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!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Day Fourteen: Pizza!

Before I launch into a description of the day, here are some more pictures! These are courtesy of Kristen Fulton, a member of E6 with me:

This is a picture from very early on - as you can see, no squares are dug. In the background there is usually an expansive view - on this day, the mist was rolling in. From left to right: Liz, Blake, Jeff's butt, someone else's butt, Tim, Ted, someone bending over, and someone in a blue shirt. Right behind Liz, you can see the sandbags bordering E7, and the area where E6 was soon to be.

This is E7, with the made-up wall that so upset Tim (my area supervisor) last year when he dug here. As it turned out (you may remember me saying this earlier), there was a wall underneath this, but there was still no reason not to dig out this nonsense piece of dirt. Also, underneath that floor you see, there was the actual floor, with immense amounts of pottery and loom weights.

This is the view from the top of the tell, to the northwest, where we can see the farthest. I can't tell who that is by the wheelbarrow, but down that direction is our dump pile, and the structures that you see are Kibbutz Dvir. Just about at the furthest right of the frame, all the way in the distance, is where you can sometimes see the Ashkalon towers.

Today was a fairly typical day on the tell. We dug with the Mississippi boys, who are digging with us every other day until their surveying kicks into full gear. We knocked down the mini-balk between E6 proper and the potato patch, which of course made a mess of all the carefully-swept floor, but it worked out okay in the end, because the potato patch is now less than a foot higher than the rest of E6.

The one thing that really got to me today, though, was that we went up the tell to find that we had been robbed. Presumably by the bedouin that were up there the other day. They had already taken our tarp, but this time they took all our patisheem and trowels. Worst of all - and this infuriated me such that I didn't know what to do with myself - they dug my pottery out of the balk. Remember the pots that I spent hours articulating, that Dylan drew in section, and that were restorable? They dug them out. They looted our square. As far as I can tell, they didn't take anything, but they dug chunks out of our balk and destroyed the carefully-preserved positions of all the pottery. I know it sounds melodramatic, but I just don't understand how someone could do that. I was having a hard time this morning getting past how angry I was in order to dig.

Apart from this, it was a surprisingly good day. The high point was at shade break, when Oded told a story about the Israelites grumbling in the desert, and God sending them manna and quail. Then he revealed to us that we would be having a pizza dinner on Wednesday night. And there was much rejoicing. :-)

We extracted the pottery from E7 today; I had nothing to do with it, as I was working in the potato patch, but it was still kind of exciting. It made pottery-washing a bitch this afternoon, but the lecture we had afterward completely made up for it. Dylan gave a lecture on technical archaeological drawing. I don't think I could ever do it, but I think it's really incredible. I find the whole procedure fascinating. He is a superb artist in his own right, and his technical drawings are also excellent. We got to see examples from both this site, now and in years past, and other sites. The day that Dylan was up on the tell doing drawings, I spent most of my time watching him.

Anyway, this post has been a bit disjointed, as I'm tired and distracted by the six people in my room right now. We got a new roommate today, and a bunch of the girls are over to use the Internet and to meet her. So I'll head off to be sociable for a bit and then read my book, and I'll tell you more later. Much love.

Laila tov!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Day Thirteen, Part Deux: Pictures as Promised

One of the Mississippi State guys, Thomas Tolbert, was kind enough to upload to Facebook some pictures from the day's travels.

This is us trooping down into the water works in Beersheva.

This is the bulk of Tel Beersheva, from a viewing tower in the center. Anna is the figure you see in the middle. Directly left of her is the governor's house that I mentioned, and the long, thin rooms above and to the right of that are the storerooms.

This is the fortress at Tel Arad.

These are camels we saw by the side of the road along the way. We kept seeing bedouin with herds of goats, kicking up dust. While we were standing on the tower at Tel Beersheva, we saw two kids riding a donkey at top speed up the wadi.

Day Thirteen: Ouch, ouch ouch!

So, you remember me saying how I kept bashing my knee on pointy rocks? Well, now I've done it royally.

We had the bonfire last night, which was incredible. We all hung out and drank beer and threw palm on the fire. It was a ton of fun. We were down by the south gate, by which we left to go on our hike last Saturday. There's a pile of rubble down there maybe two stories high, and it forms a little enclave where we hung out. We could see millions of stars at night; we're really in the middle of nowhere. At one point, I was teasing Zac, who was feelin' pretty good by then. I snagged his water bottle away from him, and he fought with me over it, and then we both hit the dirt. I tore a hole through my jeans and a chunk of flesh out of my knee, not to mention bruising the other one while I was at it. Zac faceplanted, and laid there for a bit, but got up and dusted himself off. He was bleeding from the face a little, but ultimately was okay. Before I knew it, the story going around was that I body-checked him into the ground and beat the crap out of him. This morning, he didn't show up for breakfast, and Jimmy was joking that he wouldn't show his face either if he'd been beaten up by a girl the night before. Zac did show up for the trip, looking sufficiently pitiful. It sounds like I've earned myself a bit of a reputation as a scrapper. :-P I can't really say that I mind; it makes for good comedy.

Anyway, today we hopped on a tour bus and went to Beersheva in the morning, and Arad in the afternoon. Both are fortified cities on tells. Beersheva wasn't very big, but its features were amazing. It sits right near the wadi that supplies the area with water, and the view from the top is spectacular. Rolling yellow hills in all directions. The rooms and structures of the city are well-articulated. I particularly liked the storerooms, with the governor's house standing right nearby watching over it.

My favorite part about Beersheva is the water system. An artificial one was built in the time of Hezekiah, to supply the city with water in case of siege. We walked down through it. This thing is massive. A huge pit was dug and lined with cobbles, and a number of rooms underground were presumably the well. I love ancient civic architecture, because it belies the lack of organization that so many people seem to assume. Humans are good at organizing themselves, and have been doing it for a very long time. I'll post pictures of us walking down the giant well as soon as I can get ahold of them.

I probably preferred Arad to Beersheva, as cool as the water works were. Arad had a fortress city on top of the tell, from the Israelite period, and a walled Canaanite city nearby. The first thing we did was to walk around the back of the fortress, where Neil showed us the entry to the water works. A channel was dug under the fortress, and water was brought up from the well and poured into the channel. In years past, apparently this was how Neil sneaked into the fortress. We sent one of the new boys, Thomas, in to investigate, but sadly, iron bars had since been installed.

Neil spent the entire day encouraging us to climb around, poke about the structures, leave the beaten paths and hop the guardrails, which we merrily did. The fortress at Arad contained a temple with an altar and a holy of holies; we clambered up on the altar and pretended to sacrifice Kristen (we did this with Michelle on a replica altar at Beersheva). The altar was huge, 9x9x5 or so, and contained a single flat field stone on top. We climbed over the walls and poked about in the ancient rooms nearby. We walked into the Holy of Holies to see the incense burners and standing stones. My favorite part was the flagstone floors of the temple.

Then we walked down to the Canaanite village. Anna and I climbed the city walls and walked along them, hopping over the spaces that provided access to the protruding guard towers. We left the beaten path and saw the giant well of the village, with houses or storerooms crowded around it. I walked through ancient doorways and over millennia-old thresholds. I walked down streets and through courtyards and into houses, picturing myself bringing up water, pushing past men on donkeys and children playing naked. It was easy to picture the high, pale limestone walls and cobbled floors playing host to hustle and bustle. Being down in the daily lives of these ancient people made them seem that much more immediate. I walked their streets and sat in their houses. It's all piles of stone now, but the echoes are there. I wandered off to explore more of the city, and was told later that a couple dramatic pictures of me sitting on ancient stone walls and looking pensive were taken.

After all of this, we came back and jumped in the pool for a bit. Not much was happening, though, so I laid out for a while, and then came home to blog and read more of the Crusades, which I will now do. You might not recognize me when I come home; I'm getting quite tan.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Day Twelve: My laundry is still wet.

I forgot to mention yesterday that I did bucket laundry for the first time, and it was a monstrous pain in the ass. My clothes aren't so wet that I won't wear them, but hang-drying is just not the same as using a clothes dryer.

Anyway, today was another slightly unusual day on the tell. We had to get some rapid cleaning in when we first went up, because Oded wanted to take some good pictures, and the light is best before the sun comes up. We brushed everything, and placed the yardsticks and the call board to give scale and indicate locus numbers, respectively. Then we brushed ourselves out of the square, so no footprints would remain. It's tricky business. Anyway, we got some very good pictures, and then the time came to ::gasp:: REMOVE THE POTTERY.

We had to lay out a grid, and then string the whole grid, to cut the area with the pottery into squares. Each tiny 25cm by 25cm square went into its own bucket. Kristen and I worked on extracting the pottery. How cool is that?? We used brushes and trowels and tiny bamboo skewers as picks. I was handling pottery that had not been moved in 3000 years. I got to pull out the big, flat grinding stone that we found. Crushed partially underneath it was a rim that I had been interested in for several days. I got to take it out as well, and found that five other large pieces of it were there. It turns out we can reconstruct the whole thing!

We brought down buckets upon buckets of pottery at lunchtime. We had enormous jug handles and small, mostly intact juglets. There was a wholly intact small bowl or cup, and we're taking samples from inside it to see if any residues are left. We had a couple of clay loom weights, which always fall apart when you extract them - except that one of them was on a potsherd, which made it much easier. We even found soup bones inside a pot. When we were finished, the area looked just like any other - cleaned and swept at right angles to the balk, except for a few assemblages that are too far inside the balk to pull right now. We'll be taking down the balk between E6 and E7 next week, so we should be finding much more stuff then. Throughout the removal process, Dylan would stop us, so that he could sketch items as they had been found underneath other items. The way they were found helps in the reconstruction process. When we were done, he sketched the balk in section, including the assemblage that I articulated and left in. Without most of the pottery, the wall is even easier to see. It only runs through the middle portion of the trench, so our guess is that at either end were disturbances from later periods, which were either pits, or saw people robbing out the stones for other uses.

Apart from excavations, today was a good day. It was warm, but the breeze was from the coast and the weather was clear as a bell. I could see all the way to Ashkelon, but mostly by virtue of the fact that one of the power plant towers was steaming. At the end of the dig day, we could see a four-story dust devil making its way through one of the towns down the slope. I admit that I was getting a bit cranky during the dig, mostly because I couldn't manage to keep things cleaned to my satisfaction (and wanted everyone else to leave so I could do it), but I got over it quickly. Yay OCD!

Not all that much else to say, as I've just finished lunch. I went to the store and picked up a supply of beer, and will be going to the pool soon. After dinner, there will be a bonfire near the kibbutz gates (of our making), where all the cool kids will be hanging out. So of course, I'll be there with bells on. :-)

Tomorrow is Beersheva and Arad! I'll tell you all about it!

P.S. - Shout out to my daddy, who works hard so that I can be here. I love you.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Day Eleven: I'm engrossed in a book

So this might be short. Wow, I'm hooked on Warriors of God, by James Reston. Anyway, today was a little unusual. Climbed the tell, but then we got to work cleaning our site. I spent hours today articulating pottery. Tiny told me that it was a great skill to have, and if I was good at it, they'd make me do it often. He said I did a really good job. We were working on this because we had an architectural artist here to draw the walls and such today, and because Oded wanted to take pictures. Also, Dylan was up on the tell to do drawings of balks and assemblages. He sort of hijacked my assemblage and did a whole bunch of further articulation; he said I did it right, but he just needed a few extra things. He explained to me exactly what he was doing, and asked whether he was on my turf. I later found out that to take someone's find and start digging it is pretty rude, which I guess is why he was being so... deferential? But I didn't mind, and I learned a lot from watching him. In the future, though, I may try and keep closer hold of my finds, because I really enjoy articulating.

In the end, as I didn't have much to do, I helped in the potato patch for a bit. I then wandered over to Liz's square to sift for them, which was fun. After digging, not a whole lot happened. I tried to bring music to pottery-washing, but the computer crashed on me. We had a lecture about the trip we'll be taking this weekend: Beersheva and Arad. After hearing about what's there, I'm incredibly excited. You will of course be hearing all about it afterward.

After pottery-washing, we kicked around the homemade hackey-sack that Tiny sewed, and then wandered off to dinner. Twilight saw me kicking around a soccer ball with the boys in front of the dining hall. They were supposed to play the Israelis tonight, and we all went down to watch, but the kibbutzniks never showed up. They just played on their own, and I had a good conversation with Tim on the sidelines. I have a bum ankle from the other day - I fell hauling gufas on the tell - so I sat out. We all packed it in a few minutes ago, and now I'm beat to hell, but I have to stay up a little longer and read more about Richard the Lionheart and Saladin.

Erev tov!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Day Ten: Wow, that's cool.

Today was more of the usual: wake up at 4:30, climb the tell, complain about having to climb the tell, do a lot of digging.

Okay, so that's not entirely true. Today, we began articulating the finds we've had in the bottom of E6 so far. I guess I technically ought to be giving locus numbers... :-) [Ed. note: hereafter follows a long description of the basics of the Gezer method of archaeology.] We have a 5 meter by 5 meter square that we're digging. We have, however, only been digging half of it. We began it as a probe, to see if we would find anything interesting, which - as you know - we ultimately did. Currently, we have three different loci (plural of locus) in E6. The locus is the smallest organizational unit within an archaeological dig. A locus essentially describes a relatively homogeneous chunk of dirt. So our first locus, E6001, was all of the stuff we dug up before our first pottery layer. Once we hit that layer, we switched to a different locus, so that anything that went with those pots could all be together, and separate from the crap that we had already pulled out. Thus began locus E6002. Most of our square is still in that locus. However, as soon as we found the assemblages that I described yesterday, we put those in their own locus. So the middle of the pit, towards the west balk, is locus E6004. E6003 is the probe at the southern end that I mentioned; the one where the jar rim and bone are.

Anywho, today we tried to level everything off to the floor, and articulate the pottery - i.e. dig it out a bit, so that its shape can be seen. We may have an intact pot - a small one, a cup or a bowl. Near it, we appear to have a wall. Large stones form a line, and inside them appears to be rubble fill. At the southern end of our trench is an obvious disturbance - those damn Persians were digging the place up, and probably stealing the rocks from Iron Age houses.

It was downright cold on the tell today, and the wind was brutal. I kept getting dust in my eyes. I helped in the "potato patch" today - we're digging up the other half of our square, and we call it this because we have to squat and fish out all the rocks after pickaxing. I also helped articulate pottery, but the thing I'm proudest of is being administrative early on. I was assigned to sifting, but I ended up running around cataloguing MCs and writing tags for buckets. I was proud of myself for knowing what I was doing, and for making sure everyone else could dig effectively while I took care of paperwork. Also, I only got asked for coffee once. :-)

Later in the day, we hung out with the boys at their tarp, and then went up to the pool to splash around and play water basketball. Generally, we just goofed off like we usually do. We had a couple of new people show up today, and we introduced them to the joys of pottery-washing. I've been so tired, though, that I haven't even had a chance to start the book I borrowed from Ted, about the Crusades. I'll let you know how it is once I get into it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Day Nine: Sunburn

Okay, so I suppose I should start with the end of yesterday. The Shavuot festival was awesome. After pottery-washing, I came back to my room. The girls came by to get beers out of our fridge, and the five of us (yes, there are only five of us) found a spot to sit, drink, and chat. Eventually we wandered up the hill to chat more with the guys, who were hanging out on someone's second-story front porch. The view was southeast (I think; I'm still a little turned around), and we could see the hills rolling away. At five thirty, we walked over to the dig house to meet everyone. We walked out of the kibbutz gate and down to a park area. Bales of hay had been set up to make a stage. Music was playing, and chairs were set out. We were in a small valley, between the hill that the kibbutz is on and the next (which we walked on Saturday). The view was the same direction as from the guys' porch: the hills rolling away to the south. However, there was something about being down in that valley and seeing it open up into sunlit hills at the end that was beautiful. First, there was a tractor parade; each was decorated, and carried goods produced by a local kibbutz. Apparently there are three in the area: Lahav, Golov, and Dvir, the last of which can be seen from the tell. They produce plastic containers there, large ones for industrial shipping. One of these was given to us and co-opted for use as the stand on top of our photo tower.

After the tractors came a number of acts. Our girls from the other night got up and performed a dance. The crop-dusting plane flew several passes overhead, waggled its wings at us, and dropped loads over the field right nearby. There was music, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Lots of very cute children. A number of them seem pretty infatuated with Tiny; they kept coming over and stealing his hat. The show didn't last very long, and afterward we wandered back to the dig lab to eat dinner, which was followed by several games of mafia. Some of the girls aren't really into it, but I think it's catching on around here.

Today, the tell was absurdly windy. As we walked up, I asked Tim about himself. He has a law degree, and until recently, worked as a port supervisor in New Zealand. He resigned to come here to Lahav, but has another job lined up as a government advisor on shipping policy. Tim is an incredibly interesting guy. He's fairly retiring, and doesn't tend to volunteer information, but we really managed to get him talking today.

The day started out cool; the mist was already in when we went up the tell. It didn't burn off until we went down for breakfast. It was almost chilly for most of the day. The wind kept kicking up, and I got dust in my eyes and mouth. We all had, as Jimmy put it, a terrible case of "dig boogers". We were inches from giving up on our square today; when we took elevations early on, we realized that in our small E6 probe, we were already lower than what was supposedly the floor in E7. Either we had gone straight through the floor, which was unlikely, or there wasn't one. So a four-foot-deep, eight meter square excavation was for nothing. Tim decided to close our probe, and even out the bottom of our square, and then we'd have to come up with a different plan. However, as Kristin and I worked towards each other from either end of the square, we found something against the western balk (the one that borders E7). All of a sudden, we had a huge, elaborate pottery assemblage. It started with a nice piece of rim from a hole-mouthed jar, found in the middle of the former probe area. Next to it, presumably in the jar at some point, we found a large bone in situ. Then, against the western balk, I found a large handle. And then a big sherd. And then a handle under that sherd, and two more sherds sticking out of the balk. And then Kristin found several sherds that were large panes of a cracked vessel. Then she found a few more. Then I found the rim of what is probably a bowl. Then I found a chunk of iron! That was a big deal, actually; I had to MC that one myself. (Editor's Note: MC means Material Culture. "To MC" means to pack an MC away properly and catalogue it.) So all of a sudden, just when we were giving up hope, we found our missing floor! We're working on following it as far as we can, but it's tricky when you know how much stuff you could potentially run into. Next to it, we may have the foundations of a wall; it's hard to tell with so many piles of rocks lying around.

On the subject of rocks, I almost joined smartass Tim in the gimp club today. I kept bashing my knee open on pointy rocks. I have a nasty bruise there, and I wouldn't be surprised if it went all the way to the bone. My poor injured patella.

After digging, we all went to the pool, which is finally open. We played pool volleyball for a good solid hour and a half. I elected not to wear sunscreen, in the hopes of picking up some color; I'm a little pinker than I'd like, but I think it'll turn to tan. I didn't actually bring a bathing suit, but Glenda's fits me well, and I'm not really picky. Volleyball was spectacular fun; I actually managed a good save or two. After the pool was pottery washing and lecture. The lecture was about the Bronze Age, so I was all ears; the speaker, whose name I can't remember but who is prominent in ASOR (look it up), focused a great deal on the Egypto-Levantine trade routes. He is working with Jimmy on the survey, so I'll have to snag him at dinner sometime and pick his brain.

Anyhow, I'm falling asleep, so I'm going to go rest up before tomorrow's dig. I'll catch you all later!