Our first Aussie words!

From: Andrew Pleffer <andrew.pleffer@gmail.com>

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.

Shatil Speaks: An Overview of Week One

Shatil Emmanuilov is the archaeological surveyor of Tel Azekah. While his colleagues are square managers, Shatil supports them all by taking measurements and helping record the excavation as it descends lower and lower in each section. This is most important to properly understanding the historical layers and architecture that is uncovered. As a roving reporter, so to speak, Shatil has a broader perspective than those of us “in the trenches”.

At the barbecue he looked relaxed and happy. I asked Shatil to review the first week:

It was great and the volunteers are fantastic.

It is great because in every single section we are engaged in actual archaeology and archaeological analysis.

There are floors and walls.

Boaz in Western Azekah has walls. Ido on top has a wall.  Keren in Upper South has a wall. Omer in Lower South has a wall. and in Efrat’s Eastern area you have walls which have us thinking.

Pottery is a great aid to dating, but it is architecture, the actual house, fortification, palace, which is the object of reality we are looking for and seek to understand. That is coming to light all over.

Thus spake Shatil. Very encouraging.

Boaz Gross told me he has Middle Bronze, Late Bronze and Iron Age finds and that his volunteers “are super, are angels, each and every one of them.

Keep it up team!

Fourth Day

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,


Meet Our Diggers: Gili Kuperberg

Gili Kuperberg

Gili Kuperberg
Age 25
From: Kiryat Ono
First year student at TAU

AZ: Gili, what got you started in archaeology?

GK: From childhood I was always intersted in history- National Geographic, programs. I did not get any of this in school- my pursuit was on my own.

AZ: How did you get to this excavation? And to Tel Aviv University?

GK: After school I served in the Israeli army by running the intelligence service’s helpdesk. It was very consuming and very enjoyable. They would tell me, “Go home! There is a tomorrow!” I worked for 2.5 years as the service desk in an insurance company, helping the agents in the field.

AK: You are just starting your university education now?

GK: My mother told me she did not feel learning archaeology was in my best interests.  She felt other pursuits had a clearer purpose in society, and would safeguard earning a living. I told her, “Mom, I have no interest in those things, I will only be able to devote myself to history and archaeology, and I will pay for my education myself.”

So I went to work and indeed am paying my tuition and expenses myself, though I still live at home.  I packed my schedule with classes this year while I can still afford to sit and study – and I am loving it. Perhaps next year I will take fewer classes and also work, we shall see.

AK: What are your particular interests?

GK: Ancient Egypt always fascinated me  – the mummies, the buildings, the culture . So I am taking the archaeology and the cultural tracks with Egypt as my main focus, while also learning Akkadian and other subjects. Our teachers at Tel Aviv University are crazy about their subjects;  like, you can never say that …’s class is boring, never ever, it is such a performance.

AK: So you are in it for the long term?

GK: I cannot see it any other way. For a Master’s degree you must be fluent in another language, and my parents really “live” in Yiddish, so I thought I would learn German. But my grandmother and I used to speak Yiddish together , and she passed away. I miss her, and have no one to speak Yiddish with regularly now.

AK: How are you fitting in socially in a much broader environment than your home town and your home, and without old friends who are sharing your dreams and studies?

GK: I was concerned about that when I came. After a short while I found myself with many new friends and well integrated. It is wonderful.

AK: How is the dig going?

GK: I absolutely love it, I am thrilled to be digging in Azekah.

AK: Gili, a bi gezundt! Your enthusiam is contagious.

Third Day

People are sinking into their squares and their work flow, and developing sensitivity and skills. Mine so far is sandbag filling and placement. I hope to open a company servicing the industry. More important  is the sensitivity  of the people excavating with pickaxe, trowel and brush who notice the color of the earth or the consistency of the earth changing, and alerting the square manager. This results in changing the locus number, signifying another layer of history is being encountered, or at least changing the “basket number” (we now use plastic buckets, but we still use the original term of a century ago) for the finds/pottery coming up. Young Elah Gadot, Director Yuval Gadot’s daughter, was part of the team in our area that said, “This is harder packed than before.”

A variety of finds and architecture are starting to appear.  Late Bronze pottery in one area, Middle and Late Bronze cooking ware and a sling bullet in another, a second sheqel weight, charcoal and bone in another, an interesting decorated piece looking like an animal, datable organic material, imported Greek ware, grinding stones, a nicely shaped pestle made from a local soft stone, a floor of kurkar sandstone someone shlepped some distance to install, walls connected to fortifications just starting to reveal themselves, and more – I see I have to write down notes when I get the “exit polls” to retain it all.  The destruction layer identified on the top is coming along nicely – and this was the area of the greatest gamble.

We hope to have you meet the various excavation leaders as we go, like Boaz who has his wife and baby Gideon here in the office cooing. Our “Meet the Diggers” feature will start today with the amazing Gili!

Azekah East experienced a twin series of crushed hopes in both upper and lower sections, which most of us found humorous, but were like first loves being lost for some of the old hands. In our lower section a wall appeared at the bottom of a hill and hopes began to be pinned on it, because everywhere along the slopes is fair game for ancient fortifications here, and their outlines can even be seen form the air. As we dug it became a “floating wall”, not connected to what was underneath. The professors came and took pictures, the surveyor came and drew it, it was cleaned and double checked that there was nothing under it – and permission was finally granted to dismantle it. As the first stone was pulled up, a crushed metal can became visible, which means- it ain’t Rehoboam’s walls!

The upper level was the heartbreaker. We were called up in the early morning to learn technique and diagnosis. The diggers noted the change in color in the earth. A swath of a smooth material appeared. Moreover, this was the deepest square of our current five squares, and everyone was eager to match their pace and worked harder all morning-useless, for Graham can out-dig everybody. this was also a time for social binding in the team, since at present we are physically separated by a hill slope.

Breakfast came and went, our scorpion count rose to 70, and six hours after beginning the day it was time for the “fruit” break – three kinds of popsicles. We again all sat together the upper section. Efrat and Parker exchanged looks,  and Parker accepted the task of telling us the truth. Working feverishly and enthusiastically on the floor, using brushes delicately to avoid damage, a spot of color appeared- an Osem brand snack wrapper at a depth of over  meter – expiration date, May 1988! Apparently the Jewish National Fund or the Park Authorities created a path on top of the tel 25 years ago, and pushed earth to the side. This literally changed the shape of the tel’s surface, and we are digging their construction fill! While we search for original maps, this may change our direction. Zero for two on ancient walls! Bummer!

As the heat wave continues, we again shut down early, and stopped heavy labor even earlier, moving lunch time up as well, and lengthening the rest period. The consideration for our well being is exceptional.

All the square leaders- Efrat, Omer, Boax, Ido, and Keren, are upbeat, pleased by the efforts of their teams, patient, and very optimistic.

Ido Koch yesterday was square leader from early morning to afternoon, organized and led to the tour to Tel es-Safi with Aren Maeir, organized the weekend tour, and gave a major lecture to the assembly in the evening on the Judean Foothills and ancient Judah. Whew!

The different communities represented here are organizing to share their thoughts and images on the Azekah mesh of this blog, Facebook, website, and YouTube, and communicate through the email account azekah.media@gmail.com. Watch for it soon!

Pottery washing and reading (identifying the type of pot and the period) begins now – gotta go!