Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Tel

I’ve been posting a lot about the travels I did in Israel while visiting Israel this summer. My post about Tel Dan concludes the trips I had with my parents, and begins the travels I had with my archeological group. But, since I was volunteering and traveling, time got away from me, and I now find myself reflecting on the trip from the United States. Just because I am back home does not mean I will stop posting about Israel; I have several other interesting sites to blog about.

But before I continue with my sites, I want to reflect on my archeological experience I had while in Israel.

Tel Zeitah is a small site located in the Shephelah or wadi system in Israel. There are several valleys located in this region; one directly to the north hosts Gath of the Philistines, and one directly south houses Lachish the Judean stronghold. This means according to Biblical literature our valley is home to Libnah, which has yet to be identified. This season we were digging in one square to reach the 8th Century BCE destruction levels corresponding to Senacarib and King Hezekiah.

Zeitah is an interesting Tel; several factors have shaped what it looks like today. Originally, the Tel was larger than it is today and the change is due to erosion escalated by human forces. Archaeological soil is very fertile, so farmers began stealing soil from the site. This man made cut, along with natural erosion, has made for a very steep eastern side to the Tel.

While most in our group worked to dig to the 8th Century, I worked with the boys and excavated in a 10th Century four room house. The square had already been excavated, so our job was to take out the bulk usually left between squares. Since this square was right next to the sharp erosion side of the Tel, our director Dr. Tappy could only hope the continuing floor survived 2,000 plus years and erosion.

Dr. Tappy’s hypothesis proved correct and we found what he hoped to find.

So what was it like to be an archaeologist? It is dirty, hot, tiring and detail oriented work. The area I worked in was especially crucial because of the information it can add to the archeological debate happening in Israel. For this reason we were told to work slowly and carefully as we worked down the bulk.

Several different levels exist in each area, and these levels can differ from inch to inch. Allow me to explain; when a home was destroyed in the 10th Century, the house was first set on fire. This would cause the roof and second floor to catch fire, since this was mainly made of wood and other organic materials. Once these burned, the wood would give way and this area would collapse in. After this, the mud brick walls sitting on the stone foundations would be left, and they would be pushed in to the floor. Now fast-forward to 2011 when my group was excavating; we would first come to the mud brick walls, but then there is a change in the make up and coloring of the dirt. Next comes the thick black soot that once was the roof of the house, and underneath there is the second level floor material, along with the first floor ceiling material. These changes occur within inches because of the way all the levels collapsed onto the floor.

I am not a natural archaeologist, but I did begin to pick up important concepts for working in the field. I was able to notice different levels in the sections, I noticed different make-ups of different surfaces, and I knew pottery like the back of my hand.

Through my experience I learned fieldwork is difficult, and may not be my strong point, but this experience has been like nothing else. I can better appreciate findings from the field, and now understand how they come to be.

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