Breakfast!!!

This one word is definitely the second best part of my day.  The first would have to be the way the sun rises over the mountains in the morning.  Another addition to my awesome mornings is how the big bright moon settles above the temple.  It’s all so peaceful and quite as we begin to set out our squares and begin pickaxing and hoeing away the dirt to uncover the past.  Though waking up at 4 am isn’t the easiest thing in the world, the way the sun rises makes my entire day.

Now, to focus on breakfast.  My breakfast usually consists of cucumbers, tomatoes, bread and sometimes eggs, depending on if they are brought out to the site or not.  If you know me I absolutely love vegetables.  Yet, having these food items every day for over two weeks now, it doesn’t have that same flare like it use to.  I recently called my mother to tell her about my adventures and how much fun I’ve been having since I came here and I made sure to tell her one thing I don’t want when I come home.  A list that contains these food items: cucumbers, tomatoes, bread, eggs, and chicken,  lots of chicken for lunch and dinner.  In all, my mornings have been great, unless it’s over 100 degrees out, but like I said, the way the sun rises and how the moon is positioned.  I’d have to say it’s the best way to start any day.

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Old as the Stones

 

 

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Our visit to the market’s of Akko was a truly surreal experience. It took some time for the reality to hit home, but when it did, it landed with full force.

It is remarkable to see how completely similar the bazaar is today to what it was almost 1000 years ago. We are walking between buildings built through all periods between the Crusaders and modern-day, and the atmosphere, the smells, the sounds have likely hardly changed in all those centuries.

The coffee merchant still sits, perhaps in the same place, hawking beans from Saudi Arabia, India, Eastern and North Africa, the rich aromatic mixture rising from the large burlap sacks.

The assorted fish salesmen who wave yesterday’s catch out to you, offering deals and cheap prices on Mediterranean cod and eel. The stink of viscera and old fish fills the air as you walk past their stall.

On to a cloth woman and jeweler who promise that they have the best deals, only the finest of metals and cashmere. They insist that their scarves are handmade from the nearby Druizic village.

Next you see a baker and small restaurant sunk into the recesses of an old Islamic era wall, serving fresh squeezed juices, roast meats, homemade humus, and fresh-baked pita.

All these unchanged, familiar sights are joined by the new style of merchant, selling cheap, disposable plastic toys and knickknacks. Bad watches and knock-off electronics. The bright, neon of their storefronts clash harshly with the traditional, rougher stores.

This garish clash of old and new is very representative of the great shift ongoing within local culture. The garish clash of new and old creates a beautiful mosaic of the senses, creating an experience quite unlike any other I had yet to experience in my life and will likely not experience again for quite some time.

All of you reading this know that we at Omrit have spent the past four weeks digging ancient Roman garbage out of the ground, but probably not everyone understands what we do with it and how exactly it helps us to answer our research questions. When I say “garbage” I mean that literally – most of we we have dug through in L21 are layers of fill that were poured in during different stages of construction, so they are composed of whatever the settlement was throwing away at that time. Mostly this is comprised of pottery sherds, animal bones, and glass sherds, with lamp fragments and coins being less common. Pottery is the largest of this by volume, with each square normally collecting at least one bucket’s worth every day, which is then washed, dried, and read, and the reading normally results in a large pile of local cookware, a sizable collection of large ceramic storage, and a few pieces of finer tableware. While the body sherds (pieces that broke off the middle of a ceramic jug) do not relate much about the vessel beyond it’s style, the diagnostic sherds (which include rims, feet, and handles) can be used to identify the specific vessel they came from by cross-referencing it with diagrams of intact ceramic found elsewhere.
Lamp works much the same way, though the body sherds are more helpful to identifying the type. All this ceramic is invaluable to dating the loci of each square and identifying time frames of occupation. Since we are working mostly in fill layers and everything is in secondary or tertiary usage, the pottery we find is already decades old when it was placed, but usually there will be just enough material contemporaneous to the building layer in which in was dumped to allow us to date the locus by the latest datable material. For instance, one of L21’s loci had pottery sherds from the mid-second century, but also contained lamp fragments in a style from the third century, so we knew that the material was dumped in the early third century and was already almost a century old by that time. In an architecture-heavy sight like Omrit, the ability to date our structures through pottery is imperative to understanding the different phases of construction. Another useful artifact in terms of establishing time periods are coins, when we are lucky enough to find some and they are in good condition. Coins are especially helpful to answering historical and historiographical questions because they can provide data on specific dates, imperial iconography, trading patterns, etc. Since practically all the coins we find at Omrit are bronze and have corroded, they have to be cleaned before they can be read. To do this they undergo a process called electrolysis, in which an electrical current is run through saltwater, and essentially peels layers of rust off the coin. Coins found at Omrit have been helpful in dating the street and colonnade we’ve been excavating, and the evidence from these indicates lots of activity at the site during the third century. 

Digging Some Dirt! (Overview)

This Archaeological Field School has been one of the most enlightening experience that I have had in all of my academic years. It’s not just the interdisciplinary elements that are involved in this excavation, but it’s more of the hands on experience and the participation in uncovering artifacts such as pottery, bone, tesserae, glass, and metal. One’s man trash is another man’s treasure. Every time I found one of those artifacts I couldn’t help but try to reconstruct the moment in time that they either dumped it or left it behind. I know it’s impossible to do that, but trying to situate it in its context really helps put what we are working on into perspective. The relationships that I made with the rest of the group were also important in my learning process. More importantly, I become friends with my fellow Bennies and Johnnies who I knew nothing about before this trip. Now we have this wonderful experience that we will always share and cherish. Needless to say I am very much dreading saying goodbye to the other students because they are honestly the most intellectual and dedicated archaeologists that I have ever met. Not that I’ve met many, but I just know from the way that they speak about archaeology and the experience that they have had in previous archaeological sites that they are passionate and determined to dig some dirt for a living and have fun doing it.

Omrit & the Classroom

Most of the people at Omrit are history, classics, or archaeology majors. Looking at my biography on this site you can see that I am none of the above. I am an elementary education major. If this is the case what am I doing on an archaeological dig you may ask. With the knowledge I have gained about ancient and modern Israel I hope to give my students a better education. One that others in my field might not be able to. When I was in grammar school I believed that history as a whole was similar to mythology. The things we learned were simply stories created to explain things, in this case the past. As my schooling continued I learned that this was not the case since we have pieces of literature that survived time and explain what was happening to some extent. From there I learned that remains of civilizations also help to understand the past. Before this last semester of college with Jason Schlude however I had a skewed view of how these things worked together. They aren’t as exact as one might hope since writers have their own reasons for writing and cultural history takes years to fully understand. This then adds up to years and years of work for even the smallest amount of information to be proven correct. In my classrooms I can then pass this understanding on using Omrit as a concrete example so that my students can decide if they wish to join this battle for a better understanding of history. This is why an elementary educator has come to Omrit.

Omrit in a Regional Society

Blog Post: In the past two weeks, we’ve been able to tour other sites around Omrit, including Banias (AKA Caesaria Phillipi), Bet Sh’ean, Nimrod, Sepphoris, and Caesaria Maritima. While these sites with the exception of Nimrod, a medieval fortress, developed simultaneously with Omrit, there are marked differences in their design and content. Bet Sh’ean and Caesaria Maritima contrast especially. Metropolitan centers of the near-eastern Roman provinces, these are two massive sites organized in the style of the Roman polis – the major social and economic areas including theatres, colonnades, baths, and temples are zoned in a centralized area. This style of municipal organization was widely encouraged under Roman governance not only because it was a structure that was easy for them to govern over (power being concentrated in one regional epicenter) but also because it most easily accommodated the communal space that was defining of the Roman lifestyle. Shopping along the colonnade, attending plays or lectures in the amphitheatre, and going to the bath house for recreation, conversation, and relaxation were activities that all Romans engaged in, and as their influence spread across the Mediterranean and Asia Minor these structures became markers of Roman status – basically, to let everyone know that these were high class cities. The more ostentatious these buildings were, the more a city could boast of its economic power and ties to certain emperors. Since Bet Sh’ean and Caesaria Maritima were both Decapolis cities, and Caesaria Maritima especially was built from the ground up by Herod the Great to show off for Augustus, it follows that these cities contain all the amenities and structure of a Roman polis. 

Amphitheatre at Caesaria Maritima

Walking around the colonnade at Bet Sh’ean


Omrit, on the other hand, is not even close to being on par with the Decapolis cities. While Omrit does house a temple complex excavated in previous seasons as well as the colonnade we are currently working to fully uncover, and seems to have been a stopping point on the nearby Damascus road, it was clear from these tours that our site is unlikely to contain most of the metropolitan elements found in Bet Sh’ean or Ceasaria Maritima. Even if there was a bath house or an amphitheatre at Omrit, it would have been much smaller and less impressive and certainly not on the scale of the colosseum at Bet She’an. Even the closest site to Omrit, Banias, can at least boast the palace of Agrippa II, who renamed the area Caesaria Phillipi, in addition to the Cave of Pan and the closely associated Tomb-Temple of the Sacred Goats. While the temple at Omrit does appear to have been an impressive structure and one that would have dominated the view of the Hula Valley, there is no epigraphical or literary evidence regarding to whom the temple was dedicated, whereas inscriptions mentioning Pan and Echo clearly identify cultic ties at Banias augmented by an account of the place from Josephus. 

So how does Omrit fit into this ancient landscape? To resolve this issue, it seems most helpful to contrast our site to Sepphoris. While we have excavated only a very small portion of what we believe to be an expansive area at Omrit, we do know that: 

 -There appears to be a Neolithic site on Tel Azazi, overlooking our current dig site, which indicates that Omrit was occupied long before the Romans got there.

 -The temple was built in three phases, the most drastic change between which occurred somewhere around the Herodian era. The scale of the construction of Temple I also dictates that it was expensive, and funded by somebody with pretty deep pockets. 

 -Many olive presses and reverse decantation tanks for the production of olive oil have been found on-site. 

 -The bulk of the pottery found at Omrit is of local Banias and Hawaritt styles. 

With this in mind, it seems that Omrit was a long-standing settled area with a mostly local, agrarian economy. The majority of its trading was done in or around Caesaria Phillipi, which is only a few kilometers away, and was a much more modest settlement than Caesaria. The only outlier to this theory is the presence of the temple. 

Sepphoris started out very similarly to Omrit, established in the fifth century BCE, and did not contain any notable buildings until the city was named the capital of the province by Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, at which point Sepphoris was re-organized as a Roman polis. No such reorganization happened around Caesaria Phillipi, despite the construction of Agrippa’s palace. So how does this affect Omrit? Since Caesaria Phillipi was never reconstructed as a polis, some of our directors theorize that Omrit is actually part of that city, a kind of suburb that was later integrated into the city. It would have been one of many such villages surrounding Caesaria Phillipi itself, which would have served as the major metropolitan center. This theory also helps explain the puzzle of an impressive temple being constructed in the middle of nowhere, because it integrates Omrit into a wider regional society. If this theory is right, it might even give us a clue as to whom the temple was dedicated: Josephus wrote that Herod the Great built three temples for the emperor Augustus and Roma – one at Caesaria Maritima, one the location of which is unknown, and one at Caesaria Phillipi. While there are remains of a temple at Caesaria Phillipi that archaeologist in the past speculated might have been the temple mentioned by Josephus, the layout is very awkward and restricted in size, hemmed in by the cliff and the Cave of Pan. The dating and structure of the temple at Omrit, on the other hand, seem to me to be pretty spot-on and a much better candidate. So we could be excavating around a famous Augustan temple, which is pretty cool. 

*The historical information in this post is from lectures by dig directors Jason Schlude, Ben Reuben, and Michael Nelson, and “Sepphoris, Capitol of the Galilee” by Zeeb Weiss. 

History in Israel

As a historian, it is extremely gratifying simply being in the same location that history has taken place and thinking about the centuries of history beneath my feet. It is one thing to read about this history (which is fine because that’s important as well), but it is another thing to physically be there and reconstruct that environment and think about what that social interaction might have looked like over the course of various centuries. Israel presents an interesting part of history because of its location and its clashes with various empires. The site that we are located at in Israel presents that picture and so do the various sites that we visit on our days off. At our archaeological site, as well as my square in particular, I am able to see the degree of activity in that area and it allows me to get a better picture in head about how that activity might have taken place and how it has changed over time. This semester was my first time taking a course on ancient history and it was on the Roman Empire. I learned crucial history that was going to help me better understand the site at Omrit and it has allowed me to better understand modern Israel. I knew the extent of activity that the Romans had in this region and how it was important to their empire, not just economically and politically, but how much of an influence they held culturally. But I didn’t really understand it all that well until I visited those sites.

The various archaeological/ historical sites that we have visited thus far show that influence and that widespread influence. For example, our first site was at Banias, or the Hermon Stream, and I was able to see the extent that Herod and his son Agrippa II had in that territory. That territory was given to them by the Romans and eventually Agrippa built a palace. However, during the 4th century Byzantine period it was re-purposed as a bathhouse (below). Then during the Crusades it was fought for and control of the territory transferred from the Muslims to the Crusaders.        20160604_132409.jpg          Another interesting location that ties in with this Crusader history was Nimrod’s Fortress built during the Middle Ages. It was a strategic location that controlled one of the main roads from Tyre to Damascus. It was built by al-‘Aziz ‘Othman the nephew of Salah a-Din in 1227 and was completed in 1230. It was expanded over the years by different builders and it overlooked the Hula Valley which made it completely defensible from all sides (below).

20160608_150905.jpg           Zippori was once a bustling community that went through various historical changes. It was conquered by Pompeii in 63 BCE and was passed on to Herod the Great. Herod had to fight for the territory and it was made the capital of Galilee until 4 BCE when the Jews revolted against the Romans and captured it. This victory was short-lived once the Romans came in and recaptured it and burned it to the ground. It was also used during the Byzantine period through the Crusader period.

However, my favorite site so far has got to be Caesarea Maritima because of its major influence and activity of Roman culture. Herod completely renovated and re-purposed the port city to match the lavishness of Rome and in fact Herod named it after Augustus Caesar. The city eventually became the headquarters of the Roman administration of “Palestine” as they named the region. The most impressive parts of this city, to me, are the theater and the amphitheater. To think, that I was standing in the center of Roman entertainment that included chariot races and gladiatorial combats, was beyond exciting. I could never have imagined myself being in that position. The aqueducts were also an amazing feat and impressive construction. But their control of water was what made them civilized and that more important to the city. Also fascinating was to rethink about the conflict between the Jew and gentiles,as well as the historical Jewish revolts.thumbnail_ATT00001 (1).jpg

I got to see these structures and the time & space that they occupy across the land and throughout history which is extremely amazing, to say the least.