Week One: Shalom, Israel!

Greetings from Israel!  I am a grad student in Classics (Ancient Greek and Roman literature, mostly, though it helps to tamper in related fields- art history, philosophy, history, etc.) and I work mostly on Latin Poetry.  So, Israel is rather out of my element.  I have no background in Near Eastern Studies, no knowledge of Hebrew, and absolutely no experience in archaeology, which is what I am doing here: digging at Tel Dor, Israel, a  site on the sea inhabited from the bronze age through the Roman period (by many different peoples).   For those of you who are strong with geography (if it’s not ancient Roman, chances are I don’t know it), we are staying at Kfar Galim, a boarding school just south of Haifa, in spartan rooms, with narrow, hard mattresses and modest furnishings.

I arrived here from Turkey (I had been a TA in Rome during the spring and spent the interim time traveling in Turkey) on Monday (June 27th), after missing my original flight, thus spending several hours in the Istanbul airport.  It was a relief to finally land and after about an hour on the train and a few minutes in a taxi, I arrived, checked in, showered and crashed.  The following two days were Orientation, a lot of meetings and a lot of talking, which I will spare you.  But come day three (Thursday), we had our first chance to go out on the site and do something.

We were up at 4am, before dawn, as will be the case for the rest of the quarter.  Since we will be doing hard, physical labor in the desert and the days are generally very hot, it is imperative that we get started as soon as it’s light.  We have a snack of coffee/tea and cookies (offered between 4 and 4.30) and are on the bus and on our way by 4.30.

Day One (and sometimes Day Two, we are told) is always a day of weeding.  An archaeological site has its excavation season during the summer, at the end of which, it is covered in plastic and some filler dirt (to protect whatever is there) and left until the next season.  Just like anything left for 11 months in the outdoors, nature takes over, and the whole site was covered in desert shrubs.  It was our job to transform the site from bed of weeds to archaeological site once again and with some sixty bodies at work until 1pm (we had 2 snack breaks and a breakfast break, as we will every day), this year, it was done in a day (a very good first day, we were told).  After a 2.30 lunch, we had some down time until 5pm, when we had more orientation stuff and our introductory lecture, followed by a much-anticipated dinner, at 7.15pm.  Given the 4am wake up call the next morning, those of us who are smart went to bed shortly after.

Day Two, we finally got down to it, though already our bodies were sore from the last day’s work.  This day consisted of removing the dregs of the dirt so that we could removed the protective plastic in order to begin excavating (this was a TON of dirt).  The surface dirt was scooped into buckets, which were piled at the far ends of each section and when there were too many buckets to function, they were tossed out of the excavation pits and to the site dump via bucket chains.  A bucket chain is a simple (though somewhat rough) exercise, in which people line up an arm’s length or so apart and toss buckets of dirt to one another, tracing the distance from the pit to the dump.  Tossing buckets of dirt at a rapid pace is no fun or easy task.  It involves coordination, stamina and strength and can leave you both covered in dirt and purpled with bruises.  And when you’re digging out a site, there are many, many bucket chains, and the digging and hauling of rocks (which can’t be included with the dirt since they will fly out and hit you) becomes the easy part.

Needless to say, when 1pm rolled around, everyone was tired, sore and ready to go home.  We packed up the tools, cleaned up the site, and dragged ourselves onto the bus, ready for our 2 day break which the weekend offers.  The battle wounds wasted no time in showing up, however, and I think that many who plan on hiking this weekend, will find themselves unenthusiastic about moving tomorrow.