Day 9

Ido in the Top Area says he has reached floor level in yet another square. Pottery is coming up with  sheep and goat bones, and some remains will be send for faunal analysis. They have found olive pits which will be analyzed. These can potentially give a date – pun not intended- within a few years that can determine exactly when the building was destroyed or abandoned- the terminus anti quem – the date before which an archaeological artifact must have been deposited. 

The team decided to expose more of this building, so they opened two more squares. That required putting up new fencing, shading, and infrastructure. Ido has to be particularly careful as thousand of people walk right by there – sometimes thousands a day. This installation process comes in place of digging. The safety and protection of the working people and visitors, and the preservation of the remains, require it. 

The dozens of buckets prepared for wet sifting have not yet been analyzed- I saw screen after screen with pies of washed earth drying in the sun. 

Yuval Gadot was listening to this review and pointed out that the quantity of animal bones does not compare to Tel Dor, a significant city. The quantity even in this house may be an indicative factor of the population and its wealth and cult. But it is still early! 

Boaz in Azekah West exposed another mud brick wall; and, a plaster floor; and possibly another installation, meaning an olive press or the like. He says it was a good day and they are proceeding slow and with patience. Some scholars looking at his area have reached conclusions about its potential and have suggested how to speed up the process to find structures right away. Boaz takes his time. Time with Boaz, though, is measured – how long did it take to bring the equipment up, how long the break is- he is super efficient and a model to be emulated. Also, he is working on the side of a cliff, where extreme care must be taken. A sandbag staircase now goes halfway down the hill, and next week will be completed. 

Omer in Azekah South has uncovered so much of a powerful wall, and a floor, that the decision was taken to widen the excavation. This means once again digging through topsoil with mixed and largely meaningless pottery as far as dating goes (Jose and I washed the contents of one of his pottery buckets today); removing trees with the Parks Authority, and starting over so to speak- but this time with a knowledge of the target and depth. Omer is very lucky to have many of our strongest and even professional diggers in his squad! 

Keren sees walls and floors and is carefully and slowly opening new areas to follow them- trickier than Omer’s because she is on a slope, however with the advantage that there is not nearly as much topsoil as fills Omer’s “ledge” below. 

Efrat and Parker in Azekah East are full of anticipation for tomorrow. In my square John and Rachel removed a collapsed wall, which needed sledgehammer work, and even more of an area of garden soil appeared. At the same time the line the experts saw amidst a mass of stones has become very clear, so we have the edge of a building, and maybe a perpendicular wall. We shall see tomorrow. On the upper level walls are appearing and new areas are opening as well to see if they can be understood and dated. In the midst of all this, Efrat and Sara and Shimrit are helping us learn how to record information as are all the respective area managers. We are acquiring skills steadily. 

Dr. Yucal Goren gave us a talk on the Shephelah – Judean Lowlands in the Late Bronze period based on his work in museums and collections throughout the world. His team analyzed the origin of the soils used in the el Amarna letters, many of which came from Canaanite city-states. The methods and the conclusions were striking. The night class for the English speakers was Ido Koch contining his historical series on the Judean Lowlands, while the Israelis had a training session with Efrat and Shatil of how to record data and mark out an excavation area. 

The “Nes Harim pub” area was hopping tonight. I held an interview with Graham Walker of England which will be posted later in the week, and a theological conversation with a European student who is training for the ministry. 

Bob Cargill is working hour after hour and shares his perspectives and varied news sources when he comes up for air. Today when the office was empty he gave me an overview of new kinds of presentations helpful to archaeologists. It is great to have him around

While Prof. Lipschits was preoccupied reading pottery with Leora, Yuval Gadot, and others, he sent Omer to walk around and take  pictures. See the Facebook page and enjoy! 


Our first Aussie words!

From: Andrew Pleffer <>

G’day everyone,

A short update of what has happened in the squares down under in S2 (Azekah South, lower section). We’ve been digging for a week and a bit now and things are starting to pop up all over. We were expecting to find walls and architecture in our area because digital radar sensed disturbances in the soil earlier, and our team have not disappointed. So far we have uncovered many stones some are deep and others not so deep and it looks like we might have some large fortress like walls appearing deep below the surface in one of the squares and what appears to be mud brick material in many of the other squares. We are quickly becoming fans of architecture. Very exciting! We also have some amazing small finds including a beautiful blue bead and a couple of flint blades coming out with Alisha and Doris working hard and patiently scrapping and dusting back what looks like it might be a surface, is it connected to the stones of the wall? Maybe, but only digging will tell us more.



Day Eight

Satisfaction is on everyone’s face. Work is progressing, walls are being revealed, coins are being found which are always wonderful, and great for dating when in a context – today we found a Hasmonean coin in Lower Azekah East! And there we are once again peeling away layers of walls, occasionally with a sledgehammer, which our girls also swing. The finds section is filling up with wonderful objects- same at Socho, by the way.

Omer has found a few walls and is opening up new squares. Ido’s team collected over 75 buckets of materials which will mostly be wet sifted to catch small finds. This is the living space and destruction layer of this period, a real catch.

It was hot, and starting time has been moved a bit later to make sure it was safe with enough light when we come up the hill. In the afternoon we ran off to a tour of Khirbet Qeiyafa and Tel Bet Shemesh led by Ido Koch (hence I must still obtain a full report from the other areas). This followed last night’s lecture by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University about the site and its implications. The students particpated in a point by point discussion on site; very illuminating. At Tel Bet Shemesh the layers were very clear, and you could see the burining of destruction layers in the section- the wall of the excavation squares- which was a great object lesson in why such emphasis is placed on keeping them in tact and clear. Here again reference was made to last week’s lecture by excavator Prof. Shlomo Bunimovich of TAU.

Tonight Shatil and Yuval Gadot will explain surveying and why we chose the five areas. The classes have an immediate impact on work in the field, as people understand better, they work better, with more awareness and care. Last night both the International Master’s program and the Hebrew BA program learned about pottery, and were given papers to start recording information and finds. Today the area supervisors began  dedicating time to help people practice – I recorded a list of loci and basket numbers, and was able to follow a technical conversation held between supervisors as a result.

I hope by this time next week there will be solid results to report. In the meantime, the appetizers are tantalizing!

Day Seven

Today was hard, hard work. For the second time in a week Azekah East has walls that must be examined and then cut through. The relationship of the stones to a higher section which might be a tower, and to two neighboring squares, is everyone’s question. You regular readers know already what that means – clear and smooth the surface and rocks and crevices to perfection, a day’s work, for an early morning picture session that takes only five minutes! just after first light. What an effort….

Grinding stones appeared today, which is nice, but did not avoid this work!  On the upper level of Azekah East we see mud bricks in the “section”, the side of the dug out square area, but we do not understand it yet. That’s Parker’s report.

Omer in Lower South has 4 squares and running through his areas is a mud brick wall, large, thick and long. Tomorrow they will dig out to catch its face, and then cut a slice through it to understand it. And, there are huge boulders which look they like they create a wall.  Doris from Germany found a piece of pottery with a hole in the middle. It was originally thought to be a loom weight, but our pottery expert Leora says it was originally something else and is in secondary usage, but what that usage is is unclear.

Ido on top is having a field day! The “living surface” has facilities for processing food, whole pots, on the floor , perhaps abandoned and the earth of the “living floor” has to be carefully sifted, and sometimes wet sifted. This level gives information that helps us recreate, understand, and interpret life at this time. Two jars were found in situ lying on the wall. Two large stones, one hollowed for grinding apparently, are on the floor. And, scale weights, loom weights, 3 sets of mortar and pestle, 30 grindstones! Therefore it seems to be a cultural industrial area. The date seems to be 3rd-2nd century BCE, the Hellenistic period. Note that there are no historical writings about a presence here in this period. We know of it from Bliss and Macalister’s pottery, and from our own team and Shatil’s survey of the past few years.

Keren in Upper South is working steadily to seek fortifications shown in the geophysical study, and may have a wall, with 2 loom weights to keep people happy.

Boaz’s walls in Azekah West are becoming clearer, running across the hillside. One huge stone is dug out; it has to be examined and its context clarified. They brought their own coffee making kit to the site. Boaz runs a tight ship – when I walked by today he announced to his relaxing team to prepare themselves for work full blast in three minutes!  They are working to understand stratigraphy, cleaning prepare for photos before digging in further. Late Bronze pottery, a mud brick collapse covering a stone structure, a plastered floor, maybe a cistern inside. Now in fact he and Oded are discussing the overall view of the site and the best way to proceed. The constant interaction, the willingness to be open to different views, is the key to success.

Pottery wash today showed how this multinational group is jelling. Everyone pitched in to help everyone else when they had finished their own buckets. Jokes were going in around in French, German, and various dialects of the English language.

I am sitting at 10pm at night in the office. The area managers and their assistants are siting and compiling reports, discussing the challenges, goals, procedures, and requirement for their plans tomorrow. Leora is surrounded with piles of special finds in all types of carefully marked containers, after giving the TAU students a workshop in pottery, with Efrat getting them ready to begin recording archaeological information. The Socho team some feet away from us are reviewing their finds and plans. Ilan is waling around taking care of logistics for tomorrow. The volunteers enjoyed several lectures this afternoon and evening are relaxing with soft drinks and beers out on the huge picnic area outside. Simply a fantastic atmosphere.

And now, this day is over…until 4:40.

Second Week Day Six

Everyone’s got something! Ido with the biggest gamble in choosing his site has reached the dwelling floor of what seems to be a Hellenistic factory installation – a bunch of grinding stones, spatulas, coins, and walls. Omer has a Persian coin, mud brick walls, and the JNF cleared trees so he could dig. Keren has coins and a loom weight. Boaz has coins and a bronze chisel. Efrat has walls being examined on both levels, and coins, which seem to indicate one building is Byzantine. Everyone comes back smiling!

Oded talked about the name Azekah, while Yuval and Leora  explained the significance of pottery and how it is drawn from a sherd, and the latest technology for illustration and analysis.

The internet is working so I hope soon all those who promised they would post their thoughts and pictures will do so!

Remember this blog is linked to our facebook page, website and youtube channel which will fill with content soon! The weekly presentations prepared by each area’s crew will be posted on facebook. Loads of fun!

In the meantime these walls have us all thinking… John on the right is absorbing all the thoughts in the square… more to come tomorrow!  Image

Meet Our Diggers: Rachael Downey, Australia

Rachael Downey

21 years old

Macquarie University, Sydney. Australia

Studying, BA Dip. Ed. Majoring in Ancient History


AZ: How do you find yourself here?

RD: I always wanted to come to Israel, and, I always wanted to join an archaeological dig.

I took a course in the ancient history of Israel. When I missed a lecture I listened to the podcast, and heard they would be running a dig. I said, “I’m there!” and signed up right away. So yes, I am completely interested in what is going on here.

AZ: Why did you always want to come to Israel?

RD: I am a Christian, so Israel is really important and contains so many places I read about from my earliest learning. On a spiritual level as well, to be here in the flesh and see the countryside is amazing.

AZ: How will this help you in the future?

RD: I am planning to be a high school teacher. I personally am interested specifically in religions both ancient and modern, and how religion changes. The denominations between and within modern religions interests me; the smaller sects. The Australian government recently approved a high school course where the students meet a rabbi in a synagogue, an imam in the mosque, experience a Buddhist retreat, 5 religions in all, and gain an understanding. I did not get such a course when I was in high school, I wish I had – and I would like to teach that course. Israel has a really unique mix of religions and a broad range of people, and I am especially looking forward to the Jerusalem trip. That city is really a mosaic of spirituality. I am looking forward to going to the Western Wall tunnels and the water tunnels in ancient Jerusalem.

AZ: How do you find your experience so far?

RD: It has been great. I think I am hooked on excavation. I thought I would find the digging element draining, but I love the labor. My work in the field this week has already cleared up misnomers of how excavations work. Hopefully I can bring that into the classroom as a teacher in 2.5 years time [when I graduate]. I definitely want to come back next year. In fact I am enjoying this so much, from now I am already saving for next year!

AZ: Rachael, you have been here less than a week. Can you identify any difference in your perspective or understanding you did not have a week ago?

RD: My thought about archaeology was that if you find anything ancient, it must be very valuable. It is so interesting to me to discover the reality. We have been digging in topsoil where there is a mix of periods. And we are following scientific guidelines in the execution and recording. It is so specific and strict about what you find, how you are digging, the techniques, that a beautiful piece of ancient pottery out of the excavation square is useless, blasé. This strict scientific discipline I was not expecting. We have pottery thousands of years old not in context deemed useless. I learned from this that context is everything, really everything when it comes to archaeology. The pottery can be great, but if it does not tell you about time, place, date, if it does not add information to that level, it is useless.

AZ: I must mention that despite that, even such a piece brought into the classroom is highly effective educationally. So, what else do you hope to achieve on this trip?

RD: I am looking forward to getting to see more of the country. And the people here have been so nice and patient in tackling Hebrew, which will help me in my studies and teaching.

AZ: What else have you learned?

RD: I find many aspects in which Israel is similar to Australia. There are a lot of misnomers I heard from people who have not been here. I was told I would have to walk around really covered up, wearing a head scarf everywhere. They were very wrong.

I discovered that you can travel to the other side of the world and meet people passionate about same things you are. I love that this excavation program is international. I have had really intensive conversations with the other volunteers and students about their cultures, religious beliefs, and governments. The program really works.