Early mornings beat
hot sun and shadows while the
sunrise looks divine
This is our last week in the field. All the squares are coming along nicely, and many are preparing for final photos. Final photos require each square to be totally cleaned, which is an interesting process because everything is made of dirt and covered in more dirt. The task is to clean the dirt from the dirt. But as we clean, we begin to notice small things that we couldn’t have seen at first. Trenches and missing pebbles- maybe there was a wall here? A layer of plaster- what was the floor like? Thousands (literally thousands) of cubed tesserae- was there a mosaic?
After digging, we head back for pottery washing. As many of the squares have hit bedrock and are not finding much pottery, the task is short. (Shout out to Square J17 for washing all the pottery today!!) People staying at the Kibbutz for holiday are interested in our project, and they ask us questions about the site as we wash pottery in the yard. Hiking groups come by to visit while we are excavating, and the fit outdoors people of northern Israel go for long bike rides up the hills behind the site. The work goes by fast, the gnats have went away, and we know what to look for in our squares to help us figure out what was happening there hundreds of years ago.
As the trip goes by, we are doing more and more excursions. We visited Gamla, an ancient city on a cliff wedged between two valleys. It overlooks the Sea of Galilee and Griffin Vultures fly by. In Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee is always close by and the restaurants offer an amazing variety of food from fish to lamb to schwarma. In Zippori/ Sepphoris, the empty aqueducts showcase an exciting caving-like experience and horses graze on the grasses around the site. Inside the ruins, fantastically preserved mosaics show the history of the Nile River and magnificent scenes of battles and creatures. We are getting excited for our big trips to Akko and Jerusalem, and are looking forward to looking at the finished product of our squares soon!
Haiku Week Two
The Tel’s secret springs
have seen the dessert flourish.
Drink tea, eat peaches.
hoes picks shovels sift
glass bones shards from the past
to find friends right here
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.
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.
Every day we return to the Kibbutz, our home for the month, and bring out the pottery shards we found. Gallons of broken pottery pieces, all different sizes (but larger than a thumbnail) are covered in centuries of dirt and mineral buildup. Each shard tells an important story as to who lived in Omrit centuries ago, what they did there, and where they may have come from. We all grab a bucket of these dishes and begin scrubbing. It’s a big task, but goes fast. As you scrub the Romans’ and Byzantines’ dirty dishes, you discover small designs and the dirt-covered pottery shards become handles to pots and cups, the lip of a bowl, or the end of a Turkish pipe.