Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Day 12: Exploring the Cistern

Archaeology is the meticulous documentation of controlled destruction.  Once something is removed from the ground, it can never be put back the same way to be experienced as it had laid in the earth.  That being said, I was fortunate today to experience one of the rare occasion when this rule slightly bends:  exploring and documenting underground tunnels.

A cistern sits on the middle of the site of our dig at Huqoq.  I was fortunate to exlpore it last year, and today I had a rare second chance to do the same.  The resident Israeli export on such underground networks visited the site today and enlisted the help of three of us who helped him to explore it last year.  Last year, another student and I dug out tunnels enough to fit through so we might prepare the way for another pair of students (Jocelyn and Josh) to map the network.  Jocelyn, Josh, and I all returned this year, and we were given the privilege of journeying with Enon again far below ground.

Enon could not get to the site today until noon, which is when we usually finish for the day.  Spending an extra three hours at the site proved a privilege once we began our descent underground.   Once Enon arrived, we donned headlamps, packed bags with tools and water, and climbed approximately 30 ft. below ground before reaching the dirt mound piled upon the main chamber of the cistern.  Once there, our headlamps allowed us to survey the same sights as we had the year before.  Three tunnels laid slightly below us, each accessible only by crawling on our stomachs.  We ignored the one on the left and the middle one for the day and focused on the tunnel on the right.  Today's goal was to make this tunnel entrance and the two subsequent tunnel entrances inside the first chamber on the right tunnel more accessible.  Again, not to excavate, but to explore further back in the network.

I went in the right chamber with Enon, both of us dragging our stomachs in the mud with our sides and backs scraping the rock walls of the entrance.  We opened to a familiar chamber with ancient niches built likely to hold oil lamps as people either worked, hid, or possibly lived in the tunnels.  Also familiar were the hundreds of slugs that lined the walls and eventually my back as I crawled on my stomach across the domed room.

The first order of business was to create a larger path so other people who might come in the future could more easily enter this chamber.  I began to pull back a couple centimeters of earth from around the opening and in about 30 minutes time, removed enough earth that we could comfortably crawl (at least without getting too many slugs in our hair).  Jocelyn proved indispensable during this process for I shoved buckets of dirt through the opening back into the main chamber which she then emptied to the side of the dirt pile upon which the ladder rested.

We then switched around and Josh came down into the cistern to explore a tunnel on the right of the chamber in which I helped to create a better path.  My job during this time was to clear an area around a second tunnel that exists on the left of this chamber.  After I removed enough dirt to stick my head further into the chamber, my job for that area was completed for the day.  I then moved closer to the tunnel in which Josh was making a wider path in order to ferry buckets back and forth from the main chamber.

I did not clear a wide enough path to get to Josh as easily as I could move around the forefront of the chamber, so I again spent a great dealt of time (about an hour and a half) sliding around on my stomach in the dirt / mud.  I scuttled the 15 ft between Josh's tunnel and the main channel multiple times as I filled bucket after bucket and removed several rocks (and by remove I mean positioning them in the chamber so they would be out of the way).  We only had 2.5 hours to spend underground today, and once our time was up, Enon told us to pack our gear and begin our ascent.  Once we all climbed out (which was a 15 minutes affair) we got a good laugh at our appearance.  Slugs, mud, and disheveled clothes covered our fatigued bodies.

We wrote down what we had done and what Enon hopes to do in the future, and we headed back to the main camp area to eat lunch.  Some kind people saved some breakfast food and packaged it in dishes for us to eat after we climbed out.  We didn't have utensils, but I didn't hear anyone complain.  We wolfed down the eggs, bread, and salad rather quickly.  The next item on the to-do list was to clean ourselves up a bit.  There is luckily a spring at the base of the dig site (which is why our site was inhabited to begin with in the past), and we stripped down as much as decency would allow in order to wash our bodies and our clothes.

It was an incredible experience, and I am fortunate to have had it a second time.  I may return once more before our season concludes, but we will have to see what happens.