Starting to dig

As an archaeologist you have to start somewhere. Yes, there’s plenty to be learned from books, but by doing it we can learn so much more, especially about the process of doing archaeology. And when you actually carefully dig those artifacts out of the ground, when you see a floor covered in pottery, that’s when you can envision the life of those bygone times so much more vividly. I started as a volunteer at the Lahav Research Project in 2007. Whenever I was in Israel I sent emails back home to family and friends. They tell about life on a dig, the finds of the season, and the countryside I experienced. Here’s my first email, sent on June 10th, 2007:

Potsherds! They dominate my waking hours and appear before my tired eyes
when I crawl into my sleeping bag at night. Even in my dreams they’re
there. Th ancients must have used pottery for every imaginable purpose.
They stored food and drink in pottery jugs, ate out of pottery bowls, cooked
in pottery pots and wrote on sherds. Today we use plastic bottles, plastic
bags, steel pots or paper for these puposes. Back then the potter made his
wares to cater for all that.

Currently I’m mainly striking pottery from the time of Hezekiah – Iron Age
II, if you want the technical term. Even on the first day , when we were
clearing vegetation off the site, we found three-thousand year-old potsherds
on the surface. I even spotted half a slingshot missile. Not just the
simple smoothe stone David used to attack his enemies, but a professionally
manufactured round stone missile for optimum accuracy.

Because these finds were out of context (not in a defined layer) they cannot
be used for archaelogical analysis and a few therefore now grace my shelve.

Every day at 5 in the morning before the dawn of day we make our way up to
the hill – Tell Halif. Then it’s 2.5 hours of digging in the refreshing
cool of morning. Breakfast at 8 is when I really wake up. The problems is
that from then on the sun gets uncomfortably hot. That’s why after lunch we
have a siesta break. Pottery washing and a lecture follow at 4pm. Not much
time remains after the evening meal, as it’s advisable to tuck in early.

On the first real day of digging I struck the find of the day within a few
hours: a loom weight and a nearly complete jug (broken into many pieces)
scattered over a floor I was able to trace. Since then finds in our square
have not been that exciting, but we have uncovered a flat stone-slab,
suggested to be a work station (did they have PCs in those days?). Others
have found a solid wall structure with arrowheads and even a horse tooth.
The directors are a bit concerned how close to the surface we are striking
these remains.

And where am I doing my archaeological experience? In Lahav, near Beersheva,
southern Israel. I’m taking part in the Lahav Research Project, an
Americanb excavation (Emory University). Of the 18 “volunteers” (read
“labourers”) 15 are from the U.S., one from Canada, one from Australia and
me.

One of the specific aims of the project is to find out more about the daily
lives of common people in Judah during the 8th century B.C. And sine the
city was destroyed around 700 B.C., it’s a good site.

We are housed in Kibbutz Lahav and also get fed there. And what great
food! Lots of fresh vegetables each day and a wide assortment of salads.
I’m eating loads of olives and capsicums and dine on yoghurt with honey. I
really have to try hard not to eat too much.

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