Why We Dig: A Professional Addendum

A week or so ago I published a blog post explaining why we dig in the ancient soil of Israel, from the material objects we seek to the immaterial motivations for excavating the remains of civilizations past. In doing so, I jotted down my own ideas, shaped as they necessarily are by my own participation in academia. Ultimately, I explained that we dig to allow these ancient peoples–Hazorites, in my specific case–a voice through which to tell their individual and collective stories, and so that through this discovery we can learn more about their civilization and ours.

On Wednesday, before leaving Anderson, I spent a few hours at the university library collecting journal articles, book chapters, essays and other materials published about Hazor by various scholars and archaeologists who have worked at the site for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem since 1955. These articles, written both for scholarly audiences in more obscure publications like the Israel Exploration Journal and for relatively popular audiences in Biblical Archaeology Review, have been listed among the basic bibliography provided to me in advance by the dig directors, given that I have opted to take the excavation as a formal course through the Hebrew University.

I began to read these articles on my bus ride to Chicago, and the following comes verbatim from Dr. Sharon Zuckerman, co-director of the Hazor excavation. At the time of the article’s publication, she was exploring the interesting possibility that Hazor’s destruction may not have been entirely by Joshua and the Israelites, but also (if not predominantly so) by a revolution of the common Hazorites:

This different possible interpretation of one crucial event in the history of Israel has led me to delve deeper in the search after “the common people.” The ordinary people, those shaping the existence and form of society by simply “being there,” form the “silent majority” of all ancient (and modern) civilizations. Their daily activities and mundane chores, conducted in the context of domestic quarters and simple dwellings, are often hidden from current research in Ancient Near Eastern and Israeli archaeology [and] as a result, the Canaanite and Israelite commoners–men, women and children–usually remain voiceless and their stories untold.

Through the combination of both archaeology and related sciences (such as archaeobotany, archaeozoology and geoarchaeology), I hope to suggest a comprehensive reconstruction of the functions of the simple households of the humble Hazorites and their daily activities. Such a reconstruction might shed a different light on every aspect of the life of these people: What did they eat, and where did they cook and consume their food? What kinds of artifacts did they produce and use? What was the nature of their domestic ritual activities? Where and how were they buried? In short, how did the ordinary Hazorites live and die, and how were they affected by the large political processes of the rise and decline of the kingdom?

I hope those common households will be “given a face” and can contribute to our understanding of the history of the city. I believe that investigating “from the bottom up” might afford us new insights to the processes of the rise and the fall of Canaanite Hazor, the mighty kingdom whose impression on the history of ancient Israel lasted for millennia.

Sharon Zuckerman, “Giving Voice to the Silent Majority of Ancient Generations,” Biblical Archaeology Review 34.1 (Jan/Feb 2008), 26; 82.

I’m taking it as a positive sign that I will be digging for the same explicit purpose as one, if not both of, my directors. Surely, it can’t be a negative sign.

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