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!


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!

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,
And our home university is the Institut protestant de théologie, in Paris, “

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…

Day 13 – Catching Up

The fast day of Tisha B’Av slowed our writing pace, so let’s just happily announce that architectural features have been found in every area, and hints of destruction floor spaces seem to be coming to light. At the top of the hill Ido Koch’s area has produced 200 finds from the floor area, with wet sifting required, and recording details which demand the complete attention of the total station manned by Surveyor  Shatil. GIS work will then be able to reproduce the installations and objects on the floor and recreate this massive structure commanding the hilltop.

The vast amounts of pottery being “read” and interpreted each day is gradually leading to conclusions about the buildings and fortifications coming to light on three sides of the hill, but area leaders are wisely reserving judgment. About 1000 objects so far are boxed and bagged and will require research and lab work, according to Leora Freud, with 3-4 inscriptions of different types.

From tomorrow I will begin to take a little break from digging to briefly visit each section myself, which will help me share news with you. Pictures are steadily coming to our facebook page – have a look!

On Friday  we were honored by a visit form the Australian Ambassador,  and new faces are here this week, mostly from Germany led by Prof. Manfred Oeming, with a touch of South Africa and elsewhere. All told about 300 volunteers will work here this season.



Day Ten: Azekah East Paydirt!

It started as a regular day. In most sections work continues, areas are expanding. On top Ido is expanding the area of the building he found and reaching more walls and floor area with objects, including a series of “rollers” which so far we know of no parallel. Everyone else is happy with progress and think they are finding walls and floors.

After days of digging in modern fill, and removing layers of rocks showing more rocks– some stones appeared in a line on the slope of Azekah East up in Parker’s  section. Oded looked at the hillside and suggested that there should be a continuation. We scraped off a section of hill. Paydirt! This dig has found ancient fortifications!!!!

Now we start to uncover them…

Tomorrow is the weekly tour of the whole site with the whole group, joined by Socho (who have enjoyed great finds in the last two days).

Stay tuned!!

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!