Day at the Dig


Square J17, looking down the valley.

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Archeology is sometimes like gardening. There’s the trowel and gardening gloves for moving around dirt. Taught yarn marks everyone’s carefully measured out plot (my group’s is called square J17). The square is weeded before digging. Growing among the weeds are big, juicy onions. Hoes and little hatchets make nice rows (balks) where the square ends. Soil charts are used to see what the dirt is made of, and observations of moisture and consistency are made.

However, sometimes archeology is not like gardening. The people who used and lived around what is now square J17 built walls made of heavy basalt and limestone that crumbled into our square. Pick-axes are a common tool for chopping through compacted soil and the hoes are used more like brooms to sweep up stones and broken pottery to be sifted. The onions are not edible, they are actually semi-toxic and their juices will give you a rash. As you walk carefully to the dump pile, barely holding on to a poisonous onion, you look up and see the Hulla Valley, a place where people travelled, farmed, and saw the massive temple on the Tel that we now call Omrit.


Tessarae Mosaic from a site not far from Omrit.

It is a beautiful place, surrounded by wildflowers and a fox family that visits regularly. Below are the fields; vast orchards of apricot, pomegranate, and peach. Fields of sunflowers stretch past pastures where cows are grazing. In the square you can hear and see and feel all the life around you. After the picking and hoeing, digging up ancient history is sometimes an artful task and it’s easy to be inspired by the finds. The almost perfect cubes of tesserae used for mosaics, broken pottery and glass, and other small artifacts are little prizes to be found in each bucket. I like to imagine, especially the mosaics, centuries ago and the way they must have looked in your home, and felt on your feet, and the craftsmanship that went into them.