By Muriel Lasater
For two weeks in June, I participated in an archaeological dig on Tel Jezreel in Israel. My first experience with archaeological digging was when I participated in a study tour to Israel in May 2017. I was with a group from Campbell Divinity School, and we dug for a few hours in caves at Bet Guvrim, near Tel Mareshah.
I enjoyed the digging process, which made me interested in future opportunities. When the opportunity arose to participate in the Jezreel Expedition, I was all in. I love to try new things and take advantage of opportunities for growth and learning.
Each day of the dig, we would wake up at 4:15 a.m. in order to get ready and walk to the bus stop. Buses would leave around 5:00 a.m. to take us from Kibbutz Jezreel, where we were staying, and carry us to the dig site on the lower part of Tel Jezreel. We would dig until around 8:45 a.m., and then walk down to a spring called Ein Jezreel for breakfast. Once breakfast was over, we would walk back up the hill to the dig site and continue digging until around 11:30 a.m.
Once we were done digging for the day, we would carry our pottery baskets down to the spring to wash the pottery. We would usually leave the spring around 12:45 p.m. to head back to the kibbutz for lunch.
Some parts of the dig were more strenuous than others. Some days the team that I was working with would start new sections in our dig area, which means we would have to clear off the top soil and then begin pick-axing our way through the dirt until we hit rocks.
Other days our work involved more articulate digging, where we were cleaning a section of rocks or brushing around rocks to try and define the area in order to see if we had found a particular structure. The structures that we would find in the area where I was working mostly included walls or pavements made of smaller stones.
It’s amazing how many pottery sherds you can find buried in the dirt from thousands of years ago!
We were finding pottery belonging to the Iron Age, Roman/Byzantine period, Chalcolithic and Neolithic periods, among others. After we would wash the pottery from our daily findings, we would carry it back to the kibbutz in order for it to dry. The next day, we would go back and read the pottery that we had found the day before. By reading the pottery, archaeologists are able to tell which period the piece originated in, and possibly what the pottery was used for during those time periods. We found smaller pieces of pottery with designs and inscriptions and larger pieces of pottery that were used as storage containers.
By digging horizontally instead of vertically, archaeologists are able to examine the findings from particular sections and try to determine what people were using a particular area for when they were living there. As you dig deeper, you uncover materials from later time periods.
As time would go on and communities would move away or be forced out of the place they were living, other communities would come in and build on top of the existing structures and land. This essentially creates remnants of civilizations stacked on top of each other.
Even though archaeological digging can be strenuous and exhausting, it can also be very enlightening.
I love how the process connects us to humanity at large and allows us to gain insight into their lives by studying pottery, bones, artifacts and figurines. It’s amazing how this practice connects us to people who lived thousands and thousands of years ago. It provides us with an opportunity to learn about others’ lives and the stories that they have to share with the world.
Muriel Lasater serves as the Admissions and Student Finance Counselor at Campbell Divinity School in Buies Creek, N.C.