Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Conclusion: Why We Dig

We concluded our dig season nearly two weeks ago.  I have been somewhat absent from blogging since then, but I think it is about time that I write a short conclusion to our dig experience in Israel.  What an experience it was.  I believe that to offer an appropriate conclusion, I must start with the present and work back over the course of the past two weeks.

Since I have returned to the States, I have begun working again in the Judaic Studies Department at Duke University, doing different jobs each week ranging from updating databases to helping Dr. Eric Meyers prepare pictures for publication in an upcoming book.  In each job, I have found a new sense of appreciation that did not exist before our dig in Israel.  What appeared to be menial, tedious work before going to Israel has now become work toward which I look forward to each day.  Having stood in the actual locations from which archaeologists and volunteers uncovered the artifacts and features that I look at each week on my computer screen has given a physical context to all of those lists of numbers.

During one of our last nights in Israel, three professors led a discussion concerning the question, "Why do we dig?"  I hope to address this question in this post both on a collective level and also on a personal level. When we ask the question of, "Why do we dig?" we must first seek an understanding of what the verb "dig" encompasses.  When we dig, we participate in archaeology.  We may define this specific example of participation in archaeology as, "The controlled destruction of material remains of the past."  The act of digging is an act of destruction.  Once we move an artifact or feature from its original place in the ground, we have shifted its context.  We can never place it back in its exact location, and no one will ever be able to uncover it in its exact location again.

We participate in this controlled destruction out of a desire for understanding.  We dig not only to learn about the past, but we dig to understand the present.  The people whose physical remains we excavate possessed the same gift of life that we currently enjoy.  This connects us to them in somewhat of a spiritual way.  We may live in different times and in different places, but we share the gift of life.  Along with the the gift of life, we share common struggles that come bundled as part of that gift.  Struggles for food and shelter, struggles of co-existing with others, and the penultimate struggle of death.  If we learn how our brothers and sisters experienced both the joys and struggles of life, might we learn how better to experience our own joys and struggles?

Our time excavating at Huqoq was incredible.  I miss the friends, our time together, and even getting up at 4:30 a.m. to dig in the dirt.  I would encourage anyone who reads this to take a trip to Israel at some point in their life.  Regardless of faith or adherence to a religion, Israel served as a main stage upon which our brothers and sisters from the ancient near east and antiquity began acting out the culture that continues to influence our twenty-first century, American lives today.  Thanks for reading.

The dig team for our area