  After some work and a few minutes, I broke into the first chamber of the cistern.  The walls widened tremendously as I was able to kneel upon a pile of dirt that has amassed over the centuries.  After a few more minutes, Jessica made it down and Mickey began pointing out some interesting features of the main chamber of the cistern.

Preparing to crawl back to the main cistern
After a minute, mickey directed his head lantern toward what appeared to be another pile of dirt.  Mickey told us that a tunnel existed at its based to another cistern located a few meters away.  After Jessica and I made it over to the side of the main cistern we saw the incredibly small tunnel, about one meter in diameter.  As per Mickey's instructions, I laid flat on my back, feet first, and began to shimmy and slide my way down the tunnel.  After about a minut of work (and begin covered in mud, dirt, and slime), I the tunnel opened into an immense cistern, much larger than the first.  I was able to stand up completely take 6-8 large steps before I reached the other sides.  Jessica was behind me shortly as we began to explore our new environemnt.  It only took us a second to look up and see the numerous families of slugs adorning the limestone walls of the this cistern.  We decided to avoid them, needless to say.  We snagged a few pictures, poked around a bit more, and then prepared to leave.  Jessica went first back through the narrow tunnel, and I was soon behind her.  As we were able to slide down on our backs the first time, we were forced to crawl on our stomachs with our faces pressed into the dirt and mud mixture on our way back.  After quite a bit of struggling on my part, I returned to the main cistern where Mickey was waiting.  Mickey pointed to another cistern whose tunnel was completely filled with dirt and mud, suggesting future adventures for future archaeologists after it is cleared.
A view of the entrance to the cistern.  For scale, count the
number of rungs on the ladder above.

Josephus writes of cisterns such as ours being used during the First Jewish Revolt as hiding areas for rebels.  Who knows if our cistern was ever used for such a purpose, but regardless of the cistern's use, our journey today was an incredible adventure and one of the most exciting experiences of my time in Israel this far.

Tomorrow we leave for southern Israel to the town of Eilat, where we will take a long weekend to explore the Red Sea, Masada, and Qumran.  I do not believe that I will be taking my computer with me, so expect a post detailing our adventures on Sunday.  Thanks for reading. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Days 9-14: Tiberius and Gamla

In the past week, we have visited Tiberius (a modern city just down the road) and Gamla (an ancient city up in the Golan Heights).  We went to Tiberius last Thursday, and two other guys and I went off the beaten path a ways.  We eventually wound up at a nargilah (hookah) bar where we spent an hour and a half surrounded by people who only spoke Hebrew.  With my limited Hebrew knowledge, I was able to pick up on a few phrases that were often directed toward us (like, "Those people don't know any Hebrew!").  Two of the patrons (one was an owner we think) got into a heated sudoku contest which was an endless source of entertainment for us.  After we left, we made our way to one of the main streets to get some falafel before getting back on the bus to head back to the kibbutz.

The definite highlight of the week was our trip to Gamla this past Saturday.  Gamla is in the Golan Heights, which is a region of Israel to the east of the Sea of Galilee (I wrote about it briefly last week).  The Golan Heights exist as a flat plateau at the top of the very hilly area of the Galilee.  As we were told while we were there, whoever controls the Golan Heights controls what is below (the reason for Israel's occupation of the area since 1976).

The site that we visited was Gamla, which means "camel" for it is a town on a hill shaped much like a camel's hump.  In antiquity, Gamla was a town that fell to Rome during the First Jewish Revolt in 67 CE.  After first remaining largely indifferent to the rising rebellion throughout Roman occupied Israel, Gamla eventually joined due to the influence of the massive number of refugees seeking shelter within the city walls.  Upon joining the rebellion, the city enlisted Flavius Josephus to build a wall to protect the city from the expected attack from Rome and Rome's allies.  Josephus came and built a wall along one of the slopes (for the other sides were high up from the ground, protected by steep ravines).  Herod Agrippa II  laid seige to the city for several months in 66 CE, but he did so to no avail.  Rome eventually sent the then general Vespasian with his son Titus to subdue the growing revolt.  Vespasian and Titus (soon to be  emperors of Rome) are reported to have arrived with three legions (30,000 troops), who surrounded the cliffs in the middle of which sat the minimally protected Gamla.  Vespasian's men were pushed back at first, but ultimately were able to breach the citiy's fortifications.  The Roman soldiers were reported to have taken to the roof tops of the city to have a better angle from which to attach the Jews.  This proved fatal, however, for buildings began to collapse and many Roman soldier's parrished in the debacle.  The Jews forced Rome to retreat, which is not something the Romans were used to doing.  Vespasian and Titus concocted another plan, and this time, sent a small number of men to tunnel under a tower in the wall's fortifications.  The Roman soldiers snuck undetected below the tower and accomplished their upon the towers collapse (the tower had been built hastily and the builders had not dug a foundation).  It did not take the Romans long to flood the city and quickly subdue all of Gamla.

We know of this story from Josephus, the same man who had built the wall at Gamla.  Before the Roman siege of Gamla, Rome had captured Josephus and likely used him as a source of information.  The head archaeologist of Gamla believes Josephus writes such details about Gamla because Josephus was likely present in the Roman encampment when Rome launched its siege against Gamla.

The amount of information gained from this trip was immense and all of it fascinating.  Above is a small snippet.  We are about to go on another field trip within the hour, and I wanted to write a bit about what we had done before everything started to run together.

The dig is going well, and we are making progress in our square.  We still only have ideas of what we are excavating, but we expect to have firmer ideas within the next couple of days.  Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 6-8: Groundhog Day

Crouching in the cellar of the Umm El-Qanatir Synagogue
In the past three days, our square has closed two squares and has now opened a third.  What this means is that we have weeded, sectioned off a 5 m x 5 m square, and excavated a 10 cm level of top soil three times in three different places (one guy in our square named our area the "Groundhog Day Square" because we seem to be stuck on repeat).  The reason our square has moved so frequently is that after two days of digging in our first two locations, our square supervisor and dig supervisor realized that we were digging in a relatively modern trash dump (from the 1940s).  While it was interesting, our goal was not reach the 1940s but to excavate a section of the late Roman / early Byzantine town.

Like all the other days, we arrived at the site by 5 a.m. and began clearing a large sections (about 10 m x 20 m) of weeds.  To visualize these weeds, imagine a field of wheat in which the wheat contained very sharp thorns and scorpions and poisonous centipedes ran rampant between the stalks.  Today, we only encountered one of each but it was more than enough than I would have cared to come across (I lifted a rock and the centipede crawled on my shoe and then when i kicked it off, the scorpion scuttled across from the other side).  After three hours of clearing weeds and thorns, our site was clear enough to put up shade and begin digging in our new area.  I am excited to see what we come across tomorrow.

On Monday, we visited Umm El-Qanatir, a sixth-century, Galilean synagogue located in the Golan Heights of Israel (the area of land on the other side of the Sea of Galilee taken from Syria by Israel in 1967 in the Six Day War).  Jesus (or Yeshu), the lead excavator, has rebuilt a large portion of the synagogue from its original stones.  It is an incredible building with a majority of its Torah shrine still intact   Even more exciting was that a few stones were removed from the floor and an ancient cellar was accessible.  Of course several of us had to crawl down and explore (see picture above).

All in all, it has been a good week so far.  This Saturday, we are returning to the Golan Heights to visit another site and of course go for another swim.  That is all for today.  Thanks for reading.  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day 5: More Dirt

For today's entry, I think I will briefly go over our daily dig schedule.  Today was much like our day two days ago and I am sure our future days will be similar.  Below is the basic schedule:

4:30 a.m. - Wake up
5:00 a.m. - Leave for the dig site
5:20 a.m. - Arrive at the dig site and begin digging
8:30 a.m. - One hour break for breakfast
9:30 a.m. - Back to work
1:00 p.m. - clean up and head back to the kibbutz

When we get back to the kibbutz, we eat lunch and usually take a nap until a lecture just before dinner around 5:30 p.m.  (or if no lecture, then hang out until dinner).

As for the dig today, we managed to go further down and may be on the verge of entering a new locus tomorrow.  But due to tiredness and lack of any new exciting information, I am signing off for the day.  Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Day 4: Exploring the Galilee

"Bros at Bet She'an" (as James ,one of the other guys,  titled it)
Our weekly day off from the dig proved as tiring as any day on the dig, but it also proved just as rewarding.  Today. we first visited the ancient city of Bet She'an, which was a member of the Greco-Roman league of cities known as the Decapolis.  The Decapolis, as it name suggests. was a league of ten cities that boasted fierce ties to Greco-Roman (or Hellenistic) ideals.  Bet She'an was the cities Hebrew name.  It's Greco-Roman name was Scythopolis, meaning "City of the Scythians."  This city sits at the crossroads of two main thoroughfares of ancient Israel.  We explored the ancient city and eventually climbed the summit of the large "tel" that sits at the middle of the ancient city.  The "tel," or mound, exists due to a fortification system implemented during the Bronze Age ("patriarch era").  The fortification boasted large sloping walls that successive civilizations then built within.  Over time, these layers of civilizations piled up within the original Bronze Age fortification system, creating a large mound.  Some key highlights of this visit were the bath house with triclinium and the public latrine (luckily no longer in operation).  A whole host of stories exist with the latrine, but the one fact I will share is that ancient Romans would often wipe with a public sponge attached to a stick.  I'll let your imagination fill in any unanswered quandries.

Our next trip was to a 6th century CE Galilean synagogue known as Bet Alpha.  I will write more about this later because we will be visiting more Galilean syangogues in the upcoming weeks.  It was very interesting!

Our final trip was to a series of three hot-springs (known as "sachna"--at least I believe).  We spent two and a half lounging around, swimming from spring to spring.  It was relaxing and wonderful.  We returned from our trip and headed to dinner, which turned into an interesting experience.  We started with salad and soup, and after 30 minutes, we thought that this was all of which dinner would consist.  We left the kibbutz dining hall only to have the chef follow us out, yelling that we had only had the beginning of the meal.  We returned to french fries, baked fish, and pasta.  All of which was delicious.  We were also gifted with Shabbat wine, which most people detested.  It was extremely sweet, almost like sangria.  I would compare it to communion wine.  I found it delicious.  Now it is pushing 9 p.m., and I better turn in for the night for 4:30 a.m. will come all too soon.  Thanks for reading!


Friday, June 3, 2011

Day 3: Our first Shabbat

Today ends the second day of the dig and begins our first sabbath while on the dig.  Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and lasts until sundown on Saturday.  Though we will not be taking a Sabbath for religious reasons, we will be taking our one day off each week on the sabbath.  Even though we are only two days into the dig, I am definitely ready for a respite.

As I said in my previous post, our square yesterday spent a majority of our eight hours on site clearing an area roughly 15 m x 20 m so that we could open up two 5 m x 5 m squares today.  We are digging on a slight - semi steep incline that until yesterday, was thickly covered with thorny weeds.  Though we cleared a majority of the brush before breakfast, we spent the remainder of the day clearing the thin layer of top soil  of roots and rough earth.

The last thing we did yesterday was to tie off our two 5 m x 5 m squares with string so that we would know where to begin digging.  I am working on the west square which only suffers from a slight slope.  The east square is directly below us, seperated by a 1 m baulk (an area of earth left un-excavated to serve as a way to view the different levels of earth through which we dig).

Today when we arrived at the site (around 5:15 a.m.--we get up at 4:30 a.m. each morning), we (to my great enjoyiment) errected a shade tent over our squares.  Though the temperature only gets into the upper 80s or lowers 90s, the sun can be brutal.  The shade almost made it feel like I was on vacation, if that vacation was spent hauling wheelbarrows full of dirt to a dump site about 25 yards away.  The majority of our day was spent peeling back the first 10 cm of earth in our square so that we could get rid of "contaminated" soil--soil that, due to rain and erosion, had become very mixed with the layers below and the top soil.

What started as a weed-pullers nightmare yesterday has now turned into an archaeologists dream (or at least an amateur archaeologists dream).  The work on the site is progressing nicely, and I look forward to getting back to work on Sunday.

Tomorrow, we are visiting Beth She'an in northern Israel, a city of the Decapolis (meaning "ten cities") from antiquity.  We are then taking a trip to an ancient Galilean synagogue, followed by an afternoon swim and lunch at some local hit springs.  Archaeology makes for a pretty hard life, no?

I unfortunately left my camera back in my room, but I will definitely post pictures tomorrow (or maybe later tonight).  Thanks for reading! 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Day 1-2: The Sea of Galilee and Our Site

My battery has nine percent battery left, so this will be a quick post about our time yesterday at the Sea of Galilee and our first day at the dig today.  Let me begin our discussion of the Sea of Galilee by saying I now understand why Jesus walked on it and Peter tried to--it is rocky and those rocks are sharp.  We spent a majority of our afternoon there swimming and lying around on rocks while we discussed our hopes and dreams for the upcoming dig.  It was a great time and very relaxing.

Today was our first official day on the dig.  I am still not over the jet lag and unfortunately woke up at 11:30 p.m. (I went to bed at 9 p.m.).  I then laid in bed until 4:30 a.m., when our room got up and we made our way to the bus by 5 a.m.  We arrived on the dig site and began work immediately.  I have been placed in a square that is digging a Roman/Byzantime village.  We spent our entire day clearing brush and then further clearing the top layer of soil.  It turns out that the temperature in northern Israel is much more mild than the temperature in southern Jordan.  The temperature has held to the 80s-90s, and even better, tomorrow, we are placing shade over our square.  My battery is about dead, I will post pictures and more details tomorrow, including all the nerdy information that I love to share.  Have a great day!