Nearing the end of our three weeks with the Fourth Expedition to Lachish, here are a few notes on aspects that are different, if not odd.
Being not tourists, but the attraction. Lachish is not on most tour itineraries, but from one to three groups come through most days, some of them senior adult or school groups from Israel. When that happens, people stand around the square and take pictures of us, whether we’re digging, measuring, or whatever. Sifting is a particularly popular object for tourist cameras, maybe because of the action and the cloud of dust.
Watching for scorpions. We keep an eye out for snakes while digging in the yard back home, but Susan came across a scorpion on Sunday. It wasn’t much more than an inch long, but the square supervisor said that was the most dangerous kind. He took it away in a bucket. I thought he might kill it, but he just threw it into the brush.
Dust. It doesn’t rain for months at a time in southern Israel, and we’re in the middle of the dry season. The hundreds of buckets of dirt we scrape from the ground every day are mostly dry, and then we sift many of them. Dust clouds billow and cover everything. The ground surrounding the square is coated with two to three inches of fine dust and each step produces a cloud. Our skin and clothes are consistently streaked (or caked) with dirt.
Languages. People are here from more than a dozen countries. Most know at least some English, but at break time or on the bus we can often hear conversations in Korean, Spanish, or Portuguese as well as Hebrew and English. This morning a French-speaking tour group stopped at our square, and our supervisor – who speaks fluent Hebrew, French English, and binary code, explained what we were doing in French.
Watermelon. I like watermelon, but am not accustomed to having it every day. Here, we have a watermelon break every morning at eleven. Today there were even a few grapes from local vineyards, which raise mainly white table grapes. Earlier, we have a short break for coffee or tea. The camp director raises herbs in his garden and brings along daily clippings of sage, mint, lemongrass, and other herbs to infuse with the tea. It feels at bit odd to have already worked two hours when the first break comes at 7:00 a.m.
Cooperation. There shouldn’t be anything odd about cooperation, but it’s nice to see everyone working together. “Waterchains” form to load the 40-50 small Styrofoam-covered coolers holding a gallon or so of water each that we carry to the dig site each day. When a site located down the slope needs to clean out dirt, the call for a “bucket chain” brings people from surrounding squares together to hand up and dump the heavy buckets. When they get in the groove, it’s poetry in motion.
Mystery. While I’m always looking forward to happy or rewarding moments each day, it’s a bit different to awake each day wondering what we might uncover from the next layer of dirt. While pottery is most common, we’ve also found ancient cultic images, bones, flint, slag (melted metal), and small items of jewelry. In our square today, several things saw the light of day for the first time in more than 3100 years. Some things are carefully excavated by supervisors, carefully placed in protective padded boxes, and taken away for cleaning and treatments at a lab. Like everyone else, we’ll have to wait to see pictures of them cleaned and up close.
Bedtime. With a 4:00 a.m. wake-up time every day, we’re often in bed by 9:30, and 10:30 feels like a really late night. Fortunately, most afternoons we have a couple of hours for showers and a siesta. Taking an afternoon nap also feel a bit odd, but it’s the kind of oddness I like.