Tuesday, September 30, 2008

James Nachtwey's TED Prize

James Nachtwey wants to show the power of news photography in the digital age. He's revealing a story worldwide, all at once, publicly and dramatically, on October 3. If you live in any of the relevant cities, I encourage you to go. Knowing TED, it will be worthwhile.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nimrod's Fortress

I realized that in my last post about my travels, I left out my favorite part of Day One of the Northern Excursion: Nimrod's Fortress. We visited it after Caesarea Phillipi and before we went swimming in the Sea of Galilee. Here is the account.

Pulling away from Caesarea Phillipi, we headed northward into the Golan. We wove up steep hills to our next site: a crusader castle perched upon a high crag - Nimrod's Fortress. This site was by far and away one of my favorites. The fortress is enormous, covering the entire hilltop. A secret passageway plummets and twists from within the walls to an exit near a cliff outside the north wall. Its vaulted ceilings echo dramatically, and out its slitted windows are sweeping views of the Hula Valley. The fortifications on the hilltop were massive, and became progressively moreso as we moved eastward toward the citadel. Halfway there, we came across the Octagonal Tower, which - you guessed it - we climbed, to find amazing views. (Incidentally, coming down from the tower, we ran into a family hiking past us. They were speaking in Hebrew, but the mother switched to English just to tell her kids why they were too well-behaved to climb the tower like those delinquents.)

At the citadel itself, we ran into Scott, who had been making some mischief of his own. I took his camera, and photographed him against a broad backdrop of mountains. He was climbing a ruined section of wall, and I was a good hundred meters away, on top of the citadel. When the time came to leave, I threaded my way back where I came; several of teh others, however, found a harrowing snake path down the eastern sde of the hill. Nimrod's Fortress easily provided us with the most rewarding opportunities to flout "No Climbing" signs.

Well, gosh, I bet this looks kinda familiar. (photo courtesy Scott Bierly)

Now You Can Know Too Much About My Life, Part 2

As some of you know, I now have Twitter.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On Guilt Trips and Procrastination

Gah! Alright already! There will be a post here by later today. I swear! On the grave of my great-aunt Trudy!

(I'm pretty sure I don't have one of those. And if I do... well, I'm sorry, Aunt Trudy. It's a big family. You never know.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I still have no Internet in my apartment.

So, I'm posting from work, and I haven't brought my pre-written blog posts here. I'll get them up here eventually, I promise.

I'm missing the dig already. I like being back in the States; things like "my own apartment" and "seeing my friends" are kinda nice. But I miss the excitement of being abroad. I miss dig folks, I miss hard work every day, I miss never knowing what I'm going to see. I guess I'll have to go back, huh?

The plan for today is to go fence! I haven't fenced in ages upon ages, but I ran into Matthias at the Pub the other night, and he offered to fence epee with me today. He'll have to rescue my gear from the clutches of the Crown, but that shouldn't be too hard. I've missed my blades... they're probably pretty rusty at this point, but then again, so am I. I'll let you all know how it goes, and whether I can still live up to that "D" ranking that I earned once upon a time.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Quick update

Back in the States, everyone! Alive and well. I don't have Internet at my apartment, so I'll be coming to you LIVE from the nearest Internet cafe whenever possible, until I can get the right wires plugged in at my home. I am going to finish the story, don't worry. I realized that I left out the trip to Nimrod's Fortress on day one, and it's all written and ready to be posted. Day Two is still in the works, but I've got a good chunk of it done. Following that, I just need to write up Jerusalem and Cairo. So, you've got a good chunk of Middle Eastern adventures still to come your way! Also, I'll be posting a lot more pictures.

I've heard from Mom that there have been rumblings that I should publish this account of my trip abroad. Honestly, that sounds like a fun idea, although I don't know if anyone would actually read it or be interested... I'd love to write this up in a much more in-depth fashion. As it is, you guys have gotten the pared-down version, because if I wrote every detail of what I saw, these posts would have taken me all night, every night. Anyway, if I do write more about the trip, particularly about the places I visited, I'll be sure to post it here. Keep reading!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Google is all in Hebrew again.

I have arrived at Ben Gurion International in Tel Aviv... five and a half hours before my flight starts checking in. Oh, well. Nothing for it but to keep working on the blog, but first I gotta scare off these kids that are surreptitiously checking out my laptop.


P.S. - The first "Northern Excursion" post is predated, so it will be below this one. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Northern Excursion: Days Zero and One

This will be a postdated... predated?... entry. I'm writing it on looseleaf as I sit at the Egyptian consulate in Eilat. My hands are shaking a little - you all know I'm shy at first, although the two men here have been incredibly accommodating. But I will get to my Cairo travel stories later. For now I'll catch you up on the final group excursion.

We said our goodbyes - I may never see Liz again - and left Kibbutz Lahav at 2:30 on Friday. We didn't stop along the way, but made straight for Tiberias (Tveria, in the Hebrew). Watching the landscape change as we moved northward was enthralling. I started out by trying to finish up Warriors of God, but found myself persistently staring out the window. In the Negev, we sat perched on yellow, sun-baked, dusty hills. Straw and chaff swirled up at every movement. As we traveled north, the hills steepened and became greener. The air became wetter. We drove past mountains on both sides, and cut through one of only two passes - used since ancient times - through the Mt. Carmel range. Past the mountains, the land again sank toward the rift valley, and the terrain looked more familiar - albeit far more verdant. The Sea of Galilee, like the Dead Sea, is below sea level. To the west are the same kinds of rolling hills I encountered in the Negev, interspersed with high tells. To the east, clearly visible as a steep cliff across the Sea of Galilee, are the Golan Heights and Jordan.

We reached our hotel in Tiberias at about 5:30. Tiberias is a stunning city. It reminded me a lot of Casares, with red-tiled roofs stairstepping up steep hills. At the bottom, however, Tiberias slopes directly into the glittering Galilee. From our hotel room, we could look out over the town to the steel-blue sea. Directly across from us was an expansive view of the Golan, and the Yarmuk River Valley which separates it from Jordan was visible a little to the south. The first night, there were no particular plans, so we took to the city on our own.

Before dinner, we all set out to explore a little bit and see what could be seen in the city. We all started out heading different directions, but ended up running into eachother near an old Islamic section of the city wall, with a locked-up castle nearby. Anna and I also found an abandoned school building, which we promptly climbed into via a broken window. The walls were covered in graffiti in every language, and we found an old Hebrew school book on the floor. At this point, we had to return to the hotel for dinner; but afterward, the bus brought us to the water's edge for a night out on the town.

Social groups in this particular dig situation have been pretty fluid, so associations drifted a bit as we wandered from bar to bar along the boardwalk. Ultimately, I ended up exploring with a number of people - notable free spirit Anna and ninja Scott among them. We came upon a plaza that looked out over the water, surrounded by a railing and bordered by basalt boulders in a tumble down to the water's edge. We immediately hopped the metal railing and clambered down the boulders in the dark, with the lights of the boardwalk shining out over our heads.

We goofed off for a while by the water, and then headed back up. After making a quick detour at the merry-go-round, we returned to our rendezvous point to discover that we had been left. Unfortunately, Neil appeared to have thought that making a point on the first night was a good idea, and we were the scapegoats. We were a little cheesed, but nobody wanted to give him the satisfaction, so we took a five-shekel ($1.60) cab ride back to the hotel and said very little about it.

The next day began bright and early, on the bus by 7:45. Our first stop was Tel Hazor. This was one of the four Biblical cities fortified by David. The city was originally Canaanite, and they have a cutout figure of a Canaanite defender looking toward the valley approach that Joshua would have taken to sack the city. The view from the top of the tell was impressive - rolling hills on every side. I never think so until I reach the top, but every tell is either the highest or one of the highest points in the surrounding area, and invariably commands an expansive and militarily advantageous view. The city was mud-brick and stone, and as is usually the case, a maze of twisting walls remained. We clambered through, studying the patterns in the architecture and looking at potsherds. The most impressive part of Tel Hazor, however, was the water tunnel.

You all should know by this point how I feel about cisterns and water tunnels. I love ancient civic architecture, because it's a striking sign of strong centralized governance. Hazor's tunnel, much like Beersheva's, descends steeply down a shaft to a massive cistern cut straight into the rock beneath the tell. Water was in the cistern, albeit not much; supposedly, the winter in Israel was bad this year.

Back on the bus, and on to our next stop. The ride was long enough that I could get a bit of a nap, but the place itself also woke me up considerably: Tel Dan. Not only is it a conserved archaeological site, it's a nature preserve filled with freshwater springs. I hadn't realized what a profound effect five weeks in the desert had created, but Tel Dan underscored the relative novelty of being surrounded by water. The environment was a complete shift: shade, greenery, and the sound of rushing streams touched off excitement in the same way that the rivers in Colorado used to do when I was seven. Again, Scott, Anna and I wandered away from the group. We didn't see much of the city of ancient Dan, apart from its massive outer walls, and we missed the shrine to the golden calf. Instead, we walked the rocky stepping-stone paths of the nature preserve through the springs and pools. We climbed gnarled old trees and took our pictures knee-deep next to signs that said "No Wading". Every path was shady and cool, practically swallowed by trees and reeds and ferns. At one point, the path opened out onto an old flour mill. It was locked up tightly, but around back, we found a hidden waterfall, and some excellent views of the interior of the mill. In the path leading away were pieces of broken millstones.

I hated to leave the springs and shade of Tel Dan, but we were on our way to an even more dramatic spot. The Banias Falls are tucked down into a steep valley, at the bottom of a staircase that I'm not convinced hasn't killed anyone. (In fact, someone was hauled off in an ambulance while we were there.) This crack in the ground concealed more of the green and cool of Tel Dan, and further up the path, we found what can only be described as a sickeningly picturesque waterfall. You can probably guess by now that we hopped the railing and climbed out onto the craggy, tree-laden banks. The pool at the bottom of the fall was sky-blue, and a school of trout that made me hungry to look at them was hovering nearby. Above, the classic soft, white pillar of water tumbled over a cliff, throwing up a cool mist and creating rainbows.

We climbed back up the killer staircase and piled on the bus - all, of course, except for one. Scott, with Neil's approval, hiked up the stream trail to meet us at our next location: Caesarea Phillipi, the headwaters of the Jordan River. But first, we all settled in for lunch just outside the park, at a Lebanese restaurant (with very tasty falafel sandwiches).

Caesarea Phillipi, compared to the rest of the sites we had visited so far, had an obvious Greco-Roman bent. Entering the park, the first thing we passed was a series of pools. The brand-new Jordan River waters bubbled straight up from between the rocks. Above the pools was a rusty cliff face bearing the gaping entrance to Pan's Grotto. Into various points in the cliff face were cut altars and niches for statues. The floors were mosaic and cut marble; stables for sacred goats were nearby. The area was littered with elaborately carved marble capitals. Caves in the cliff made for a tempting climb, but I would never have made it, and even Scott looked wary. We found a number of Greek inscriptions, which Margaret and Zac attempted to translate; however, they were too worn to read clearly. This prompted Zac and me to set off for Agrippa's Palace, in search of clearer ones. We missed our mark a little and ended up heading the opposite direction, out of the park, but we quickly turned ourselves around and found a shady path next to the same stream that had led Scott up to the site. Michelle and Kristen joined up with us here, and the four of us set off exploring.

The path led us underneath a Roman bridge and past another old flour mill, much like the one at Tel Dan. Families with kids splashed in the stream nearby. Past the mill, we came upon the mostly-buried entrance to Agrippa's Palace. We could see the outline of the monolithic walls, curving inward to a narrow entryway. We descended into the palace, the inside of which has mostly been excavated. The path led us through a few twisting hallways, and out into the palace complex. At this point - yep, you guessed it - we went exploring out over the ruins. I found a columned room with more of the same gorgeous capitals.

As we moved onward through the palace complex, the structures became less distinct. Zac and I pulled ahead of Kristen and Michelle, and meandered over piles of rubble and ancient walls. Zac knows far more than I do about pottery and lithics, and as we walked along, he would date or talk about sherds or stones that we would pick up. I came away with a chunk of marble from the palace, and Zac managed to find some kind of votive figure or talisman - it clearly had a rho incised into it, which produced much excitement when he showed it to Jimmy back at the bus.

Leaving Caesarea Phillipi, we headed for our big swim in the Sea of Galilee... Unfortunately, I had forgotten my bathing suit. Not that I had ever actually had one, mind you, but I didn't even bring any clothing to change into. I rolled up my jeans and walked along the edge of the water. The sun was setting across the sea from us, and my friends in the water were no more than silhouettes. Scott gave me his camera, so that I could take some pictures of the aquatic antics. I caught a few good action shots of Scott and several of the other boys doing flips over the waves, and the landscapes to either side of us and the hills across the sea were breathtaking. I collected a few shells as well; the beach was littered with tiny spiraling white shells, and deep purple bivalves. Zac was picking up abalone and mother of pearl; his grandfather makes mandolins, and Zac is hoping he can inlay one with shells from the Sea of Galilee. Eventually, however, I just couldn't let my compatriots have all the fun; I put Scott's camera back, took off my glasses, and dove straight in. The water was beautifully warm, and the waves were high enough to tumble us around a bit. It all made for a fairly squishy ride back to the hotel, but I was well satisfied.

That night, I was utterly exhausted (and avoiding the unwanted romantic attentions of a certain creepy Gezer excavator), so I opted to call home and stay in for the evening. I finished Warriors of God at about 9pm, and promptly rolled over and passed out cold - the sign of a good day.

Here ends part 1 of the northern excursion; more to follow soon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I'm alive!

And better yet, I'm in Cairo with the wonderful Lisy and Wahied! Their apartment is amazing. I'm sitting in a dining room with a view of mango trees in the Israeli embassy.

While sitting at the Egyptian consulate in Eilat, I started writing blog posts to catch you up on our Northern trip. I'll type them up later; for now, I'm going to spend some time with my hosts.

See you later!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Day... Oh Man, I Totally Can't Remember

SO MUCH has happened since I last wrote. The dig has wrapped up, we cleaned up the tell and sandbagged our squares. Then we went off to our trip up north.

I stayed for two nights in a hotel in Tiberias, from which we journeyed to various northern sites: Tel Hazor, Tel Dan, Banias Falls, Caesarea Phillipi, Nimrod's fortress, swimming in the Sea of Galilee, Bet She'an, Tel Megiddo, Caesarea Maritima and swimming in the Mediterranean by the Roman aqueducts, and then back to Jerusalem. It was a madcap trip and I have tons to say, especially about Bet She'an, which made my head burst with glee. But now is not the time.

Right now, I'm sitting in Jerusalem's Central Bus Station, where I will be for the next four and a half hours. I'm taking a midnight bus to Eilat, the town down where Israel meets the Mediterranean. There, I'll get a tourist visa to Egypt, cross at the Taba Border Crossing, and catch an East Delta Bus to Cairo.

That's right.


This is my pilgrimage, right here. I'm so excited. I'm going to be staying with Lisy and Wahied, who are being kind enough to give me floor to sleep on last-minute, while they are busy planning their wedding. I'm kind of flinging myself into space on this one - the program is over, everyone else is on their way to the airport. Ted is still in Jerusalem, and will be for the next couple of days, and then will move on to Akko. I said goodbye to him about an hour ago. I have no idea what to expect at the border crossing, and I've heard all kinds of mixed things about where to get a visa and how to get a bus from Taba to Cairo, but I'm told that Taba is tiny and everyone speaks English (this is from Wahied, professional tour guide, who picks people up in Taba all the time). I'm also told that I can get a visa either at the Egyptian consulate in Eilat, or just at the border crossing - we'll find out which, I guess. I'm scared shitless, but I wouldn't trade this experience for the world.

More when I'm in Cairo!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Day Thirty-One: Things Are Slowing Down

Not a whole lot to tell about yesterday. Sandbag filling was the name of the game. We jumped off the dump a bit more, and I turned my ankle (again) in the hole I was digging. I am injured six ways from Tuesday at this point... It kind of sucks. Still, sandbag-filling is a total slacker job. Ted, Kristen, Michelle, and I just hung out on the dump, chatting and telling jokes. It was pretty fun, ultimately.

Later in the evening, there was a bonfire. The bonfires are always good times, because it gives us all a chance to unwind. My guess is that there is also going to be one tomorrow night, for the Fourth of July. We're traveling on the Fourth proper, but that doesn't mean we can't celebrate with some good ol' American booze and burnin' stuff. :-)

Today was a pretty sweet day, because today was my day to go on the survey. I didn't get to go with Team Extreme, so I didn't have to walk the badlands. I can't decide whether I'm disappointed or grateful. I went with Drake, Billy, Kate, Thomas, and Jeff. I walked between Billy and Thomas. What happens is, we go out to the start of each kilometer square, and we space ourselves out fifty meters apart. We go south, turn around and redistribute ourselves, and come back up the square. We're scanning the ground for pottery, and we tag any that we find with a GPS point. If we come across any sites, we measure them and tag them as well. The constantly changing scenery is wonderful, and you never know what you're going to see that day. We almost had to cross through a Bedouin camp; I was keeping an eye out for rocks. The only way to deter Bedouin dogs is to mime throwing a rock, but if one kept coming at me, there wasn't gonna be no miming about it. We also kept running into chicken houses, and let me tell you, chicken shit is one of the worse smells in the world. Also, I had a hard enough time staying on my line without having to walk all the way around these massive poultry installations. The terrain wasn't bad; it was mostly fields, although we did encounter several wadis that I had to clamber through. I got in my share of climbing today. I had one scary moment, where I was down in a wadi maybe two meters deep, and I was trying to get out the other side and realized I was walking on nothing but a pile of dead bulrushes. Had my foot broken through, I might have been hurting pretty bad. Fortunately, I evaded the consequences of my stupidity and lived to walk a few more transects. It's hard to stay in a straight line; I had no compass or GPS unit. Only the first, third, and fifth people in the line have them, and the other two stay in between and call the GPS folks over when they need a tag. I had no way of knowing what direction I was going, so I had to gauge by sight whether I was fifty meters from Thomas and Billy. When Thomas is lagging and Billy is being speedy, though, or vice-versa, it gets a little difficult. I think I ended up walking six kilometers today. Thomas may have walked more, though; every time he got back on his transect, I'd call him over to tag another sherd. He told me he was going to whup my ass, and do it for science to boot.

We finished up early enough to stop by Casa Phillipi, Pepe's, whatever you want to call it. :-) It's a restaurant stand type thing by the freeway. The surveyors have been going there at least once a day for the past several weeks, because the food is so delicious and they have cold drinks. I had goat cheese, spices, and olive oil wrapped in a pita, and a grapefruit soda. It was wonderful, especially after having walked all day. Surveying definitely feels like an adventure; you see and do new things every day, and you get to walk all over gorgeous landscapes, run into people and dogs, and generally just be badass. We ate breakfast under the infamous tree at Tel Hesi, the central point of our surveying, and Jeff regaled me with stories about it. It made for an excellent, if exhausting, work day. My feet hurt.

When I got back, I wanted nothing more than to nap and rest my feet, especially since I had been up late last night, but we ended up going into Beersheva to visit the ATM so we could pay for our Jerusalem trips. We also stopped off at the grocery store there, and got some popsicles - a rare luxury. :-)

Currently, Oded has all of our best finds from this season on display in the dig lab, so the kibbutzniks can go take a look at what we've found. It's really impressive to see stuff that I pulled out of the ground laid out like it was in a museum. We've found some really beautiful things - the gold earring is just one piece. We also have carnelian and other types of stone beads, juglets, ballista stones, grinders, and much more. It makes me feel so cool. :-) And everything looks stunning now that it has been cleaned and tagged. Other people are taking photos, so I'll post them as soon as I can find them.

For now, though, I am beat to hell from surveying, so methinks it is nappytimes. Hasta luego!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Crap-ton, Part Two!

The view from inside the first cistern, the one where Tri had to move the "Do Not Pass" sign. These are down on the side of Masada's western cliff. This picture is thanks to the inimitable Ted Allen.

Reaching the top of Masada. The climb up was brutal, but completely worth it. In front of you, you can see Corey on the left and Tiny on the right. (Ted Allen)

View from the top of Masada, looking northward. This picture is thanks to the wonderful Michelle Hilliard.

View from the top of Masada, looking northeast. You can see the Dead Sea, and the hills of Jordan behind it. (Ted Allen)

Masada's Northern Palace. (Michelle Hilliard)

The snake path, by which we climbed down Masada. Yeah, that's right. Note the Roman camps (the squares) situated outside or in line with the siege wall. (Michelle Hilliard)

The first set of waterfalls we came upon at Ein Gedi. (Michelle Hilliard)

Our private, secluded Ein Gedi retreat. In the picture, clockwise from top left: the lower half of Margaret; Zac; Blake (in front of Zac); Kristen; me (not pictured, but to Kristen's left behind the rock); Tim (that pasty spot in all the blue and tan); Ted (splashing down the creek into the pool); Tri; Michelle. (Ted Allen)

On top of the rock by David's Waterfall. From the left: Michelle, Tim, Anna, me, Kristen. (Michelle Hilliard)

David's Waterfall, the uppermost fall at Ein Gedi. (Ted Allen)

The Wadi Qumran. Caves are visible in the foreground on the right, and in the upper left is where Cave 4 is. (Ted Allen)

A view away from Qumran toward the south. The Dead Sea is on the left; its waters used to come up to the cliff faces. (Ted Allen)

Are you ready for a metric crap-ton of pictures?

This is me, and behind me is Tel Beersheva. Just thought I'd give you a picture of my pretty face.

Damascus Gate, by which we entered Jerusalem every day. It was much quieter than this on the first day, because by the time we got there, everyone was closing up shop.

This is the first sight of the Old City that I had. This is what we saw immediately after walking through Damascus Gate.

Here is the Western Wall, on Shabbat evening. The men's side is on the left, and the women's on the right. The covered walkway on the far right goes up to Temple Mount.

Ted, making a funny face on the ramparts. We were walking along them to dinner at the Armenian restaurant.

The Armenian restaurant where we ate dinner. The place was beautiful. Also, as a side note, check out that tan.

The Garden Tomb. That's the tomb, behind our irritating tour guide. Note the tracks at the bottom for the rolling stone, and the recarved face.

Exterior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The cupola over (alleged) Calvary rock.

Frontal view of the cupola.

Al Aqsa and its courtyard, on Temple Mount.

The Dome of the Rock, again, on Temple Mount.

A view looking out over Jerusalem.

All of these pictures are courtesy of the lovely Kristen Fulton.

Day Twenty-Nine: Covered in Dirt

Why, you may ask? Well, I'll get there.

Today was a pretty boring day on the tell, although it started with a bit of excitement. I didn't wake up this morning. According to my roommates, they said my name, tried to wake me, talked to me, and I didn't respond in the slightest. Glenda left last, and she decided that she'd come back after breakfast and make sure I wasn't dead.

Well, I wasn't dead, but I woke up in a panic at 5:18. I threw on some jeans and jogged up the tell. It wasn't any big deal, but it certainly made for a rude wake-up. I spent the morning mostly working with Tim, taking measurements. Tiny was drawing the balks all day, and Kristen was working over in K5. About an hour before breakfast, I got put in charge of filling sandbags. We are going to place these around each square to protect the balk edges during the year. Filling them is a shit job, but it has to be done, and I got to feel like a badass hauling heavy sandbags up from the dump area.

I also spent today working a bit with Zac, helping him finish taking down a balk in his square. We exposed a second course of stones in a really nice wall. C8 is a gorgeous square; it has a flagstone road passing two square pillars, a room with a cobbled floor that was full of storage pots; and it has a lower level of architecture, that had previously been levelled out and rebuilt in antiquity.

To answer your question, Dad, yeah, this is the last week of digging. We're taking care of details this week. Over by J5, they are preparing a square for digging next year, so that there will be less intensive clearing to be done at the start of the next season. They're also digging out a few small areas and levelling off floors and such. C8 and company are clearing out a balk and articulating. E6 et. al. are drawing and documenting. We're entirely done digging. Jay is coming tomorrow to draw the architecture in the squares, and we will prepare them for photography later in the week. We set up the photo tower yesterday. Then we'll sandbag the squares and say farewell until next year - for reference, I absolutely plan on coming back.

At the end of the day, after another long stretch of filling sandbags, the steep slope of the dump off the side of the tell was looking mighty inviting... so I took a flying leap off the edge of the dump. I landed in soft dirt and ran the rest of the way down the dump, where I landed on a bunch of rocks. A combination of these shenanigans and being in loose dirt during the windiest part of the day has conspired to leave me dingier than usual. Our plan tomorrow is to take cardboard boxes and slide down the dump pile. :-)

Since we don't have a lecture today, most of the crew decided to wash pottery immediately after lunch, so we could have a long break until dinner. The extra hours of soaking clearly makes washing much easier, but we turned it into a party - I brought my music out and we listened to classic rock. When "American Pie" came on, we had a bit of a sing-along. So now I have the rest of the day free to talk to you, and tell you about Ein Gedi, Qumran, and the Dead Sea.

After Masada, we hopped on the bus and headed for a Dead Sea swimming spot. We found one, and went in to change. Pay changing stalls are deeply irritating... Anyway, I was a little clumsy during this period of the day, for some reason. I mentioned to Kristen as we were walking down the bank that I would probably fall and hurt something at some point - and immediately tripped and fell over. We put our stuff on the beach, and walked toward the water. The sun was incredibly hot, and the sea looked really inviting. I didn't know what to expect, and was really eager to get in the water. Of course, not five feet from the water's edge, I slipped and fell again... and this time, tore all of the skin off my ankle.

I popped straight up and decided that if anyone saw me bleeding profusely, they'd freak out - especially with me about to walk into a solution that was more than 1/3 salt. So I made straight for the Dead Sea and popped right in. My skin felt like it was burning off. Or rather, it would have, if there were any left. I found every cut, scrape, and lost toenail (Masada claimed a few) that I didn't know I had. Still, the Dead Sea was an amazing experience. You couldn't submerge yourself if you wanted to. Lying flat, most of me stuck up out of the water. I could stand up straight and not sink at all - not even have to try to stay afloat. I raised my arms out of the water and sank no further than mid-chest. We flapped our arms and bobbed up and down for a while. It was practically impossible to swim - I had to push against the water completely differently. Meanwhile, Tiny and Tim bobbed nearby, reading books.

We wandered out of the water and showered off, so as not to end up salt-encrusted.
Then we squished, still damp, into the store/restaurant nearby for lunch. I spent most of the day with a wet pair of pants, as there was never really a good time to change out of the swimsuit. After food, we set off for Ein Gedi, a biblically attested freshwater spring. It's a nature preserve as well, full of ibex and rock hiraxes. We took the trail upstream, toward the series of waterfalls. Immediately, we came across boulders, cliffs, and caves. Of course, half of us split off to go clambering around these, rather than staying on marked paths. We climbed between boulders and hopped the stream until we got to the first waterfall.

The place was indescribably beautiful; I'll post pictures soon. It looked like something out of a magazine, or maybe a movie set. Moss and palms and vines grew all over the wet rock walls, and the water fell in white cascades to blue-tinted pools. The water was nice and cool, and the park wasn't too busy, despite it being Shabbat. We walked past the first waterfall and on to the second. We all plunged in and mingled with everyone else, and of course, began throwing pieces of algae at each other. After we all sat under the waterfall for a bit, we found a secluded side pool below the one everyone was in - and it was empty. We all pounced on it and commandeered the place. We sat around in the water and chatted, shielded by giant rocks and surrounded by bright green moss and dancing red dragonflies.

Finally, Neil prompted us to leave our tiny paradise and get moving. We climbed to the highest waterfall, which, unfortunately, you can't swim in anymore for danger of falling rocks. It had the highest rocks nearby, which we again immediately clambered onto. I've missed the rock-climbing that I used to do as a kid, and this was a superb return to it. The boys hoisted themselves on to the highest rock - probably a good ten meters up - and we went up after they came down.

Once we came down from the rock, we headed back to the bus. Three of our number - Tiny, Zac, and Tim - either had already been or didn't want to go see Qumran, so they hiked up the steep and allegedly very difficult trail to the Dodim Cave and the Chalcolithic temple on top of the cliff. I wanted to go with them so badly, but I had no idea they were planning on it. For now, I'll have to live it through Zac's picures. We'd be coming back for them after Qumran.

We piled back into the bus, yet again damp and smelly. Qumran was maybe half an hour away, and I was pretty dissatisfied with our experience. I wanted to hike up to the caves and climb around through the wadi and the cliff faces. I wanted to see where the scrolls were found. Instead, we walked through the settlement there and saw all the cisterns and baths, and looked at the caves and the wadi from a distance. We watched a movie, and hit the gift shop. Of course, by this part of the day I was a bit sick of the sun and feeling a little cranky, but I do want to go back there and see it for real. I desperately want to see the caves. Qumran is a fascinating place; people eked out a living in this waterless cliff, where the wadi only flowed for a few days out of the year. They wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls there, at the furthest reaches of civilization for the time. Liz kept saying that Qumran and the Essenes meant more to her than Jerusalem, and I can see why. I hope I get to go back and do it properly someday.

Anyway, that should get us all caught up... After Qumran, we booked it back home in time for dinner. I'll post pictures of all of this soon. Right now, I'm going to take a shower and resupply myself with beer and snacks. Love you all, especially my family, and I'm back on the 12th - less than two weeks.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Day Twenty-Eight: My Gloriouser Return!

Alright, I'm here, I've got two hours until pottery washing. Let's do this thing.

First things first: things are great in the square. This last week is mostly going to be final details: cleaning up, drawing balks, putting sandbags around the squares. Our extraction is finished, and we're going to have to wash all that pottery this afternoon. We pulled out five or six intact vessels: a couple of bowl forms we've never seen here before, and several juglets. The juglets ranged in size from about eight inches high to the height of my pinky finger. 250-lb offensive lineman Ted found the tiny one. He proceeded to "drink tea" out of it with pinky extended. We also found a number of nice round pounder stones, a basalt mortar that we had no idea existed, some seashells (!), and a couple of the infamous small, black-glazed opium pots. After pulling all of this, we cleaned the area and scraped it, worked a little more to find the floor in the east end of the square (we can't), and started doing final details. Today, I drew the section of the probe I'd been digging a week or so back. Drawing things to scale is a pain in the butt, but I actually really enjoyed it. I hope I can convince Tim to let me draw one of the balks.

The really exciting thing today was that J5 struck gold! Seung found a gold earring. It's pretty basic, but it's beautiful, and a really startling find when we haven't seen anything like it before. Our other big find lately was in C8. Zac picked up two matching pieces of an oil lamp bowl. These things are apparently really rare, and the expert that Oded knows has only seen them in the Hellenistic period. And for those of you that don't know, it goes Iron 2, Persian, India, Venezuela, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon... Hellenistic. (You see what I did there? That was an Eddie Izzard joke. :-P) Anyway, this thing is a large bowl with tiny oil lamps all around the outside edge. I don't think they've ever found an entire one, but even pieces of one apparently make Oded shout for joy. It was pretty funny. Zac looked mighty chuffed with himself over that one.

Alright, now for the good stuff: Back to Jerusalem! So, we went shopping and then to the Holy Sepulchre. I reread my crappy-ass post last time, and we're restarting that one.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is, as I said, kind of like Rome: it springs up on you out of nowhere. You're winding your way down a narrow, covered street with shops on all sides and four or five languages being screamed all around you and the smells of everything from piss to falafel to perfume assaulting you, and then it all falls away. We walked into a painfully sunny courtyard, with several steps down and the remains of pillars at the top. In front of us was a high facade: four arches, two on top of two, only one of which is open. To the right of the arches is a stairway that leads to a door on a higher level. The church looks off-center, like it is being squeezed out by the buildings beside it.

We walked inside, and the cool and dark was a shock. The first thing we saw was the rock where Jesus was supposedly laid. Above it hang several glass lamps in a row. The church looks almost unfinished; protrusions of the limestone bedrock under Jerusalem jut through the walls. Off to the right is the mazelike multi-level area of the church. We walked upstairs first, where most major Christian denominations have a chapel. Kristin got told off by a bearded Armenian priest for wearing shorts, but she magically pulled a pair of pants out of her backpack, and we escaped without further ado. The upstairs of the church was full of gold and rich wood. Priests were rushing around everywhere, wearing robes from every denomination imaginable. I didn't find it very interesting up there - lots of glitz, but no sense of age or grandeur. We wandered back downstairs.

On the way to the back of the church, we passed altars with lettering in Greek and Armenian. The church was dark, and above us we could see the high dome with a single shaft of light piercing it. Pillars and walls rose all the way up to the distant ceiling. We found the stairs going down to what looked like an Armenian chapel, with paintings on the walls. That's where I slipped and fell on my butt, right after having said that I was going to at some point. From the Armenian chapel, the stairs went down again to a quiet, secluded grotto that was almost entirely natural rock. This, supposedly, was where St. Helen found the True Cross.

Back upstairs, we circled through the back of the Church, which looked almost like ruins. Huge candlesticks eight feet high stood next to giant chunks of pillar and slabs of stone. We came to the supposed site of Jesus' crucifixion. A stone structure stands over it, and the dome is centered above it. Only two people can enter at a time, through a tiny door. I didn't go in at the time, because the line was long and I preferred to see the architecture of the church. The structure's outside was blackened from ages of candles burning against it. There's a tray running around it where you can place them. I can't impress upon you the massiveness of this place. It's not like St. Peter's in Rome, which is actually huge. This just carries the weight of ages, and you can feel the crush of the old city around you, where everything else is so small. The Holy Sepulchre feels so old because it isn't glassed-in and sterilized - it's still being used, the way it has, the way the entirety of Jerusalem has, for its entire existence. It's not a museum. Services are still held there. It was amazing.

After the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we headed for St. Anne's - which, if you remember, was closed earlier. We sat in the basilica for a long time, listening to Anna sing - she's a professional. The grottoes underneath the basilica are thought to be the birthplace of Mary. The chapel down there is fairly modern-looking, but it's all cut into bedrock. The basilica itself is gorgeous. We had it totally to ourselves for maybe half an hour, and Anna's singing could be heard all the way outside. Everyone sings in the basilica, because the acoustics are stellar. I can only imagine what a choral presentation must sound like in there.

After the basilica, we wandered out behind it and into the Bethesda pools, where Jesus cured the lame man. The place was a maze of Roman and later cisterns and chapels. Excavations cut maybe twenty meters into the ground. I walked down into the Roman levels and into the deep cistern (I'm discovering a fascination with cisterns, by the way). Being so far below the ground with arching Roman architecture rising above you is a decidedly strange feeling.

We all re-congregated after wandering around Bethesda, and headed back to the hotel, foot-sore and brain-tired. We lay down for a bit, and then put on our finery purchased earlier in the day and got ready for a night out. We all met up in Kristen and Michelle's room. Kristen bought a hookah in the market that day, so we decided to try it out on the porch of the hotel room. We laid down blankets and all squeezed onto the tiny floor space, but it was perfect despite the setbacks. There we were, sitting on a hotel balcony in Jerusalem, all on our own, having a smoke with friends! It made for a really pleasant pre-dinner time.

Margaret's friend, Shahar, who lives in Jerusalem, joined us for our evening out. He took us to an Italian restaurant, where I had sweet potato ravioli and a delicious lemonade. We had a bit of trouble, because we set out a little early - Shabbat wasn't quite over, although by the time we were seated in a restaurant, we could see three stars. After dinner, we hit the bars on Ben Yehuda Street. We went to one, tucked in a tiny stone alley, that had really fun music. Gold Star really isn't that great of a beer, but it was in strong supply. We wandered off to another place and drank a bit of araq, and then sat ourselves in Independence Park to chat for a while. Saturday nights in West Jerusalem seem to be one huge party.

The next morning, folks left without me - I guess I was still asleep and they didn't want to wake me. They went up to Temple Mount. I headed for the old city on my own, and decided to do some intrepid exploring. I tested myself as to how well I could get around. I wandered through some shops - a bunch more were open, now that it was no longer Shabbat. I went up to Temple Mount on my own and saw the exterior of the Dome of the Rock - they don't let non-Muslims in any longer. I sat in a restaurant, tucked back inside a low, arched series of rooms, and had a Mirinda soda. I got myself utterly lost in the Armenian quarter, wandering around and looking at things. I stopped by the Citadel and admired the defenses. Also, I decided to go back to the Holy Sepulchre - it is rapidly becoming one of my favorite places in the world. I sat there by the cupola over the Calvary site and watched people's reactions to the holy place. The one thing I noticed was that almost everyone seemed to want to have their pictures taken, but not a single one smiled for the photo. Just outside, within view of the Church, I bought myself a rosary. Finally, I ran into Glenda and we headed back to the hotel.

Once we had gotten everyone together, we made for the bus station. Kristen and I had to take a cab separately from everyone else, but it turned out great in the end - our cab driver was the most insane, amazing person we could have met. He didn't stop talking the entire time we were in his cab. He rolled down the window and meowed - yes, meowed - at women. He told Kristen she was a knockout, except he kept saying "fighter". We talked about her Lebanese heritage (oops). He sang to us and told us stories. It was more or less the perfect way to wrap up the trip.

We bought tickets and ice cream at the bus station, and happily sat on our platform. I slept through a good chunk of the ride home, back over the rolling yellow hills to Lahav. Dylan pointed out our tell from the highway. That night, I slept harder than I have any night here - except for last night.

Why, you may ask? Because yesterday, we went to Masada. And swam in the Dead Sea. And went to Ein Gedi. And paid a visit to Qumran.

Yeah. Whoa.

We had two bonfires during this past week, so I hadn't been sleeping much. One was a Friday bonfire, and the other was for Tiny's birthday. The girls and I ended up making him a banner, which he has asked us all to sign. Anyway, yesterday morning I was pretty beat when I woke up. We set out at 6:30 AM for Masada. The trip took about an hour. We didn't get there early enough to see the sunrise, but it was nice and cool for our climb. The first thing we saw were the cisterns. Facing Masada from the West, the rock looks immense and imposing. The siege ramp stretches above you into the orange stone, and off to the left is a tiny path that leads to four or five immense plastered pits. We edged along the path to the cisterns.

Once we reached them, Neil found a "Do Not Pass" sign and promptly had Tri move it out of the way so that we could all troop down into the cistern. Something about these massive pits in the ground really makes an impression on me. The staircase into the cistern was steep, and the cistern was probably two stories high and square. Small windows cut through the rock at the top were the only light source.

After seeing the cisterns, we climbed the Roman siege ramp to the top. Along the way, we spied 2,000 year old wood sticking out of the rubble of the ramp. The climb took maybe ten or fifteen minutes, but I was puffing hard by the time I got to the top. Masada is a giant rock, whose structures stand above sheer cliff faces. But let me tell you, the view alone was worth the climb.

The zealots that inhabited Masada must have lived like kings. Their rooms contain gorgeous floor and wall mosaics. They had a heated bath - we saw the remains of the raised floor under which hot air was piped. Miqvas, or ritual baths, were everywhere. Supposedly, just to thumb their noses at the Romans, the zealots threw water down on them during the siege. The cisterns and vats at Masada held enough to supply them for the three years that they lasted against the Roman army. The structures themselves were beautiful. The decorations - the plaster, the mosaics, the carvings - are all still there, in varying degrees of preservation. The place must have been immensely colorful.

The views from the top of Masada were incredible. We looked out over salt flats and wadis to the southern tip of the northern chunk of the Dead Sea. Beyond the sea, you could clearly see the hills of Jordan rising through the mist. The sea itself is smooth as glass. Around it stretch away the flat lands that it used to cover, now looking pretty eerie, as it is filled with sinkholes. We heard stories of sinkholes swallowing chunks of freeway - we actually drove past an area where this had happened within the past year. Beyond the flat lands rose sharp, red-brown cliffs. The entire area used to be far more isolated than it is now, because all roads had to go around, well above the sea and beyond the cliffs and wadis that shaped its edges. Around the base of Masada are visible the remains of the Roman siege wall, and the encampments spaced out along it. They really are just lines of jumbled rubble, but the planning and layout are so clear that it's impressive, especially from high in the air on Masada.

We wandered down toward the southern tip of the rock, where we found a dovecote and another cistern. Several of us trooped down into the cistern, where we encountered Tim, his camera on a tripod, looking surprised to see us. This was by far the biggest cistern we had yet been in, and the stairs were twice as steep as the steepest ones we'd yet encountered. By the time we had gotten back up to the top, we had apparently wordlessly agreed on 2 things: 1) that there was absolutely no reason we should have gone down that cistern, and 2) we were going to lie our asses off to everyone else, so that they would go down and we could take pictures of their miserable faces coming back up. Oh, it was sweet. :-)

The top of Masada is 40 feet above sea level. We walked down via the Snake Path on the eastern side of the rock, which took about 45 minutes. It was rough... the only direction we seemed to be going was down. It was switchback after switchback, with steep stairs and lots of loose rock. At one point, Liz and I had Scott take a picture of us crawling on our stomachs up some of the steps, looking miserable. The views, again, were incredible - just as much so on the way down as on top. Near the end, there was a stand selling fresh-squeezed orange juice. I didn't get any there, but as soon as we got to the end of the trail at the visitors' center, I snagged some. Orange juice never tasted so good.

Anyway, that's about that for now... I have to head to pottery-washing. I'll fill in the rest of yesterday's trip, starting with the Dead Sea, either tonight or tomorrow. Catch y'all later!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Day Twenty-Five: In Which I Make My Glorious Return

Well, well, well. I hope you are all still interested in my humble accounts, seeing as how I'm a little flaky about actually posting. Where did I leave off?

In the trench, things are going well. We took pictures of our assemblage this morning, then gridded out the area and started extracting. I worked with Ted to measure, extract, and MC loom weights. We've got dozens of them. They're essentially hunks of mud with holes through them, that were used to hold yarn taut on the loom. The problem with this is that they're just made out of clay, and aren't fired at all - so they're basically indistinguishable from the stuff you're digging them out of, and have a tendency to fall apart in catastrophic ways. Still, we managed to get a good chunk of them out whole. Also, I turned over a dirt clod and found a scorpion!

I'm sitting out back in the "Internet cafe", so I'm gonna be a little distracted, but let me tell you a little more about Jerusalem. We went shopping in the Christian quarter on Saturday, because almost everything was closed for Shabbat. Neil's friend Shaban has a good store, where we got nice deals, as well as at a few other stores in the area that he owns. I bought a skirt and three head scarves, which you folks back home can fight over when I return. :-) We looked at tons of Roman glass jewelry - that stuff is everywhere - and Glenda took us to a rug shop to meet a friend of hers. She found a good companion in Mazan, who owns the shop; they're both textile experts. We chatted with Mazan, and I bought a purse from him for Katie. He served us sweet mint tea. When we were finished there, several of us trooped off to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Holy Sepulchre was one of the most powerful experiences I had in Jerusalem. It didn't matter that this probably wasn't actually the site of Jesus' crucifixion. The church was built in the 400's AD. People have been worshipping there for 1500 years. It's cut out of the living rock under Jerusalem, and filled with nooks, crannies and steep staircases. The architecture is immense. I'm honestly too distracted to talk about it now, and the compy is about to die, but more later. I promise I'll be more attentive soon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day Twenty-Three: Jerusalem Continued

I'll be posting today's activities later this evening. For now, let's do another installment of "Megan's Adventures in Jerusalem." But before we do, I'd like to say, I miss you too, Daddy. Luvin' ya back. Also, love to Mom and Katie in Quito.

The second day, we woke up nice and early and had breakfast at the hotel. Then we set out to start our day. Ted was acting as de facto tour guide, and had planned out something of a schedule "that I'm gonna be doing; if you guys wanna follow along, that's cool." Our first stop was the Garden Tomb. I'll be honest; coming here was a bit disconcerting for me. The events of Jesus' life happened so long ago, and were so unimportant to most people at the time, that we have no reliable way of pinpointing the locations of most of the events. Also, an English group with a very clear (and self-interested) agenda manages the location. When we got there, we caught up with a tour that had just begun. The managing association claims that a bus stand just outside their garden is actually Golgotha. The cliff face above it does have the features of a skull, but it's hard to say when these would have taken shape. The location is just outside the city walls, within view of the Damascus gate. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, on the other hand, was probably never outside the city walls, despite the walls' having changed location over the years, and its claim to have been the place where Jesus was crucified.

After the Golgotha speech, we wandered over and saw the garden tomb itself. We were regaled with the association's reasons for believing that this garden was the one that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea. True or not, the facts were, archaeologically, incredibly interesting. The garden contains a massive 1st century cistern, possibly for irrigation. It also contains several wine presses, much like the ones I described during our walk outside the kibbutz the first weekend, suggesting that it might have been a vineyard. The garden sat on a high scarp of limestone bedrock, looking down over the city. Cut into the bedrock is a genuine 1st century Jewish tomb. In front is a track for a giant rolling stone, and a metal pin lodged in the wall, possibly to keep the stone in place. The face of the tomb is heavily recarved; Christians have been worshipping at the location for centuries, and it may have been reshaped into a church at one point. Inside, the tomb has a room on the left for lamentations, and on the right are two carved benches. One has been used, as you can see by the space for the feet having been carved out, and the stone pillow. Opposite me on the wall was a cross with Alpha and Omega carved on either side. Apparently, no remains were found in conjunction with this tomb.

Despite my criticisms, the garden was beautiful. Tall pine trees and palms were everywhere, birds sang, and flowers were in bloom. The place was full of bridges and worship nooks and quiet spaces. And as I said, it was archaeologically fascinating. The tomb format was a lot like the ones we saw around Tell Halif, only this tomb was much nicer and more elaborate. Again, the sense of age was incredible.

We left the Garden Tomb headed toward the Garden of Gethsemane, but we got sidetracked by the Rockefeller Museum, to which Ted had never been. We popped in for a short visit, as it was a) American and b) a museum, two things that seem a bit lame to be doing in the Holy Land. There was an Egyptian wing, so of course I worked on my translation. Michelle asked me if I could read any of it, so I showed off a bit. There was an incredible array of artifacts, all laid out as though they were sitting in your grandmother's attic. I found a couple of my personal favorite: Chalcolithic ossuaries. These guys are great. I can't find any really good pictures, but they look almost like doghouses, but with faces. The large square hole is the mouth, and then, as do most Chalcolithic art pieces, they have wide, staring eyes and a HUGE nose. As yet, we're not sure why the trope exists, but I think it's hilarious. Also, the place had a large central courtyard with a pool, around which were arrayed more artifacts. Although the Rockefeller does not allow pictures, we convinced a guard to snap one of us in the courtyard:
We left the Rockefeller pretty quickly, but only once we managed to drag Big Dylan away from sketching artifacts. From there, we walked toward Gethsemane.

Ted, tour guide that he was, pointed out the sights to us as we walked south along the eastern edge of the old city. He showed us Mount Zion, where the Last Supper was supposed to have been, and traced the route across the Kidron Valley that Jesus would have taken to Gethsemane. He pointed out the mountain upon which Jesus is supposed to return. Across the valley from it is Jerusalem's Golden Gate, by which Jesus will reenter the city. The Jews and Muslims have long since sealed it closed with stones, so that He will have to walk through a wall to make his return to Jerusalem. On the slopes below the mountain where Jesus will return is a massive cemetery. Since walking over graves is taboo, Jesus will have to raise all of these people from the dead in order to get to the Golden Gate - or so the thinking goes. On our right-hand side, not far north of the Golden Gate, was also a large Muslim cemetery.

We unfortunately arrived at Gethsemane five minutes too late, or two hours too early, to enter. We peeked through the gate at all the important bits. Apparently every faith tradition has a slightly different thought as to where the events in the Garden took place. Various churches exist near each site. The garden is beautiful. It's filled, like most of the surrounding slopes, with gnarled old olive trees and rosemary bushes which you can smell from a distance. We decided, in lieu of Gethsemane, to go to St. Anne's, which also turned out to be closed... so we went shopping. :-) Anyway, more on that later... now is time for pottery-washing. More tonight!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Day Twenty-Two: Digging is Easier After a Two-Day Weekend

Well, let me get the mundane stuff out of the way first. Today's digging was pretty straightforward. We had Thomas, one of the surveyors, up on the tell with us, because diggers are getting the chance to go out with the survey. Andrew went today. I'll probably go sometime next week. I've been told I need to go out with "Team Extreme," namely, McCoy's and Jimmy's team, because they get the coolest areas to walk.

The weather was hot today, but I didn't really notice. I'm getting tan, and I think I've lost weight from all the hoofing it up and down the tell. I dug in my probe until breakfast. I looked for a floor surface based on some sherds sticking out of the balk, but no dice. Then I cut a section across the probe to look at the stratigraphy, and also to get deeper next to the first wall we found in E6. It looks like there is another course of stones deeper under that wall.

After breakfast, I sifted until shade break. It's the bitch job, but I like it okay, because I get to talk to people and hang out, and do a lot of the paperwork. Post-shade break, I traded out with Ted, who was working on leveling out the E6-E7 balk with Kristen. They had uncovered a major assemblage. I kept digging where Ted had been, and I uncovered five or six loom weights, some of which are in really good condition, a round stone - either a weight stone or a pounder, although it was a bit small for the latter - and a clear-cut weight stone. It has a flat top, is perfectly round, and widens as it goes down. I can't see the bottom yet, but it's a really cool find.

We also had a talk today about the survey - what it is, and what it does, and how it does it. I noticed that they're using ArcGIS - the program I learned on a couple years back! I'm going to have to start haunting Billy and Scott and watching them work. I love that stuff. For the uninitiated, this is the computer program I was using to do a lot of my research. It can plot points on maps, incorporate satellite photos, analyze data, synthesize paths from elevations, create water- and viewsheds, all kinds of awesome stuff. I love working with it because there's so much you can do.

Alright - now for what I know you've all been wanting to hear about. Jerusalem. The Holy City. How was it? I can't even explain it. It's more history in one place than I have experienced to date. It was an adventure, a pilgrimage, an epiphany both secular and religious. I loved it. I left it a day ago, and I want to go back.

We left here at 2:30 PM on Friday. Oded drove us to the bus station near the main highway. We didn't even know what bus we were supposed to take, so we stopped each one and asked, "Yerushalaim?" and took the one that answered "Ken". The ride was about an hour and a half. The land slopes up steeply, and my ears popped along the way. The hills were beautiful, and I was glad to see more of the Israeli landscape.

We arrived in Jerusalem around 6:00 pm. We decided to walk to our hotel from the bus stop, to get our feet wet in the modern city. It was a good decision. The streets are narrow and built up, and are a mixture of ancient and modern the like of which I've never seen. Narrow stone alleyways abut glass-and-concrete. The stone of the old buildings seems jumbled and rough-hewn, and it's all of the tannish blocks that give Jerusalem the name of the Golden City. We took Yafo street straight to the Jaffa gate at the northwest corner of the old city, and then turned northward and walked around the outer walls to the Damascus gate. Our hotel was just a few blocks north.

We dropped our things off at the hotel - the idea of sheets never sounded so good - and immediately went looking for the Western Wall. The hills in the city are steep and the pavement is incredibly slick from all the people constantly walking over it. I slipped several times in the old city, and even fell on my ass in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but that story is coming. Anyway, we walked through the Damascus Gate. Outside, people were selling everything from fresh mint and grape leaves to Rolex knockoffs. All through the gate are vending machines and money-changing stations. The gate is very clearly the gate of a fortress. It is solid and crenellated, and jogs to the left as you enter - to expose the vulnerable side of an attacker carrying a shield. Once we got inside, it was like nothing I had ever seen. It was like nothing I had ever imagined. It looks like it hasn't changed in 3,000 years, and it quite possibly hasn't. It was very easy to imagine Jesus walking those streets - which He did, which had me almost in tears as I walked through the gate. The streets are narrow and crowded with vendors at every turn. It's like walking into a cave; most of the walls arch into a roof overhead, or the vendors have put up awnings. Ted led us to the Western Wall.

Jerusalem was like Rome, only moreso, in that these crowded, cramped, incredibly tiny streets all of a sudden open out into monolithic architecture. We walked through the metal detector and past some very bored-looking guards with M16's. Then, everything was white and open. The wall is huge - you've all seen pictures, but the sense of age that comes from it is immense. The Muslim course of stones, small and square, is clearly seen at the top. The previous course is larger square stones, and down at the bottom - where you see people bowing and touching the stones - is the Solomonic course. Those stones have been in place since before the birth of Christ.

The girls and I walked into the women's section, which was probably half the size of the men's. I found a receipt in my purse, and borrowed a pencil to write a prayer on the back. I walked up to the wall and said a short prayer, and tucked the slip of paper into a crack. The place is plastered with slips of paper tucked into niches between the stones. They are written in every language. We walked backwards away from the wall and out of the prayer section. Since we had arrived when we did, we were there as the sun went down and Shabbat began. Members of the nearby Hasidic temple came out, and danced in a circle and sang. As the sun went down, they marched through the square and into the men's section, where they kept up the singing and joviality until well after the sun went down. The place turned into a downright party. We sat and watched from some stone ledges nearby. From the plaza by the Western Wall, you can see the tops of the buildings on Temple Mount. The last bit of sunlight glittered off of the golden roof of the Dome of the Rock.

We left the Western Wall before long, and walked west, where we caught the city ramparts. We climbed them, and walked along them as far as we could. The views out over the city were amazing. The steps were high and slippery, and the wall was solid. I poked my hand through archers' slits in the battlements. I hopped up on the wall at one point and had Kristen take my picture against the darkening new city. While we were up there, the Call to Prayer went out, and we listened to the chanting as we walked.

Our aim was the Armenian Quarter, where Ted knew a restaurant. We found it quickly. The place was small, and we had to duck beneath an arch and walk down a narrow flight of stairs. The decorations were incredibly lavish. The family that owns the place is an old Armenian family, and they have all of their heirlooms on display. Jewelry of all kinds, with all kinds of stone was visible in glass cases along the walls. Glass and metalwork lamps in every color hung from the vaulted ceiling. The food was astoundingly good. I had something that I will never be able to pronounce, which involved a delicious sauce, and minced meat wrapped in a grape leaf. I also had a great beer called Maccabees.

After that, we ran into the other group on our way home. We were falling-down tired, so we went back and went to sleep. The other folks stayed out much later, getting hammered and hanging out at the hookah bar. And evening came, and morning followed, the first day. ;-)

The next two days of the trip have far longer stories, so I will tell it in installments. I'll post pictures as soon as I can access them. There are already a few up on Facebook, but I'll hold out for some better ones.

Laila tov!

Day Twenty-two: Prologue

I'm back! I'm alive! Full recount after dinner.

Much love

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Day Eighteen: Addendum

I'm sitting outside my room with Thomas and McCoy, and they are playing some truly hilarious music. I'm pretty sure I'm going to hell by association, God help me. I won't tell you the subject matter... Call it an exercise for the reader.

Day Eighteen: Nothing Special

Not a whole lot to report today. This morning was beautiful, though. When we went up the tell, the air was wet and cool. When we stopped at the gates, we couldn't see Eshkolot on the hill to the east. On the right, the sun was rising over the ridge, and the sky was soft pink and orange. To the left, the moon was full and bright over the hill to the southwest. When we reached the site, the mist was rolling in - but it was from the south this time. It had crept through the kibbutz and threaded through the trees, and we felt like we were looking down on another world. The tall trees and the hill opposite rose out of the fog eerily, and as we began to dig, the features slowly bleached into the thickest white I've yet seen. Ted, standing across from me in the trench, was fuzzy, and he wasn't but two meters away. Our pine trees faded in and out noncommittally, and the sun didn't really shine until well after breakfast. Apart from that, the day wasn't particularly notable. We finally leveled out the floor of E6006, and we're still finding Byzantine pottery, which suggests a very deep disturbance. I strung and started a probe in the southern portion of the trench, near the intersection of our two walls. Hopefully we can find something useful there, and knowing whether there are more courses of stone under the walls will be good.

Tomorrow we go into Jerusalem for the weekend, so I'll be incommunicado for a few days. I'll be sure to tell you all about it when I get back, but I really don't want to bring my computer into one of the (hate to say it) most touristy cities in the world. Not to mention, I'm not even sure I'll have internet. Anyway, we'll be taking public transit into the city, and staying in a hotel near the Damascus Gate. I'm looking forward to having a little freedom to wander. I'm starting to go stir crazy in the kibbutz.

Laila tov!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day Seventeen: My Numbering Is Totally Correct, Nick Simmons.

Today was a fairly uneventful day on the tell. The mist was thick this morning; we couldn't see the kibbutz or the hill across from us until after breakfast. Again, it was that eerie feeling as though we were on a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere. Not a whole lot happened today. We are still taking down the balk between E6 and E7; Kristen started on the other half of the balk today. Ted and I kept working on leveling out the floor of the two halves of E6. It looks a bit of a mess right now, but we should have it sorted out by tomorrow or so. The biggest things to happen today were some neat finds. I pulled out a long, thin chunk of corroded copper. Liz thought it might have been a fitting to some object. Also - and this gave me much faith in our eyes and our sifting methods - Kristen found parts of both the faience bowl and the chunk of iron that I pulled out of the balk at least a week ago. We MCed them and sent them down for analysis.

The trench was a lot more upbeat today. We continued our games of 20 Questions. There were a few really good items today, and several really good guesses. Also, as usual, the 'your mom' and 'that's what she said' jokes were running rampant. Ted, Kristen and I really bond over those. I think the three of us are actually getting pretty comfortable with one another; they're probably the people here to whom I'm closest. Ted is coming with us to Jerusalem this weekend, to show us around, and I'll be traveling with him for the extra week (!!) that I'll be here after the program.

The highlight of the day was the pizza at the end of it. We didn't have to wash pottery today, because we were paying a visit to the Joe Alon Center for Regional Studies. It's across the road from the kibbutz, and you can see its tower from our site. We went up the tower, in fact, and heard a presentation about the region. They explained the importance of our site - you can see our squares from the tower - and a few of the other notable sights. The presentation pointed out the green line, and the Palestinian military installation on the top of the high hill I've talked about to the east. South of that installation is a permanent Bedouin village with houses spread out from one another across the ridge. We could see the edge of the Lahav Forest, which ends right at the green line, and the top of Tell Beit Mirsim. All of the trees in the area are relatively new. The Ottomans cut down almost all of the old trees to use the lumber for their railroad in the early 1900's (I think; my dates might be off).

After the tower presentation, we wandered through the cave exhibits and noted the different types of cave life in the area. Permanent Chalcolithic settlements, hiding caves, Iron Age burial caves; they had everything. Then we walked over to the Bedouin museum. We saw examples of weaving and beadwork, and heard about Bedouin hospitality and marriage ceremonies. Anna and I ducked into a kids' area to sit inside a tent and pretend to read the children's book on the floor there. We also practiced our Arabic on the museum signs.

We wandered back to the dig lab, where Glenda gave a presentation on weaving and textiles. We learned all about those loom weights we've been pulling out of the ground. As it turns out, you can tell a TON from their position and size. The looms don't survive, but the looms on our site were set up ("dressed") for weaving when the destruction came through, so we get to see a freeze-frame of everyday life for these people. No one thus far has knowingly excavated a textile factory in the Levant, which is what we believe we have. Five or six looms had been set up in E7, all dressed and probably in use, and there were oil lamps near to all of them. The lamps signify that the work was being done continually, not moved outside and back in. If these conclusions hold up, it will mean a lot - this city was a producer of textiles, and had already started toward cottage-industry organization. Judean textiles were immensely popular in that period, so that lends a fair amount of significance to our little Tell Halif.

Afterward, Oded arrived with pizza! It was surprisingly good. One pizza had corn and eggplant on it, which was a bit weird. But the pepperoni was actually quite tasty, although I'm certain it wasn't made of pork. We chowed down, and chatted for a bit. Then a bunch of folks got up to kick the hackey sack around. We all suck horribly at it, but I almost fell over laughing so many times that it didn't matter. We have a really good group of people here. Once it got too dark, I went home to drink wine with Glenda and Kate, and here I am.

Now, I told you I would do "a day in the life" today. If you've had enough of me for right now, save this chunk for later, but here goes. This is how a typical day here works for me:

I wake up at 4:30 AM. Kate, one of my roommates, has to meet the rest of the survey crew at 4:45, so she gets up fifteen minutes before I do, which is nice. It means I wake up with her alarm, but I get to roll over and not care for a while. I get up, and I put on my dig clothes: whichever jeans have been washed least recently, and one of maybe three shirts that I set aside as "dig shirts" for the week. I slather on sunscreen, fill up my water bottle, and make sure I have my sunglasses ad work gloves (I'm getting a glove tan, by the way. Not cool.). Then I stagger outside and head for the dig lab, cramming my hat on my head as I go.

It's dark when I leave, and usually almost chilly, but I never bring a sweater or anything because I know it will warm up soon enough. The whole crew meets at the dig lab, and we gather up our things. We have three styrofoam coolers that we fill with water. We grab the transit (for measuring elevation), its stand, and the meter rod. We bring a number of buckets in which to put our pottery. Then we start up the tell.

We walk up a sidewalk past the back of the school, and then take a scary-ass gravel and stone path up a steep incline. At least one person trips every morning. The dogs, usually White Sausage and Fluffy (we've given them English names) meet us at the electric fence that surrounds the kibbutz. There are two gates near the top of the hill. The first is a newer electric fence, and outside that is the old barbed-wire fence. In between them is where we keep all of our things in wheelbarrows since the Bedouin thefts. We grab these. At this point, we're high enough on the tell to see most of the surrounding area, especially the lights of the military installation at Eshkolot. We thread our way in between trenches, bunkers, and barbed wire to the two pines that stand over our field headquarters.

We take a minute to settle in and admire the view, and to talk about what needs to be done today. Then we grab patisheem, trowels, gufas, dustpans, kneepads, and brushes, and we get to work. Tim usually begins making tags for our pottery buckets, so we know which locus they came from. We throw any potsherds we find in our digging into these buckets, so long as they aren't attached to other things. In the buckets are also bags for shells, lithics, and bone, of which we find a lot as well. We dig out our areas with patisheem or pickaxes, and then we scoop the dirt with trowels and dustpans. We dump it into rubber buckets called gufas. Each locus has a sift ratio. Unless we're sure we're on to something important, the sift ratio is usually one in ten. We shout out gufa numbers as we fill them. Our trench is deep enough now that we need a ladder to get in and out of it, so we prop the gufas on the balks, and someone stays outside the trench to do the dumping and sifting.

At eight o'clock, we clean up a bit and head down for breakfast. By this point, I am usually head-to-toe with dust. My tattoo is almost invisible, and I've got a bad case of dig boogers. The mist will be burning off by now as well. We eat, and we usually run into crazy lady, who tells us off for being American. Breakfast is French toast or boiled or fried eggs, salad, and bread. We sit in the dining hall, sticking out like a sore thumb among all the other kibbutzniks. Nobody talks; we're all pretty beat.

After breakfast, we meet up at the dig lab again, to get our shade break snack - usually apples. Then we head back up the tell for more work. At 11:00, we get shade break - by then, you really need it, because it is HOT. We sit in the shade and listen to the donkey across the valley braying. Zac, Ted, and Tim typically start throwing pinecones at one another, and the rest of us participate as we get caught in the crossfire.

At 12:30, we clean up. We take all the loose dirt out of our square, sweep, and take elevations. We hold this giant measuring pole vertically, and take heights with the transit. These are subtracted from the daily datum, determined from a fixed elevational point nearby. I've learned how to read the transit, so I'm usually either doing that or holding the pole. Then we pick everything back up and troop down off the tell. We store some of our things back between the gates, and take the rest down to the dig lab. At the lab, we sort our sample collections - bone, shell, lithic, MCs. We fill the pottery buckets with water to let them soak. Then we head for lunch.

Lunch is the best meal of the day, and we usually get the leftovers thereof for dinner. Lunch is more lively, and we're all also significantly dirtier - in both mind and body. After lunch, we typically make runs to the store to pick up beer, ice cream, and other snacks. We head either back to our rooms to nap, or to the pool. At the pool, so long as the Hasids don't have it gender-segregated, we play basketball or volleyball. We can get pretty rowdy, and it's always a lot of fun. We haven't been in a while, though; everyone has been tired and has been using the time to nap.

At 4:00 pm, we show up at the lab again for pottery-washing. We take toothbrushes and fingernail-brushes, and scrub the muck off of the pottery we brought down that day. At a table nearby, the staff are doing pottery readings, determining the dates of the strata we've been digging based on any diagnostic sherds that show up. Pottery-washing is gossip, song, and story-telling time. We all end up splattering each other with dirty water and we always manage to find a few rocks in the pottery bucket that Ted happily chucks away for us.

After washing, we often have a lecture, given by one of the staff, on some facet of history or archaeological technique. We've had the lectures on trip destinations, time periods, and registrar technique. The lectures are usually great information, but depending on who's giving them, I sometimes have trouble staying awake; it's hot inside the buildings, and that's prime naptime.

Sometimes we have a little time to goof off before dinner, which is when I will either shower or play hackey-sack. Also, this is when we sometimes play soccer, if we can. Then it's dinner, when we're all alone in the dining hall - they don't usually serve dinner, except a couple days a week - and then free time again. I'll often hang out in back of my rooms, or play cards or chat with folks near the dig lab. At 9:00 or maybe 9:30 at the latest, I crash and crash hard. And then the whole process begins again! We're pretty isolated; we don't interact a lot with the kibbutzniks. But the place here is beautiful, and we spend a lot of time outside, playing and laughing. This group gets me laughing so easily; I'm glad there are good people here. Anyway, speaking of bed, I'm exhausted. I hope that's a good picture of dig life here. If there's anything you want to know more about, ask away.

Laila tov (goodnight)!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Day Sixteen: Errata

1) I have learned that nearby, there is a quarry, where blasting is done. We get a lot of rumbly sounds coming from the east, which were a bit confusing until the surveyors told us that bit of information. "Wait, Gaza isn't that way..."

2) Ted, when stalking the Bedouin, armed himself with the handle of a hoe. I would be pretty intimidated by that, except that I know Ted, and I've seen him do the "I'm really scared of that bug that's on my back" dance.

3) The title of the last post is because I'm tanner than I've been in a LOT of years, despite wearing SPF 50 sunblock. My freckles are coming back!! For serious!

Day Sixteen: I am brown.

Let's start with yesterday, as I didn't update. I was being sluggish and sociable.

Fairly straightforward dig day, although we were all being a bit pokey. The weather was nice - sunny, but in the shade it couldn't have been but seventy degrees. We played Twenty Questions in our trench, but we had no limit on the number of questions. It actually made for a fair amount of hilarity, like when Ted was trying to get us to guess Mr. Potato Head. I think Tim was a little fed up with us not getting much done, but we always managed to make him laugh regardless. So he can't have been too miserable.

We heard lots of jets flying overhead and a few booms yesterday. The news told us that the Israeli military had killed three militants. On the one hand, we're so in the thick of this; we're within sight of both the West Bank and Gaza. But at the same time, we're so removed from it all. We rarely check the news, we're focused on our digging, and it doesn't affect us here on the kibbutz. I get the feeling that it would take a truly major event for us to actually see any changes.

The Bedouin came back yesterday and stole a bunch of paintbrushes and some gufas. They didn't disturb any of the squares, but we were getting really sick of their antics. After breakfast, we came back up the tell and spontaneously decided to wander northward and look for our stuff. We found a bunch of it, the patisheem, the trowels, and a bunch of the bigger tools hidden in bushes. We collected all of it and went back to digging, but after lunch, Tiny and Ted went back up to the tell. They hid in the bushes and stuck twigs in their hats, and read for a few hours. They told us later that they never would have seen the Bedouin kids if the kids hadn't been talking to one another. They were moving silently through the brush, and had left the donkeys down at the bottom of the tell. Ted and Tiny watched them freak out when they discovered that their booty was no longer hidden in the bushes. Our boys moved around to flank them, and then discovered that the Bedouin had circled toward the inside of the tell and were now back down by the donkeys. "They were like ghosts!" Tiny was saying. He and Ted were both fairly sure that the kids had spotted Ted, and our boys were able to identify the culprits from pictures that Neil took when the Bedouin first came by our site. Oded is going to show the pictures to the sheriff of Lakya, which fills me with deep satisfaction. Bastards won't get away with messing up my dig.

We also found out yesterday that this weekend, we're getting both Saturday and Sunday off! It works out perfectly, because the girls had been planning to go into Jerusalem this weekend. Michelle and Kristen have to leave before the end of the trip up north, so they wouldn't have gotten to see the city otherwise. As it is, we'll be staying two nights in a hostel near the Jaffa Gate, and having a grand old time in the city! I'm so excited I get chills thinking about it... the Holy City... The Dome of the Rock... the Church of the Holy Sepulchre... I'm so excited. It's even better because I'm reading that book about the Third Crusade right now.

In the evening, I sat out back of my room, where everyone hangs out to use the internet, and talked with McCoy, Liz, and Thomas. Nights here are cool and clear, and the moon was bright. It made for a really pleasant evening, and I think it's becoming my nightly habit to head out there at some point and be sociable.

Today was a much quieter day on the tell. It was a pretty terrible day of digging. I found pieces of a taboun, which is a poorly-fired clay oven. They're pretty expendable, but to find the pieces and be able to reconstruct how it broke is always important. We also found a sort of saucer-shaped carnelian bead. Those were the only real finds, though; apart from that, we were just moving dirt. Also, it was really hot today - the sun was beating down. Nobody was talking in our trench. I think we had all just hit a kind of mental block toward digging.

After lunch, we worked on getting the Jerusalem arrangements finalized. I ended up falling asleep, and woke up to pottery-washing. I skipped lecture to go home and take a long shower, because I was feeling incredibly dirty. I had forgotten how black my tattoo was, because it's been covered in dust for the past three days. Ted and Tiny went back up to the tell again today, but I haven't had a chance yet to hear whether they saw anything. I did talk to a bunch of surveyors, though, and they've had some good stories over the past couple days - my new roommate, Kate, being chased by dogs out of a Bedouin camp; Thomas shouting, "I'm Thomas Tolbert, and I'm tougher than a two-dollar steak!" before sliding down a thirty-foot cliff. Eventually, diggers will be allowed to trade out with surveyors for a day or two at a time, and I'd really like to try surveying. You're given a line to walk, and you're fifty meters away from the people on either side. If something crops up in your way, you have to find a way around it. You crawl under barbed-wire fences, get lost in bulrushes, talk to Bedouin, and eat at wayside restaurants. It sounds like it would be right up my alley. I love digging, but I also love exploring; surveying would definitely be worth a shot. Not to mention, I'd get to play with GIS more than I do now.

Anyway, that's all for right now; I figure probably tomorrow, I'll do a little "day in the life" description of how things go for me around the kibbutz. There wasn't much to tell about today, but tomorrow is the trip to the Jolon Center - i.e. the Bedouin museum - and pizza and Indiana Jones in the dig lab, so it'll be a real party.

Laila tov!