Time Flies

Hello everyone!

Here’s a taste of my photos: this morning I climbed Masada before sunrise to watch this scene, 5:48 a.m. Israel time.

It’s been a while since I wrote; I haven’t found much time to blog over the nine days or so that I’ve been in Jerusalem. But, I have found the time to post my photos to Flickr pretty regularly. So, this brief blog post is an advertisement to go see my photos on Flickr. I try to use the captions of the photos to tell a story of sorts, so that may substitute for the blog while I’m busy going from place to place.

Here are the relevant photo sets since I left Hazor on July 14:

Jerusalem Photos: A compilation of all my photos relating to Jerusalem. This takes from a couple of albums, including Welcome to Jerusalem, All Museumed Out, and The Last Week. “All Museumed Out” sort of reflects my attitude after visiting museum after museum in Jerusalem over the past week, while “The Last Week” includes my visit to the walls of the Temple Mount, Garden Tomb and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, via the Via Dolorosa.

Day Trippin’: Beginning on Saturday (July 21), I began some day trips to round out my time in Israel, first to the West Bank and then to Masada and the Dead Sea. As of posting time, the upload of these photos is still in progress, so you may want to check back later for more of them!

Tomorrow morning I am heading back to Galilee and Hazor to hang out around the Sea and also to see the progress at the dig. The bus ride there and back is about two-and-a-half hours, so if I don’t sleep that time away, perhaps I can get some new blog posts up. Let’s hope!

My First 24 Hours in Jerusalem

I’ve now been in Jerusalem for less than 24 hours, and those 24 hours have been quite a whirlwind. I began my journey from Rosh Pina, the nearest station to Hazor, at 5:15 pm Saturday with a ticket bound for the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. This was the easy part; I was able to find all of this information on the Internet, and it worked out well: I was on the first bus after the resumption of transportation services following Shabbat, and it gave me plenty of time to unwind at the kibbutz before heading south. And the ride to Jerusalem was magnificent.

Jerusalem, the Old City, that I eventually got to! Read on.

Once off that bus, however, I was terrifyingly on my own, with no idea of where to go. Actually, that’s not totally true. I knew I didn’t want to take a taxi, as I haven’t had the best luck with taxis so far on my trip. I always feel ripped off by them, and taxis can’t go into the Old City anyway. So I figured out from my travel books that the best drop-off location around the Old City would be Damascus Gate, and that the walk from there to the convent wouldn’t be very bad. Now as far as I could and can still tell, intracity bus information for Jerusalem is not available on the Internet, so I assumed it would be rather easy to get to Damascus Gate once at the Central Bus Station. Not so!

My first instinct, anyway, was to follow where the crowd went to some other bus platforms. When we got to what looked like more buses, I asked the guy at the bus information station, who couldn’t have cared less about being of helpful service, which bus would take me to Damascus Gate. He told me #1 or #3, so I walked to those platforms and waited for the next bus. I must have waited for 15 minutes before I asked an Israeli (who spoke good English) if the bus I was waiting for indeed went to Damascus Gate, and he told me that it was somewhere else, outside the bus station; the bus I was waiting for would take me to a different city. Ay yi yi.

Eventually I found the intracity buses, and waited at station 3 for bus number 3. The bus driver initially told me I was on the wrong bus, before changing his mind. Whatever, I thought, it just added more to the adventure.

The bus I was on did indeed head toward Damascus Gate, but its final destination was the Western Wall. And, it must have been right after synagogues dismissed, because I had never in my life seen so many Orthodox Jews in their traditional garb, with their tassles and curly hair. Again, adding more to the adventure.

I got off the bus closest to Herod’s Gate, and walked through it thinking it was Damascus Gate. I stopped and turned around when I no longer saw any signs in English and Hebrew–at some point, it became completely Arabic. I continued walking around the city walls toward Damascus Gate, beyond the makeshift shops peddling everything from women’s underwear to soccer jerseys and children’s toys. Thankfully, no one stopped me to offer me something, presumably because I was toting all of my luggage with me.

Once through the Damascus Gate, I had only a rough idea of where I was walking from studying the Old City maps in my Fodor’s book, and a few photos of the different stations of the Via Dolorosa. Basically, I was to head inward and hope for a sign pointing toward the Via Dolorosa, and after a while, I found one. Even better, I found a pizza shop at the corner where I turned off the main road, which became my much-needed supper after finding the convent.

The convent was not hard to find after turning onto the Via Dolorosa. Finally, I had made it. After settling in, I knew the South African group was staying at a guest house very close to mine, so I walked there to meet up with them. They invited me to come with them this morning to the Mt. of Olives, and since I had no plans for my Sunday, I thought this sounded like a great idea.


The man at reception of the convent told me I had the best single room in all of the guest houses. I’m not sure about that–I’ll take his word for it–but I definitely have the single room closest to the temple mount, and the Dome of the Rock. Their call to prayer was very loud and woke me up at 3:45 am. I was able to sleep for a little while longer after using my iPod to drown out the Arabic chanting over a big loudspeaker, but finally couldn’t take it anymore and got up for good at 5:30. I also partially blame the dig schedule for my willingness to wake up so early!

The view from my room: that’s the Dome of the Rock mosque right there!

Once up, I had a good conversation with Judy, a nurse from Arizona who is also digging at Hazor. She is doing so to cross it off her bucket list. Isn’t that crazy/awesome? I recommended the convent to her and I think she genuinely enjoyed it here. I’ll see her again when I head back to Hazor to see their progress.

Breakfast was a nice change of pace from the tuna and vegetables to which I’d grown accustomed at the tel. There was a lot of good fruit, pita bread, jellies, chopped hard boiled eggs, and cereals, so hopefully I won’t also grow tired of this breakfast too.

I cleaned up and showered before leaving at 8:30 for the Mt. of Olives. Our first destination was the garden and church of Gethsemane at its foothills, commemorating the place where Jesus was apprehended at his betrayal and prayed in agony for his followers. It is important to remember that this, and many of the other overtly religious sites, may easily not be the exact location of the events that they commemorate. Instead, they are memorials, inexact locations. The desire to say that we are standing on the exact spot where this-and-this happened… is somewhat baffling to me in the first place. Do we worship stones and trees, or do we worship God through the power of our defining stories?

A garden, but not necessarily the garden, at Gethsemane. Recall that plenty more photos from my journey are available on my Flickr Photostream!

The church at Gethsemane.

After visiting this garden and church, we ascended up the mount toward another memorial site, this time commemorating the story of Jesus looking over Jerusalem in agony for the city. I took a group photo here for the South Africans, and one of them got a good one of me as well.

The ubiquitous Dome of the Rock, next to the dome of the Rob.

From here, we walked some distance to the City of David, intent on seeing the archaeological progress here and wading through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Thankfully, as has been the case for most of the archaeological sites we’ve visited around Israel, we got in for free by virtue of digging during the current season at Hazor!

Hezekiah’s Tunnel was built in the period of panic following Assyria’s ascent as a world power. After it had overrun Hazor in the north and headed south toward Judah, the people of Jerusalem raced against time to divert its water source, which sat outside the city walls and could have been cut off militarily from the city, inside the city walls through this tunnel. One team began digging from inside the city, and another at the water source, and they zigzagged around before finally, miraculously, meeting up somewhere in the middle to save the city’s certain fate. Walking the tunnel was fun: at some points, the water level was about halfway up my thigh, but for the most part, it was just above my ankles. The water was chilly, and the tunnel dark, and I used a flashlight on my iPhone to lead the way. Actually, the best part about this was that the app also had a compass on its interface, so I was able to see quite clearly how inexact a science the digging of the tunnel was. It’s definitely not a straight line!

The tunnel is not really much to see in photographs, illuminated as it is by my flash here. But, it was one of the highlights of the day.

After a good deal more walking around Jerusalem and visiting some interesting archaeological sites related to the Roman destruction of the city in 70 CE, we ended up at the Western Wall. We didn’t go down to it, as we were just passing by. I think I may return here later during my stay in Jerusalem, as there is an interesting museum next to the wall that shows the depth of the architecture of the structure.

Observant Jews pray and read Torah at the Western Wall of the temple mount.

With that, the day pretty much came to a close. One last note, however. I’m not sure how vociferously I complained so far about the coffee at the kibbutz and at the tel, but it was atrocious. It was basically coffee-flavored mud, and it was so bad that it drove me to drinking hot tea… I never drink hot tea. Anyway, this story has a happy ending, because this afternoon I found a great Austrian coffee house not far from my guest house! I would rate the iced coffee/frappaccino situation I drank today better than Starbucks… unfortunately, it’s at Starbucks prices: 19 shekels, or roughly $5. Totally worth it, though.

Hazor Dig Report: The Last Days

You may have noticed that it’s been a week since I blogged… sorry! Things have gotten very interesting at the dig, and I have spent any extra time I’ve had journaling (as required for course credit) about the dig rather than blogging for it. The two styles are not all that different, however, and I’ve decided to share my journals (sans sketches and drawings, but with pictures!) from the last two days as a blog post.

End of day, Friday: posing in our locus, next to the top step!

Before doing so, I should summarize the first few days of this week of digging. Monday and Tuesday were both very tedious days, and it seemed like we spent the entire time in bucket chains. Perhaps this feeling included a little bit of resentment: while the section to our south continued to find beautiful pavement and even small chunks of fresco, our wall seemed to lead to nowhere. We continued to dig and found nothing of significance.

On Wednesday, I had to stay back at the kibbutz and spend the day in the dig office, as is required when taking the dig for course credit. Though this change of pace–I got to sleep in until 6:00 am!–was enjoyable, it was not exciting. I would have preferred to dig, even though I got to help catalogue both the mundane and the interesting finds from the session: some alabaster, an intact juglet, a figurine of some sort, bronze pieces, etc. When my comrades returned to the kibbutz from the dig, however, they brought exciting news: they struck pavement in the southwest corner of our locus! Thus begins my journaling of the eschaton of the dig session.

Thursday, July 12

It was an exciting beginning to the day today, as I was itching to see my comrades’ progress within our locus, and specifically, the pavement we struck. Though it did not look like much in the morning–a square approximately 2 feet by 2 feet had been uncovered in the southwest corner of our locus–the promise was evident. In all likelihood, our entire locus could have the same flooring, if we are able to reach it in time.

This is the small section of pavement found in our locus, with some tools scattered about.

As we began to dig in the morning, we were noticeably tepid with our picks, so as to not disturb the pavement that lies somewhere below our remaining layer(s) of dirt. Shortly after beginning, however, we were able to determine that digging a “usual” layer of about 5 cm would not fully uncover the pavement. At the south end of our locus, we descended further than the usual 5 cm at first, in order to determine if we could take off the final layer in one fell swoop. But, we decided to follow the usual procedure, and allow the pavement layer to wait until tomorrow, if we are able to reach it.

At this point, my attention was turned to the mysterious wall in the northern end of our locus. Following Wednesday’s progress, we started to feel as though there may not, in fact, be more to the wall than was visible. Using a small hand pick, I descended another few inches on the south side of the wall, and even dug a small incision underneath the wall. Our conclusion from this trial was that the wall, though it is interesting, is floating, and does not continue any deeper. Ryan and Shlomit initially asked us to prepare the wall for photographing and removal, but Shlomit then changed her mind, and we returned to working around the wall.

Our locus, viewed here from the north, is still very much a work-in-progress as of Thursday morning.

The remainder of the day was spent digging, picking and sweeping with my comrades in our locus. In between the several lengthy bucket chains of the day, we successfully descended another full layer 5 cm in depth, setting the stage for the last day of the dig session, when with any luck we will reveal the extent of the pavement in our locus.

Friday, July 13

In the case of Elanij, At, Fanie, Coenie (who joined us for Friday in Timberlani’s absence) and myself, knowing it would be our final day of digging stirred both excitement and inspiration to work fast and effectively. Even though we knew we were just centimeters from striking pavement below us, the essential dig technique did not change much: we were to delicately and methodically remove the next layer of dirt to expose whatever lies underneath. But, since we already had an idea about what we would find, we were especially careful with our picks and scraper/shovels.

Here’s our team of hard workers in L12-330, from left to right: Fanie (pronounced “Fonnie”), At (pronounced “Ott”), Elanij (pronounced “Elonay”), and Coenie (pronounced “Coonie”). And me of course, in the back.

What we found was not far from our expectations: the pavement continues from the south end of our locus northward, meaning that our locus relates to the megalithic wall and everything else in the locus to the south. Unfortunately, though we could plainly see the evidence of the pavement in our locus, Shlomit asked us not to uncover it with picks and fine brushes. Though this was a disappointment, we understood the reasoning: the bulk that separates our locus from that to the south no longer serves a purposes, and, in fact, is a hindrance to understanding the structure’s utility. It will be carefully removed beginning Monday, and its removal and cleaning during next week could irreparably disturb a well brushed and exposed pavement surface.

Our minor disappointment soon would subside. As we were working to merely find the uppermost hints of the pavement in the north end of our locus, just to the south of the floating wall, we struck some different stones. These were much larger, very obviously flat, and smooth–as if they had frequently been walked upon. Stones of this variety spanned the locus in a straight line from east to west, and our premonition was that these formed perhaps the top step of a stairway leading to the north, toward the portions of Area M previously excavated. With this, we struck another “Friday Find” that served as a proper conclusion to our three weeks of digging a fill.

However, we would soon make another find. Michael John, another South African who had just been moved to the small section of our locus to the north of the floating wall, came upon more stones qualitatively similar to those that formed our top step. Michael John’s stones, and those we uncovered are not on the same plane: ours seem to be higher, suggesting that the “stairway” premonition may have some sound footing. Some steps remain before reaching a formal conclusion, however: next week, the floating wall must be photographed and removed to see what lies below, and further digging to the north of our area could discover what exactly, if anything, this stairway leads to.

How’s that for progress? Three weeks ago, the entire height of the buckets to my right was covered in dirt.

All that remained after this find was minor brushing and cleaning of our area and one final bucket chain. It is bittersweet that my participation in the dig is coming to a close now. As a team, we dug, quite literally, a few tons of dirt. It is pretty obvious that the area had been a fill, but we were lucky enough to find the first signs of what was filled. Certainly, more digging will be necessary to allow Shlomit and the other archaeologists to make any firm conclusions about our locus and its relationship to those that neighbor it. But I can be proud of the fact that our team was lucky enough to strike one of the few floors of the session, and not simply more walls. Hopefully, the next team to occupy our section will have as much success as we did, thereby allowing some sense to be made out of these structures’ past glory.

A final photo of our locus, and the one to the immediate south. This entire area has sometimes been called a “plaza” and a “pool,” but no one yet knows what it really was.

I also decided one final thing on Friday. As I will be staying in Israel for 12 more days following the dig, I will make a trip north from Jerusalem to see the progress before I leave. I told Prof. Ben-Tor, who oversees the area, that I expect to find answers when I return!


As I finish this blog post, it is approximately noon on Saturday. I had a restful night at the kibbutz on Friday night, and soon I will shower and pack to head to Jerusalem and begin the next step of my journey around Israel. I haven’t made any major plans yet for the week to come, other than that I won’t start day-tripping around the country again until late next week. Hopefully I will write next from Jerusalem, as I still want to publish a post about our rental car trip to the Jordan, Caesarea, etc. from last weekend. Until next time, thanks again for reading.

Hazor Dig Report: Day Ten

Yes, I know I wrote yesterday that I didn’t foresee posting an update from the dig today, but little did I know that we would make not one, but two breakthroughs in the plaza section of Area M! So, I will instead share the news but keep the post short.

The team of five (all from South Africa) digging in the south side of the plaza kicked off the morning by uncovering evidence of a stone floor abutting their massive wall, which is a big deal given that teams have been digging in this area for two-plus seasons with little success, other than finding a heterogeneous mix of potsherds, bones, and other nonsense from different eras. Finally, it seems, we are reaching the bottom of the fill, and stumbling upon the clues that will help us understand what purpose our structure once served in the Middle or Late Bronze Age. By the end of the day, they revealed about as much of the floor as I’ve photographed below.

The carefully crafted stone floor, which seems to be sinking a little bit in places as they move toward the center of the plaza, butts up against some nice rectangular stones that act like baseboards.

Furthermore, there is a pretty good chance that this stone floor will spill over into our section of the plaza, as our line of division (a bulk wall) has been artificially created and can be removed at any time.

Not ten minutes after their team first uncovered evidence of their floor, we in the north side of the plaza hit a sequence of large rocks on the north end of our section! The stones appear now to form a thick wall that spans our section from east to west, as shown below.

Our stone wall may be difficult to see, but it runs parallel to the blue brush in the photo.

It’s still too early to say what exactly this wall means, or what function it served. It seems rather low for a wall, given that it is at roughly the same level at which the south plaza team found their new stone floor. We can safely say, though, that it is not a wall, because the rocks here are bigger, more jagged, squared and awkward than floor stones (generally smooth, rounded and small) would be. There is a chance that this wall could extend all the way to the west of Area M, be very large in stature, and help to explain why the mud-brick wall adjacent to our plaza section never collapsed and is so well preserved. But for now, it is refreshing to find something that is exciting not only to us, but also to the dig directors! Today truly was a day of Easter eggs at Hazor, and it was nice to find something that adds potential to the season. We just hope we’ll still be around when the entire thing comes to fruition!

One last thing: speaking of the adjacent mud-brick wall, I hinted at the large pithoi jars that have been found yesterday, but didn’t have a photograph attached. Here are the rims of those pithoi jars, which may sit up to a meter or so below the current surface!

The mouths of these pithoi jars are currently stuffed with filled sandbags to prevent the pottery from breaking or crumbling any further. It appears that the jars are more or less intact, which is a great find and will eventually help the archaeologists at the Hebrew University to understand what they (and the room they were found in) were used for.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Hazor Dig Report: Week Two

It has been nearly a week since I posted a new “dig report” blog post, and this has actually happened for several reasons. First, there has not been a whole lot of significance to report: our daily plan is to dig in a specific area, and call one of the dig directors over to our area if we find anything of significance. But, this is a vast oversimplification, and not reason enough to keep me from writing.

A view from Tel Hazor to the northeast, towards Syria.

The second reason was that I became violently ill early Tuesday (Israel time), which was a combination of a bug going around the camp, some strange food Monday night, and perhaps a bacterium from drinking flowing water at one of the sites on Sunday. We have no way to know for sure now, but the good news is that I’m feeling 100 percent again! I stayed home from the tel on Tuesday and slept most of the day, but returned on Wednesday and again today. Hopefully, I’ll be back to normal for the rest of the dig, and the vacation afterwards. (Sorry for not telling you, mom! You understand, right?)

As a general word about my section’s progress, we have dug our huge area down to about knee-length depth, and we haven’t really found much of significance: simply a lot of pottery and a lot of bones, but even more pottery. What we have found continues to tell the same story: our section is full of both Middle and Late Bronze Age sherds of pottery, and it seems to have been a “fill” in the Late Bronze Age. For reasons unknown, of course.

Thursday at the Tel

I think I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that the section adjacent to ours has a thorough, well preserved mud-brick wall that may, in some way, connect to our section. The thought is that our section, since it is substantially lower than the mud-brick section, could contain part of a floor relating to the mud-brick structure. That theory could eventually prove true, because the diggers in the mud-brick section have come upon the top of a few pithoi (singluar: pithos), or large storage jars, that seem to be intact, at the same level, and therefore possibly sitting on a floor somewhere below. I didn’t snap a picture of the jars, but I did get a picture of Harel working at the mud-brick wall.

Harel, an Israeli archaeology student, poses for me by the special mud-brick wall that has consumed a lot of the dig directors’ time and energy.

In my specific section, the day was unremarkable, in large part because we had so many bucket chains, not to mention a special “rock chain” because a group digging the south end of Area M deconstructed an area-wide stone wall. I believe I’ve also mentioned bucket chains before; we diggers line up in somewhat of an assembly line and remove our dirt by passing our buckets to a particular location, which for us has generally been the south end of the area. A couple of times a week, a Caterpillar tractor will come to the tel and remove the big bags, which we call balot, for disposal elsewhere on the tel. Below is an example of one of the bucket chains in action.

I snuck this picture while waiting for the bucket chain to begin from our northern end of the tel. I never quite know what end of the chain I’ll end up at: somewhere in the middle, on one of the ladders, pitching the full buckets up to the balot…

I took this photo from the northern end of my section of the area, while waiting for the bucket chain to begin in earnest from our buckets. Buckets are being chained up the area (from left to right in this photo) toward the balot, where someone is throwing them, and another is catching and stacking the buckets. We do bucket chains so often, and sometimes digging so sparsely, that perhaps digs should be renamed Old Dirt Removal for the sake of truth-in-advertising!

The last hour of the day was spent in another tour of the previous excavations of the area. While last week we received a tour from Amnon Ben-Tor of the eighth, ninth and tenth century (BCE) features of Hazor, this tour (led by Sharon Zuckerman of the Hebrew University) examined the Canaanite features of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages. This included a tour of the major temple on the site, from which I have numerous pictures up today on my Flickr site. Two of them, though, are below.

This is the entrance to the royal, ceremonial temple of Hazor’s Canaanite era.

This is an interior wall of the Canaanite temple, made of three different materials emblematic of similar Northern Syrian temples of the era: a basalt base, (Lebanese cedar) wood plank, and mud bricks. Inevitably so, a number of crumbling mud bricks are visible at the top of this wall.

Weekend Plans

The four of us North Americans (there are actually more – at least three other Americans and one other Canadian – but they are older and not as into adventure as us!) have planned a weekend trip of our own, separate from the South Africans this time. We will be renting a car beginning tomorrow afternoon so that we can go kayaking on the Jordan River on Saturday, followed by swimming and minor sightseeing around the Sea of Galilee. On Sunday, we will head to the west to see the Mediterranean, including Haifa, Caesarea (Maritima), and Megiddo. It will be nice to blaze our own trail this weekend, and especially to just take it easy on Saturday along the water.

My intentions could change, but I don’t see myself posting an update tomorrow after the dig. I hope everyone back home had a good 4th, and will have a better weekend!