Sunrise over the Jezreel Valley

An archaeological expedition requires a number of things, beginning with a promising site (and permission to dig it), qualified directors, a strong staff, a bevy of volunteers (here known as team members) willing to pay their own way to do hard labor while following instructions, a place for everyone to sleep and eat — and tools. Lots of them.

The Jezreel Expedition has all of those, beginning with co-directors Norma Franklin, of the University of Haifa; and Jennie Ebeling, from the University of Evansville (in Indiana). You can find the rest of the team here. The kind folks at Kibbutz Yizre’el — adjacent to the tel — are kind and excellent hosts.

Work begins when daylight begins.

Most of the team members are students from the University of Evansville and University College, London — but we also have a scattering of older participants from Pennsylvania (Moravian Theological Seminary is a consortium member), New York, and North Carolina, among other places.

The tools we use depend on the task at hand. When we need to move a lot of dirt in a short amount of time, such as when cutting through topsoil at the beginning of a dig, when taking down a baulk (a standard one meter divider kept between squares), or when digging through a layer of mud brick that has been analyzed and photographed, we use a pickaxe and a heavy sharpened hoe known as a turia. Dirt and small rocks go into buckets for transfer to a large waste pile, while larger rocks have their own location.

When loading the vans, pickaxes and turias go in first and come off last.

For closer work, when we’re articulating rocks or mud brick in an attempt to define any structures, we use hand picks, trowels, brushes (both soft and hard), and dust pans. Any pottery we find goes into baskets coded by the number of our square, the locus in which it was found, and the date. Pieces of flint, bone, or small artifacts go into tagged bags within the basket. Larger artifacts such as shaped stones used for pounding or grinding, door sockets, or possible cultic objects get their own special tag.

Each square has a trained supervisor, and each group of squares has one or more area supervisors, each of whom work under the dig directors.

Baskets, hand picks, knee pads and a wheelbarrow join other tools at the end of the day.

A typical day begins before dawn, when we arrive on site, transport the tools from our vans to a location near the squares, and set up the sun shades. Everyone pitches in, from volunteers to directors. We are usually on site until 12:30 or 1:00 p.m., with breaks for water and a sandwich breakfast around 8:30 a.m.  We often gather later in the day to “read” the pottery or hear a lecture. On some afternoons we have the option of short trips to nearby sites or museums.

Handpicks, brushes, trowels, and dustpans come in handy when digging calls for care: most of the time.

As we dig, volunteers and square supervisors work in the squares while the area supervisors and directors try to figure out what is going on with the various rocks, walls, or other items that come up — and consequently what we should do next. Walls that have collapsed or have been robbed out by later builders offer particular conundrums for interpretation.

Once a structure is found, an approximate date is determined by an analysis of the pottery assemblage, or Carbon 14 analysis of any organic remains. Digging is just the first stage: final determination can take years.

I’ll have more to say about pottery later on. In the meantime, bedtime approaches: 4:30 a.m. comes early.


Team members climb the path back to the dig site after breakfast.

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