Days 18-19 The World Around Us

“We have achieved 250 percent of what we expected.” “What you have here in Area E- Azekah East- would satisfy me for the end of the season. Here we are with three weeks still to go!” Comments like these by Prof. Oded Lipschits in the past few days give a taste of the way we feel.

I write these words in the dig office surrounded by stamped jug handles, animal bones, weights, coins, and other objects, and an army of Survivor iPads recording the myriad details of the dig: What was in this defined area- locus, what was above, what was below it, around it, what were the special finds in them and at what height were they found so that scholars decades from now will be able to accurately retrace, understand, and argue about conclusions, and find parallels to explain their own dig.

Usually we dig incrementally. In Azekah we also dig excrementally. I do not mean to be crude, but listen:

On top of the tel in Area T, an ancient building was sliced through; a very deep cut that took days to clear out. We thought we finally hit a trench made by Bliss and Macalister 110 years ago, but it did not seem as wide as their descriptions of their work. The archaeologist working with parks visited and explained it was a latrine pit of the Israeli army in the 1960s!

Secondly, last Thursday Haim Semach, an experienced builder, looked around to see where an embarrassing smell came from, and no one claimed responsibility. He began to suspect it was coming from the ground. Not meaning a pun, but it is a double entendre, he told the archaeologist., “I smell something here!” ” Go for it!” In Haim’s language that means full force! Within five minutes an opening appeared. And for three days now Omer’s group in the Lower South terrace has been following what he started- there was refuse in an underground area, around and under big boulders, whose nature is still unclear. Omer has been blessed with some of our heaviest hands on the pickaxe and axe.

I have been doing an area by area review as a record of the dig, and have received comments to keep posts short. Let me know your thoughts.

My post title means that in all the areas walls and even some destruction layer floors have appeared that should permanently change the sights visitors will enjoy and enrich the historical record. This is a wonderfully auspicious beginning.

New volunteers have joined us and Bob Cargill traced 14 languages on site this morning. Watch for that video tomorrow!

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Day 17 Archaeology in Word and Image by Sanna Miller

The following poem and photographs are by Area S-2 excavator and University of Iowa student Sanna Miller, who reflected on the Azekah excavation thus far.

Buckets. Photo by Sanna Miller
Buckets. Photo by Sanna Miller
Bucket line. Photo by Sanna Miller
Bucket line. Photo by Sanna Miller
Buckets. Photo by Sanna Miller
Buckets. Photo by Sanna Miller
Daybreak. Photo by Sanna Miller
Daybreak. Photo by Sanna Miller
Hoeing. Photo by Sanna Miller
Hoeing. Photo by Sanna Miller
Roots. Photo by Sanna Miller
Roots. Photo by Sanna Miller
Direction. Photo by Sanna Miller
Direction. Photo by Sanna Miller
Azekah morning. Photo by Sanna Miller
Azekah morning. Photo by Sanna Miller
First light. Photo by Sanna Miller
First light. Photo by Sanna Miller
Square. Photo by Sanna Miller
Square. Photo by Sanna Miller
Buckets. Photo by Sanna Miller
Buckets. Photo by Sanna Miller

Our heavy bodies pull themselves into somewhat standing positions as the sky sings four a.m. We make our way to the coffee to the bus to the site to the day.
Like flotsam rolling in from the sea we trudge from the bottom to the top.
And the sound of squeaking plastic rings all round as shade nets prepare the site for the coming sun.  Equipment shuffles and voices scuffle and as we await the arrival of a light, I close my eyes and gain a sort of satisfaction from this standing sleep.  But a satisfaction like this can only last so long before the voice of Omer caws, ‘Okay friends, it’s time to dig.  Yalla.’
Before descending into my square I look to the sky and see that it has changed from dark to light in a matter of moments. Never will I look to a sky and see the beauty that I see here in these early morning hours. Long before the birds come out to coo, long before the motor cars screech and snort, long before he and she and they and them open their eyes good morning, these hours are ours.
While dawn turns to day a chronological time lapse takes us down deeper and deeper, and while we search for the past, we find a way to treasure the present, to understand the future.
We are staring into a life we never knew.  We are standing in the afterbirth of history and the life it never left.  So we seek.

Sanna Miller
August 3, 2012
Tiberias, Israel


Thanks to Sanna for beautiful reflections in both word and pictures on her time at Azekah!

University of Iowa poet Sanna Miller
University of Iowa poet and photographer, Sanna Miller

Day 16 Revelations

Well, the cumulative effort of weeks is showing. A water cistern or water system was detected in Omer’s section close to closing time and will be explored more tomorrow, and maybe for days. A riddle was solved: Why were there Byzantine coins in mud bricks of what was apparently an Iron Age structure? The mud brick wall washed down and later material got stuck in it. This can be seen in the section- the clear cut of the excavation square side. So the wall is indeed from the biblical period.

A gate in the wall my be visible in Keren’s upper southern section. On the west a series of walls and floor and mud brick walls have been found all over the hillside, and seems to be Iron Age or earlier. On top of the hill more and more finds appear, today including great coins. And in the east, we are opening up more areas as some kind of built system or system are being revealed by painstaking slow work.

Future visitors to Azekah will definitely gain from seeing some of these structures dating between 1500 and 3700 years ago and associating them with the historical events and texts.

We have new volunteers from Heidelberg and other German universities, England, and elsewhere. CoDirector Prof. Manfred Oeming’s presence has started to be felt.

Tomorrow the weekly tour visits Socho who finished their first season today.

On our Facebook and Youtube sites you can see a great video Bob Cargill filmed when a lemelekh MMST jar handle came out of a wall and Omer Sergey took the time to explain it.  Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5I9dJZ9fTk

French views on Azekah’s expedition

French views on Azekah’s expedition
“Four French students taking part in the dig? We want your thoughts on how it’s going!”
Well, we attended the first two weeks of the dig, and now that we are back in France, here are our answers… without our French accent and rudeness, but still, with honesty!
First we want to thank everyone for their kindness… We even find our supervisors cute!
Our favorite times in the day were the breakfast and the beer after dinner and the lecture in the evening (the food was great, we are impressed). Digging itself was fun, when the sun was not too hot!
We have mixed feelings about the guest lectures and the mid-week tours: for some of us, it’s too much (the schedule is pretty intense), for others, it’s very interesting to have multiple views on how to excavate, how to do archeological research, how to focus on various aspects of the area, and so on.
Our worse moments? Bringing the tools to the digging areas and back, the sporadic WiFi, the warmth during the last hours of the dig… But those are only details, we actually are very thankful to the staff for their incredible work.
We already are trying to plan to come next season.
Camille, David, Guilhem and Sophie
If you read french, please have a look at our blog, http://ipt-azeka.blogspot.com
And our home university is the Institut protestant de théologie, in Paris, http://iptheologie.fr “

Day 15 A Scorcher

We moved out as usual and I was first up on the hill of the volunteers. As they day went on the “oven” got hotter  – our Eastern section and Ido’s top section shut down early and we went back to base camp to wash pottery instead. Once again the consideration for the wellbeing of the people is exemplary. But I am happy to report that more walls appeared on the eastern slopes!

More buckets of destruction layer material came out from both the top of the hill and the south side, and bits and pieces of the puzzles are coming together. As more squares are opening and the digging deepens, the chances of interpretation increase.

Excitement in the office –  3D modeling is being prepared and when properly mapped the archaeologists can use it to analyze and predict where to dig. It seems the paths up the hill to ancient Azekah may be identified, which can for example indicate where to look for a city gate. More on this later.

British rabbis-in-training visited. Curator Leora Freud explained artifacts like a stamped jar handle, a sheqel weight, grinding stones and the like, and why bone and charcoal analysis are important.  Then we went out to Lachish and Azekah and they “got the picture.” They wanted to “feel the text in their bones” before going out to teach. Dr. Raphael Zarum of the London School of Jewish Studies was there and was most pleased- he is familiar with the Lachish relief from Sennacheriv’s palace in the British Museum, but had never been to Lachish. The group saw walls first uncovered only hours before! The program was organized by Rabbi Mark Daniels.

Tarah Van De Wiele’s Azekah Top 10!

 Thank you for such an amazing experience which I cannot wait to have again!
My Azekah top 10:1. Sunrise witnessed from the Tel every morning. Why is sunrise so much more amazing when you are digging a hole in the ground? 2. Work that is so hard I actually never thought about my thesis. Impossible. 3. I found things in the dirt almost immediately. Instant gratification! 4. Staring at the ground while the metal detector picks up….love that moment. 5. A banquet for royals that happened to be our breakfast every morning–thank you! 6. The energy and spirit of the team–you are wonderful. 7. Hebrish. 8. Air con in the cabins. Air con in the class room. Air con on the bus. Bless you. 9. Being hopelessly filthy within 10 minutes is liberating. 10. Being in and among all walks of ancient Near Eastern studies on an archaeological dig is an inspiring example for all of the academy. Shalom! Tarah Van De Wiele

Day 14 Full Swing

As Omer says, “My area was a gamble.” Boy did it pay off! A destruction layer from the Middle Bronze Age, over 3500 years ago, with pots and ovens on the floor. And those pots have materials in them which can be analyzed on the lab! Not only that,  structures of mud bricks, boulders, and floors are all around. Many questions need to be answered! Right above him Keren’s team has uncovered several rows of walls which may end up connecting, and floors may be appearing. Boaz’s team stretches over a very, very steep slope, and has built a Grand Concourse from top to bottom. Mud brick walls seemed to be appearing as I walked by.

On top, Ido’s team continues to find dozens of objects on a destruction floor layer. One sweet item today was a pinched stopper of a storage jar, which curator Leora says she never saw the likes of before. Dozens of buckets are being wet sifted and material is being sent to the lab.

Finally, in our eastern section, all along the slope walls are appearing. We may have identified a defense tower, with an adjacent floor, or that floor may be itself an earlier fortification.

Guest today included Tzvika Tzuk, archaeologist of the National Parks Authority, and JJ Wernick with his bar mitzva son Ariel Zvi and entourage.

Azekah is coming out to shine…