Hazor Dig Report: Day Three

Though it is now officially day three of the dig, it was, for all intents and purposes, day one of the actual digging. We are now beyond the winter wash and into the layers that we wish to save and study.

The day began with the construction of our shade over Area M. The shade netting, which we repaired from the previous season’s holes yesterday, had to be stretched over the area and tied off along the fence surrounding it. We then set some support poles in place to make the shade more taut. Below is a picture of the shade now covering the dig area.

Don’t be too baffled by the South African flag; nearly half of our excavation group traveled from there.

I was assigned for the day with a handful of people from South Africa to a section within Area M referred to as the “plaza.” This section has baffled the dig directors since last season, when a relatively early mud-brick hut was uncovered in a higher layer of an adjacent section. This is problematic because a general rule of archaeology says that the deeper you dig, the deeper you go back into history. However, the opposite seems to be the case in this “plaza” section: it has showed signs of being later (more recent) than the surrounding areas which are above it. The question is: how much later? The dig directors were adamant that any Iron Age materials found in this section would be very problematic, causing us to jokingly say, with our novice knowledge of prehistoric pottery, that every new find displayed Iron Age characteristics.

Here is the vicinity of my Area M section. More specifically, I worked today mostly in the upper right quadrant of this photo.

The general method of digging today involved picks, hoes, shovels and buckets. We took off a layer five centimeters (two inches) deep from our section, being sure to collect all the pottery and bones from our section in a pre-defined bucket, so that it could later be studied and easily connected to the place in which it was found. Five centimeters may not sound like much, but collecting the artifacts and disposing of the common dirt mix from five centimeters, when multiplied by the entire Area M, will consume an entire day.

Because this was the first “actual” day of digging, it was the first day of pottery washing. Thus, when we cleaned up the dig area, we relocated to a new place under some trees to wash everything we had found during the day, per the normal routine.

These pottery crates include most of the finds by the dig group today.

Thus ended our day, and we were soon after bussed back to the kibbutz from the tel. As for now, I must get something of a nap, because tonight we will have our first evening lecture, followed by a Euro 2012 football match that I hope to stay awake for. Day three of fifteen, complete!

Hazor Dig Report: Day Two

Some photos from the day are below, but many more can be found on my Flickr Photostream! Be sure to look at both!


Day two was another strange day on the tel. I’m not even certain it is appropriate to call this a dig report, given that much of the day was spent doing other things.

Anyhow, upon arrival we were split among two groups, and my group was instructed to mend holes in the large shade-netting that we intended to suspend over the top of Area M. Though we did so, this was a difficult and annoying process: using thin metal wire and pliers, we sewed holes shut to the best of our abilities. However, some holes were more like long rips, so it’s fair to say that we did some delicate suturing of last season’s surgery.

This is the large shade netting that we had to repair early this morning.

At this point, the truck towing the arial photography balloon pulled up, and we finally had something to take our minds off the shade netting repair. The balloon, and its operation, was rather cool: the operator held a machine that looked rather like an Atari, with buttons, dials, levers and a screen through which he could control the flight of the balloon and the orientation of the camera. Below is a photo of the balloon in action high above Area M.

Area M is directly below the photography balloon.

After the balloon show was over, we found other, more badly damaged pieces of shade netting that were to be used for other areas of the tel this year. So, our annoying job wasn’t quite over; it was just getting started!

Finally, I was able to descend the ladder down into Area M, and the brief spell of digging began. Using picks and hoes, we de(con)structed the top layer of a couple of walls, shoveling the dirt and rocks into buckets as we went. While doing so, one of my dig partners discovered a couple pieces of an alabaster jar, and not far from us, another digger found what seemed to be the nipple-shaped lid of the jar. Unfortunately, I did not snap pictures of these.

Shortly hereafter, at approximately 9:15 am, came the call for breakfast, and after breakfast, it was announced that Professor Amnon Ben-Tor, who has led and been part of the Hazor excavations for 30-plus years, would lead us on a tour of the tel. How often does one get such an experienced tour guide? Our tour was fantastic, as my Flickr Photostream might show (hint, hint).

A biblical olive oil press.

Above, for example, is an olive oil press found in a traditional Israelite home (the wooden rod, rope, and baskets are all modern implements added to show how the press would have worked). Our guide explained that the olives would have been smashed into a pulp in the container to the left, before being placed in the baskets and weighed down over the course of a few days in order to collect the oil in a floor-level jar.

The Hazor warrior!

And this “Israelite” guard keeps watch over a tower on the western edge of the tel, just outside of the city walls. Ben-Tor explained that it was placed here after a long battle with the Israeli government–over the specific aesthetics of the warrior–in order to attract passers-by to the site.

The tour eventually finished, but we were prevented from doing any actual digging back in Area M because of a lengthy clean-up operation involving a tractor, some large rocks, and the balot, which are large bags into which we had been dumping our dirt and rocks. The tractor will not be at our disposal every dig day, so we had to use it to lift away our junk while it was present today. Thus, our last job of the day was to remove our tools from the dig location by the use of an assembly line-like “tool chain,” storing them in the coffins at 2012 ground level. Day two of fifteen, complete.


In all honesty, I’m not sure I will always have enough interesting material for a “dig report” blog post every day. In some cases, I will have to write about other topics, if I write at all. My wife has suggested a few different topics, including kibbutz life, the Israeli food, and something on the other people with whom I am digging. To me, these all seem like great ideas, and I will incorporate them in a post eventually. Let me know if there is anything else along these lines you’d like to read about in the comments below!

Hazor Dig Report: Day One

Today was the first day of the 2012 dig season at Tel Hazor. As is normally the case, the first day of an excavation is somewhat different from each day that will follow. First of all, the site must be prepared properly: all of the dust, leafy matter and “winter wash” that covered the previous season’s progress must be cleared away and deposited elsewhere.

I found this sign not out in front of the entry way to Hazor, but leaning up against the side of a shed. Anyway, welcome to Hazor!

Thus, after carrying tools out of giant tool coffins, our job for the day was to sweep up leaves, dust, and other nonsense in order to make the site look as presentable as possible. We accomplished this using hand brooms, dust pans (which were actually the end pieces of flat metal shovels), and plastic buckets. Tomorrow, a photography balloon will be set out above the site to take high quality pictures for the purpose of cataloging the season’s significant finds.

The specific site at Tel Hazor that the team will dig is known as Area M, which includes a gate connecting the Upper and Lower Cities. (The gateway is visible in the photos below if you know what you’re looking for; if not, look for the darker stones that serve as a floor.) Area M is a mishmash of both early (Canaanite) and late (apparently Israelite) structures in the different strata, so part of our struggle during the season will be to try to understand the puzzle that is laid out before us, and how the area might have looked in a given century.

This photo includes the gateway to the upper city.

Area M all cleaned up, almost ready for the photo balloons.

Because the dig directors didn’t especially care for anything we found in today’s cleaning, nearly every fragment of pottery, animal bones, rocks, etc. was destined for dumping. Instead of letting this happen, I managed to scoop up and rescue some of the more interesting pieces for show-and-tell purposes back home.

Left: piece of what likely was a large jar, including part of its base.
Back: a quite thick piece of a pot.
Center: small piece of a jar, including part of its base.
Front: broken piece of a jar’s handle.
Right Mid: piece of another thick jar, including part of its lip.
Right Front: knuckle bone of a sheep or goat.

The work today was hard: I can already tell that I’ll be pretty sore (this seems to be the sentiment throughout the camp). Waking up at 4:00 am was surprisingly easy today, but I am sure the story will be different after a few days. The weather was bearable: from 5 until about 9 or 10, it was no worse than a sweltering St. Louis summer day. After that, the heat reached a new level, and I have heard that the weather will soon get hotter.

All in all, though, it was a fulfilling first day, and the excitement at what we may find in the days and weeks to come is becoming palpable. Here’s to our digging!

The Journey from Anderson to Haifa

While tweeting about the banalities of my journey from my home in Anderson to my first hotel in Haifa, I had been using the hashtag #38HoursToIsrael without much precise calculation. As it turns out, my rough calculation was just a little bit short: adjusted for the time zone difference, Lauren and I disembarked our apartment at 2:45 pm Thursday (Israel time), and I was dropped off at the Hotel Beth Shalom at 6:15 am Saturday. So if my math is correct, total running time: 40 hours, 30 minutes.

Well over half of that time was spent sitting down somewhere, and a very small minority of that time was spent asleep. That being said, this is not a post of complaints. I chose one of the lowest airfares I could find knowing well that I had a lengthy layover in Warsaw, and furthermore that I would land in Israel two calendar days after my departure.

For all the deliberation over taking a Greyhound bus to Chicago, this ended up being one of the more spacious, painless and productive parts of my travel. While the bus’ promised WiFi was not operational, I was able to churn out the better parts of three separate blog posts. And the connection from the Chicago Greyhound station to O’Hare was equally painless: just a three-block walk and I was on the blue line, the destination of which was the airport itself.

My flight to Warsaw was delayed by approximately three hours; I didn’t ask for a reason and none was given (I later learned that the plane, which had flown the exact same route in reverse, was itself late). Once we took off for the nine-hour flight, my luck was not much better: a wailing baby across the aisle from me, coupled with a man in the seat to my right who had a penchant for falling asleep over his Kindle with the bright overhead reading lamp distinctly ON, reduced my shut-eye time to very short naps.

Because of the flight’s delay, my half-day tour of Warsaw (scheduled for 2:00 pm) was in real jeopardy. Instead of landing at around 10:00 am with plenty of time to spare, we landed at 12:40 pm. Thankfully, passport control was a breeze and I also was quickly able to find an ATM to withdraw some Polish złotys. Thus began my search for a taxi.

If this endeavor in blogville is to be comprehensive, it must include both my successes and failures as a first-time international traveler. Here is my first failure, then: I followed a Polish man who offered a “taxi,” but who really was just an ordinary person who parked at the airport and waited to find some gullible bloke like myself. As we walked to his car, I came to realize my error, but he said he could get me to the location of my tour on time, so I continued on. Thankfully, this mistake only cost me about $13 over and above the rate of a legitimate taxi, rather than bodily injury (or worse). And as it turned out, I made it to my destination at 1:53 pm, with seven minutes to spare. Mission accomplished, even though I was taken for a ride.

The tour of Warsaw was very enjoyable, and I snapped a number of great photos of the various parks, monuments, statues, and so forth. Sadly, I was unable to photograph the various memorials related to the Jewish Ghetto, the Jewish uprising of 1943, etc., as I was both on the wrong side of the van and some of them were within a fenced construction zone, as a Jewish museum is presently in the works. Perhaps the most striking thing about the entire tour was how deeply sown-in violent, armed conflict the entire history of the city is. From wars of the 16th-19th centuries to World War II, almost every monument is dedicated to the remembrance (or glorification, unfortunately) of victories, defeats, bloodshed, lives lost, battles won, etc. In numerous cases, the cross of Christ and the sword are inexorably linked and equated. With greater reflection, perhaps I will be able to understand how I can paradoxically recall the tour both as “very enjoyable” and emotionally, philosophically uncomforting.

Cross in one hand, sword in the other.

The tour came to a close after a walk through the Old Town, which, like much of Warsaw, was completely destroyed during World War II and later reconstructed. Many buildings in the area display two dates: not a timespan, but the dates of initial construction and reconstruction after the war. A prominent example of this is a Catholic church located in the Old Town, a photograph of which is below.

The Catholic church, mentioned above.

Constructed 1370, reconstructed 1956. See more photos from Warsaw.

One of the more helpless feelings of the journey came next. After knowing I had paid about double the rate to get from the airport to downtown on my “taxi,” I didn’t want to pay the taxi premium again. I decided to take a bus back to the airport, which, given my lack of understanding of Polish, was a real zoo. (Though to some degree or another I understand German, French, Spanish, Hebrew and Greek, Polish was like real alphabet soup to me.) At the ticket kiosk I was asked a number of questions to which I didn’t know the answer, and I just ended up buying a bus ticket for something around the fare of three to four złotys, which my tour guide had estimated. Thankfully, there was no one on my bus examining tickets for the entire ride to the airport!

Compared with the wait through security in Chicago, after which I lost both my sunscreen and my jar of Nutella (major frown), the security point in Warsaw was very painless. I noticed the man watching the x-ray scanner saying something in Polish about my backpack, but no further inspection occurred.

The wait in Warsaw was very long, and we were put in a maximum security, show-your-passport-and-boarding-pass-to-everyone-who-asks gate. But I did manage to recognize a fellow passenger from the Chicago flight that landed some 8 hours earlier, and we had a good chat while waiting several hours for departure. Her name was Mary, and it was her first trip to Israel as well. (Turns out she came for a wedding.) Like me, she also left the airport for a (different) tour of Warsaw, so we compared stories and the like. I won’t lie, it was kinda nice not being the only obvious American on the plane.

By the time we boarded, I was very exhausted, and I fell asleep shortly after takeoff, along with the great majority of other passengers. I appreciated that the flight attendants tucked a sandwich for me in the pocket in front of my seat; it would later come in very handy while waiting for my hotel to open.

Departing the plane, I was immediately pulled aside and questioned by security (I must’ve stood out from the other passengers, being both pasty white and traveling solo). Despite my 4:00 am, 38-hours-into-my-journey grogginess, I answered the woman’s questions rather well, and I was soon on my way. I think part of this is because this was unexpected; Passport Control was another story. The woman there was more confrontational, and I got somewhat flustered. I was allowed to pass, but was recommended for further questioning by a manager. His demeanor was friendly but stern (“So you are an archaeologist?” “Well, no, but I am a student with aspirations…”). Anyway, apparently I must have sounded at first like I came to Israel to do archaeology completely on my own. I was allowed to go on my way when I explained that I came as part of a program through the Hebrew University. Once I showed him my acceptance paperwork from the university, I received the much appreciated “Welcome to Israel.”

At this point, I followed the same drill as in Warsaw: get money from the ATM, and get a taxi. Thankfully, I had a better (and more specific) idea about what I was looking for: a Sherut, or shared taxi with 8 or 9 other people going to the same city. This way, what would have been a large fare for a one-hour ride became small. I was the eighth passenger on the van to Haifa, and when the driver found a ninth and a tenth, we departed. (Here I also turned down a random man offering me “taxi.”)

I stayed awake on the Sherut, mostly because I wanted to see what Israel proper was like. First impressions: there is construction everywhere! Look almost in any direction and you’ll see cranes, scaffolding, and construction zones galore. Also, there are more American businesses than I expected to see. Yes, I knew I would see plenty of McDonald’s. I didn’t know I would also see Office Depots. While on the Sherut, the sun rose and night became morning, and after dropping off 5 or 6 other passengers, I reached the Hotel Beth Shalom at 6:15 am local time. The hotel was closed, but a guest who was reading in the lobby opened the door for me. I was allowed to check in at 7:00, despite the official check-in time being noon. Toda raba, Sana!

Thus ended my travel to Israel, but in truth, the journey is just now starting. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading.


I connected again with Lauren, before sleeping for 8 hours. I meant to wake up at noon, but didn’t until 6:20 pm. (Oops.) Then I went out to see some of Haifa…

Lower Haifa viewed from the Louis Promenade. See more photos from Haifa.

Now, I am on a bus from Haifa to Rosh Pina in Galilee. Soon I will meet up with the dig group from the Hebrew University. Shalom for now.

PSA: How to View My Photostream

Just a quick update for now! First, I’ve made it to Haifa in Israel after some thirty-eight hours of transit. A blog post about the journey and my day trip in Warsaw is in order, but for now this news must suffice.

Second: I’ve created a Flickr Photostream where I’ll be able to post most, if not all, of the great photos I take over the next 5 weeks. I’ll still feature the best of the best on the blog (such as Old Town Warsaw, below), but for the greater collection of pics, consider bookmarking that link!

Old Town Warsaw

The Road To Israel, Part 2: Why We Dig

My departure for Israel is fast approaching, and given the groundswell of interest in my trip, I decided to create a three-part series to provide more information about what exactly I’ll be doing there. Part one covered basic facts about the history of Hazor, while part two covers the intentions and goals of modern archaeology (especially for biblical sites). Part three, tentatively, will feature some ideas and details about my journey around Israel once my three-week excavation is complete. (See also, my basic itinerary.) So, let’s dig in, shall we?


Leave it to my grandma to ask the most basic, fundamental question imaginable after I announced that I would be traveling thousands of miles to participate in the excavation at Hazor: What on earth are you digging for?

Sometimes I tend to forget that not everyone is a student in biblical studies. The question seemed so preposterous to me, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made, both in terms of material items we hope to find and the intentionality behind excavations.

In his 2002 autobiography Doors to Life, Dr. Gustav Jeeninga (the late professor for whom my fellowship is named) defines archaeological data as “human thought objectified and then fossilized.” If you ask me, this is a fantastic definition. Archaeology, then, becomes an endeavor not to uncover ancient writing samples, intact pottery or elaborate municipal structures, though the discovery of such items is certainly rewarding and of principal importance to academia. Rather, we seek these material objects only as clues to the ideas of cultures long left dormant and livelihoods of people long silenced. And specifically in regard to the Ancient Near East, our secondary interests include affirming the biblical record (or, at times, weighing the evidence against the biblical record) and attempting to fill its gaps. Such is the case for Hazor, a biblical town for which the gaps are numerous.

With Dr. Jeeninga’s definition in mind, we must note that we can only access this “fossilized human thought” through physical objects. The simple answer to my grandma’s question, in a material sense, is that we’re searching for whatever we might find. But certain items will be more valuable than others. Any objects containing writing will provide the most direct access to the ideas, needs, intentions, and daily life of the ancient people of Hazor, but it will be extremely unlikely to find writing on any intact items. More than likely, we could find writing on broken pieces of pottery or the ruins of old structures.

Pile of Potsherds
Potsherds: think of them like the garbage of the ancients.

At this point, it is necessary to explain a little bit about how cities were built, conquered and rebuilt over in the Ancient Near East. When people first settled a location, much like the North American settlers of the 17th century, location was everything. For the purpose of protecting a settlement from military bombardment, the highest points were often chosen for fortification. In some cases, these high points may not be any more than a hill or a mound (which we call tels), as opposed to a mountain or plateau, but any advantage the people could grab would be vital for security from adversaries. When a town would be overrun and rebuilt with frequency, new settlers–who were accustomed to first destroying or plundering everything of value from a previous settlement–would simply build on top of that previous settlement, either with completely new structures, or by incorporating the previous structures into their (perhaps only slightly) different vision for what civilization should look like.

As a result, there are two significant observations about doing archaeology at biblical sites that I should stress. First, with the exception of physical structures, which, if not destroyed by military edict, are easily preserved over time because of their intentional construction, we are digging through ancient peoples’ trash. Hazor is not Pompeii; the entire town was not flash-fossilized for posterity. It was conquered and plundered violently, and its new occupants would not have consciously built over items they regarded as valuables.

A second observation is that when you dig deeper and deeper at a location, you access more and more ancient strata of livelihood. Because the Hebrew University has sponsored excavations at Hazor for more than 20 seasons (usually six-week periods in the summertime), my dig will be exploring the 13th and 14th centuries BCE, which theoretically should not include any distinctly Israelite settlement. This is appropriately called the Canaanite Period, as it is associated with the time in which scholars believe Joshua wrote that Hazor stood as “the head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10 NRSV).

What is typically found when rummaging through ancient trash is pottery, pottery, and more pottery. Shattered pottery, mostly. If we’re lucky, we’ll find large pieces of pottery that can be later reconstructed and studied to understand its precise utility to the civilization. Pottery was also the paper of the day, so we will be highly interested in any engraving that we may find on the sherds of pottery. We could find anything from ancient business contracts to royal decrees to scribal alphabet writing practice!

Other items we may find include both municipal and private structures, human and animal remains, oil lamps, weapons, coinage, and deities (idols). In addition to preserved writing, these items would constitute the real gold of the excavation and, if found, will necessitate several pages of ink in the end-of-season report.

So as I’ve come to understand, though we dig for physical objects, we are simultaneously (and primarily) digging to learn more about ancient people who can no longer speak for themselves. We wish to understand their way of life, their beliefs, what they beheld as important, how they met their end, and, ultimately, what we can learn about our humanity from their activity and their temporality. In short, we dig to grant ancient peoples a voice.

The Road To Israel, Part 1: All About Hazor

My departure for Israel is fast approaching, and given the groundswell of interest in my trip, I decided to create a three-part series to provide more information about what exactly I’ll be doing there. Part one covers basic facts about Hazor, while part two will cover the intentions and goals of modern archaeology (especially for biblical sites). Part three, tentatively, will feature some ideas and details about my journey around Israel once my three-week excavation is complete. (See also, my basic itinerary.) So, let’s dig in, shall we?


Archaeological Hazor
Welcome to Hazor, the archaeological site where I’ll be digging. Photo courtesy of the Hebrew University.

Pronunciation of “Hazor”: HOTS-or (not HAY-zore or HA-zore!). Though Hazor is spelled in English with a z, this letter in Hebrew is a “sade,” which is vocalized like a “ts” digraph.

Location of Hazor: Hazor is situated roughly 10 miles north of the Sea of Galilee along what was a significant ancient pass into and out of the northern kingdom of Israel. Its relative distance from the heart of Israel, let alone the land of Judah or Jerusalem, made it somewhat of a forgettable city—at least as far as the biblical record is concerned. Whenever Israel happened to face a powerful enemy from the north, Hazor stood immediately along the firing line. Along with Dan, which is recognized as the northernmost distinctly Israelite settlement, Hazor is often found in lists of cities destroyed when wars would break out between nations.

Hazor Map
This map of Ancient Israel is adapted from the American Bible Society. I’ve added a red arrow pointing to Hazor!

Biblically Speaking, What is Known About Hazor?: Knowing that it could also be a stalwart protecting against attacks from the north, Hazor’s location and relative vulnerability led King Solomon to strengthen and fortify part of the city in the 10th century BCE (1 Kings 9:15). Earlier, the city was said to be entirely destroyed by the conquest of Joshua (Joshua 11:10-15), and it also served as the home base for the Canaanite King Jabin (Judges 4:2). After Solomon’s time, Hazor would be among the numerous cities overrun by Tiglath-pileser of Assyria (2 Kings 15:29). Later, Jeremiah would warn about Hazor’s destruction at Babylonian hands, prophesying, “Hazor shall become a lair of jackals, an everlasting waste; no one shall live there, nor shall anyone settle in it” (Jer 49:33 NRSV). Though Jeremiah’s message rang true—Hazor is thereafter mentioned only as a battle site in the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees—the site is today much more than an eternal wasteland. In fact, it is one of the largest and best preserved archaeological sites in Israel today.

Archaeologically Speaking, What Else Is Known About Hazor?: Though our biblical knowledge of Hazor is relatively limited to its continued destruction and fortification over the centuries, archaeology helps to fill in the details and, as much as is possible after the passage of time, give its residents a voice. We know that Hazor contained both an “upper city” and “lower city,” though both parts of the city were not always inhabited at the same time. In Solomon’s time, for example, the archaeological record tells us that only one half of the upper city was actively settled. Additionally, while Hazor has the remains of a Yahwistic cultic high-place, archaeologists have also found pagan religious symbols and structures. This raises an important question, specifically, how Israelite was Hazor?

Perhaps most significantly, by the time of Solomon we know that Hazor was well in decline. The city’s best years, during the second millennium BCE when it enjoyed a population of perhaps 20,000, were well behind it. Though Hazor is somewhat of an afterthought in the biblical record, its Canaanite significance is not questioned. Joshua 11:10 alludes to this, saying, “Before that time Hazor was the head of all those kingdoms” (NRSV).

Portions of this section, and this post as a whole, are adapted from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Hazor historical website; clickthrough to read more about how Hazor is mentioned in documents even older than the Bible! The dig in which I will soon participate is led by the Hebrew University, and you can also read recent seasons’ reports from their site.

Reasons for Choosing Hazor: When researching various digs taking place this summer, I decided I wanted to participate in an established dig with a respected university at a location with which I was (at least vaguely) familiar, and could therefore be connected with my studies in Old and New Testament. Hazor fulfills all of those requirements. The intrigue provided by the Canaanite/Israelite question—by which I mean, was there indeed continuous violent destruction or perhaps cohabitation and coexistence, and when?—and the archaeological significance of Hazor sealed the deal. With all I now know, I’m thoroughly looking forward to the dig!

Later this week, I will continue with a post about the reasons for archaeology, how excavations are undertaken, and much more. I hope it will provide more insight about what exactly I’ll be doing at Hazor, now that you know some basics about its history! Got any more questions or thoughts related specifically to Hazor? Feel free to leave them in the comments section, and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability!