I was first out of the bus and first up on the tel of the workers, since I get the jump seat by the door. But others were already there at 5:05 am – our logistical staff, and for the second day running, and I mean running, so was the Israeli army! Groups were charging up the hill yelling encouragement with each group shouldering a person on a stretcher, a traditional IDF drill, with music and refreshments waiting for them at daybreak on the top. What an effort!
A girl soldier came by a bit later and noticed our new staircase of sandbags dug into the side of the hill. She saved at least 10 minutes and a climb. We cheered her on, and a commander met her on top with amazement, “How did you get up here so fast?” So we are making a difference!
One part of the group was stranded and Limor was calling the second bus driver with no response. In staff meetings Prof. Lipschits told us everything was prepared and his nightmare was buses coming late. Here was the nightmare! So we started shorthanded.
Finally we found out what happened. The great Rabbi Elyashiv, aged 102, passed away last night. He was the senior scholar of Jewish law in this generation. On short notice 300,000 people came for the funeral, held between midnight and 3 am (Jerusalem custom is that burials must take place immediately, the body is not left overnight except in very rare cases). Every bus in the greater Jerusalem region was called into service! Batteries had not recharged and drivers were worn out. Our bus driver Shlomi lives literally a minute from our camp, housed on his moshav, so he could come – he was the exception in the area. (I have no doubt that if the funeral was held in daytime that 500,000 would have come. As it was, it was from the most attended funerals of the century, and deservingly so. This is a sad loss for the Jewish people.)
Every group made progress. In Azekah East we have a wall, and close by, a surface that the experts are dropping by to interpret and investigate. We excavate in 4 meter square depressions with 1 meter baulks dividing the sections. That enables separate interpretation and the ability to move people and equipment through the area. In such a case of unclarity we further divide the area in half and dig down to identify what is happening; even though part is being removed, sacrificed as it were. Before such a decision is taken the surface must be cleared and smoothed to be interpreted. So you work for hours with gentle brushing. Pictures are taken, and sometime drawings. and measurements. The senior scholar comes by, takes a good look, and gives an okay to cut through.
Immediately the team hit rocks, which seemed to be arranged and working together, with a number of seashells, an interesting development, and perhaps here representing a technique often used in ancient flooring. So work proceeded with a small pickaxe and primarily a brush; no more pickaxes and shovels. There was no longer room for me, so I hopped over to the other section. Jose, Meredith and Elah carefully brushed and articulated the stones – I love that phrase, as it is if we are helping the stones to speak.
In the neighboring square a conglomeration of rocks is looking more and more like a wall, while the archaeologists are divided on which way it may running. Shatil and Yoav Gadot and Efrat all weighed in with different possibilities. So we are proceeding with caution, slowly brushing the rocks, while digging through soil laden with pottery shards, right next to it. The shards are 2500 and 1500 years old, all mixed up, which is fascinating. Yet they do not help us determine what the architectural features are. They are basically the cookie crumbs leading us through the trail in the forest to the enchanted places….
Tonight each section gave humorous presentation on the finds and supervisors, followed by an outdoor barbecue! We presented the typology and statistics of scorpions, and which one young Elah Gadot should take home for a pet. Hopefully all the presentations will be posted on either the website, Facebook, or this blog.
The Tel Sochoh team shared updates and humor with us as well, and tomorrow will come for breakfast to Azekah. We also expect the Australian ambassador tomorrow, and Andrew will bring a koala doll for the group picture! He will write to you about it.
On Fridays after breakfast the entire team visits all the sites and gets the overall picture. As I must leave early I have asked others to share their thoughts.
Some of the group will be coming on a Jerusalem tour. Parker hopes to coordinate my greeting them to experience the welcoming of Shabbat at the Western Wall, and perhaps host them in my Old City home. We shall see.
It was amazing to see the efforts ail invested this week, most without prior experience of a dig, and without really seeing results that justify to the lay person why this effort is worthwhile. Their reactions are very moving, and the Israelis are deeply impressed. Read the interview with Rachael Downey coming up. The conversations tonight between cultures was also wonderful. I dropped in on at least three to hear talks, and lighter banter as well.
I hope everyone really rests and comes back refreshed on Sunday!
Have a good week,