“Work work work work work,” was the daily chant to inspire us to keep up the hard work. This past summer I spent six weeks as a volunteer at an archeology dig in Ashkelon, Israel.
Day in and day out we were out in the field. It was hard work, but extremely worthwhile. By the end of the six weeks, we were able to see all of the progress we had made during the season, all the new discoveries we had made and the history we had rewritten. Join along as I recount this unique way to travel, traveling as a volunteer at an archeology dig. Anyone can volunteer (I had no prior experience or knowledge of archeology), as long as they are willing to get down and dirty!
To start this blog off, I am going to make one thing perfectly clear, no one is good at archeology their first time. It takes a while to become use to the tools and methods archeologists employ. If you are anything like me, it also takes a while to not pick-axe artifacts or pottery (once I start swinging, I am ballin’). But, with time and patience, anyone can assist archeologists at archeology digs! Without further adieu here was my six weeks playing archeologists and learning way more information than I anticipated while at it!
Week 1: Everyone says the first week is always the hardest; they were not lying. Within the first week of the dig, there is no time to properly recover from jet-lag and for those who have not had the opportunity yet to visit Israel, the environment takes time to adapt. When you step out of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel-Aviv in mid June, the first thing anyone will notice is the major temperature change. The airport is nice and air-conditioned, while the outdoors is well over a hundred degrees farenheit. The next factor a normal person will notice is the barren landscape. The Israeli climate is not a necessarily nice once, in Southern Israel especially, there is very little tree cover and quite a bit of dust and sand. Moreover, out of the entire six weeks I spent in Ashkelon, we only received four drops of rain (we all counted). June and July in Israel is extremely dry.
Furthermore the first week allowed us, the volunteers at the dig, to become exposed to various archeology tools and methods. I learned how to correctly use a trowel, pick-axe, pitish, and haul dirt out of the grid. In addition, I learned to look for lines in the dirt (I know it sounds crazy and like the sun has made me mad), but they do exist! In addition, we learned how archeology sites are excavated. First, the entire site is partitioned into set grids (Asheklon’s were 10×10) Next, to determine which grid to dig in, surveys are conducted. Then, when decided where to dig, excavation of the grid begins. Once a grid has begun excavation, the grid will be divided into squares of equal length, and certain squares will be dug in at a time (makes it less confusing). It was during the first week in my grid, Grid 51, that I learned the first major no-no of archeology, do not dig holes. Digging holes and excavating are not the same thing. If you dig holes and discover artifacts, it disrupts the timeline and places the material culture (MCs) out of context, rendering them useless.
The first week of the dig concluded with a weekend trip to Jerusalem (there will be a blog post later about it!)
Week 2: This week progressed the same as usual. By this time we had gotten into a routine, wake up at 4am, wait downstairs at 5:20am, be first in line for a cappuccino at 5:30am, leave to the dig site at 6am, dig until second breakfast at 9:00 (consume lots of salt to retain water), dig until fruit break at 11:15, dig until lunch at 1:00pm, free time until 4:00pm, pottery compund (wash pottery, bone, or mark pottery) until 6:00, lecture until dinner at 7:00, then free time, or as I like to call it, bed time.
The days at the dig stay very busy! One of the coolest non-dig site experiences I had while in Ashkelon was simply happening to be in Israel for a major Jewish holiday, Shavuot. Shavuot is the JEwish festival 50 days after Passover and also commemorated receiving the Torah. In other words, the night of you gorge yourself on food and the entire next day you spend in Yahweh’s word and doing no work. The day after Shavuot, when the entire city was closed in respect of the holiday, us dig volunteers were able to tour the entire dig site! We were able to see cool features the dig volunteers prior had excavated! Of the features my favorites were the oldest arched doorway in the world, the city’s walls, and the four horned alter (from the Canaanites).
The rest of the weeks at the dig flew by! My grid alone unearthed a Philistine marketplace and the destruction layer from when King Nebuchadnezzar burned Ashkelon to the ground. Moreover, a merchant’s house was discovered in my grid! In this house the volunteers discovered scales, weights, gold, jewelery, pottery with writing on the back (a receipt), and a pillar that would have held the roof up. It was near the merchant’s house that I unearthed a replica of a Philistine boat, minus the horsehead prow. It was still a really awesome find! By the end of the dig, I was dubbed as the girl who found everything. I just happened to be really lucky in the areas of the grid I dug in. By the end of my time at Ashkelon, not only had I unearthed a model of a boat, I also excavated a really pretty painted pottery sherd, worked bone (more than likely a spindle), a mini juglet (probably was used to hold makeup), an Egyptian scarab, and an Egyptian bead.
Also one of the coolest parts of the grid, before we excavated it in my square, was the late seventh century BCE sewer.The top of the sewer was three-four large stones on an incline. The reason the square supervisor knew it was a sewer? Once we popped the rocks off to see what was inside, there was a bunch of green “poop” dirt. But, the ramp itself was neat! Also, during the fifteen minutes we were given for fruit break, rather than muster up the energy to climb the sandbags out of the grid, I simply laid down and relaxed in the dirt I had just swept or the site I had just excavated. It worked out great! I was already dirty, so why not lay down and relax and get dirtier? There was really no point in trying to stay clean because that was an impossible feat while in the grid.
While the first two weeks served as “adjustment” weeks, the entire six weeks were well spent! I would strongly recommend anyone looking to travel in a unique way or learn about a society, look into archeology! There are digs worldwide, it is not too hard to join one! It is hard work, but at the end you are able to see how much you and your fellow dig buddies accomplished and how you have helped write history. It truly is an amazing feeling.
Tips for Israel:
- Shabbat (Jewish holy day, Saturday) is taken very seriously. No public transportation will run and most shops are closed.
- Kosher dining is a legit thing. Unless you go to a non kosher restaurant, do not expect to have dairy and meat in the same meal. Even McDonald’s is divided into two sides, dairy and non-dairy.
- Holidays in Israel are serious business, and seriously good dining!
- You must see Jerusalem.
- Prepare for LOTS of heat and no shade or rain.
- Drink LOTS of water (we were told to drink 6 Liters a day).
Please pursue the opportunity to volunteer at an archeology dig, it will truly transform you!