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By: Matt Glassman, 3rd year Ph.D. Student, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale University
This May, I was able to join the Associates for Biblical Research for their excavation at Khirbet el Maqatir in Israel. I am grateful for the excavation scholarship I received from ASOR, without which I may not have been able to go on the dig. This was my first time on excavation, as well as my first trip to the Middle East, and the experience turned out to be both personally and academically rewarding. I was charged with helping uncover the remains of an Iron I structure initially thought to be an Israelite 4-room house built into an earlier Middle or Late Bronze Age Amorite city wall.
The 2014 season at Maqatir was the 12th season there for ABR, who are attempting a reappraisal of sorts for identifying the biblical city of Ai, mentioned in the Book of Joshua 7-8. In previous seasons the teams have found a (two-chamber) gate complex facing the north, in which was found a large number of sling stones, pottery that spans the Middle Bronze through Iron I periods, a massive two-faced city wall that measured nearly 12 feet wide at its base, evidence of destruction of the city by fire, and an Egyptian scarab, found the previous season, whose iconography displayed a falcon-headed sphinx and was tentatively dated to the reign of Amenhotep II.
I was attracted to Khirbet el Maqatir because of a fascination with the Conquest Narrative from the Hebrew Bible, as well as an interest in military history and technology in the ancient Near East. In addition to learning more about these, the dig offered numerous excursions to other sites around the West Bank. During the first weekend I was able to tour the archaeological sites of Shechem, which figures prominently in the Patriarchal narratives from Genesis, and Shiloh, the first dwelling place of the Ark of the Covenant and mentioned throughout the Book of Judges. We also traveled to the modern city of Nablus to view the traditional sites for the tomb of Joseph the Patriarch and Jacob’s Well. On the last day of digging we were able to go to nearby et-Tell, a large Early Bronze Age ruin. Beyond these I was able to make two separate trips to Jerusalem’s Old City and tour the various cultural and archaeological sites there.
The 2014 season turned out to be a successful one for the dig both in my square, and in the squares excavating a first centuries B.C. and A.D. also built within the ancient city walls. The first century village yielded over 300 Roman Era coins, an intricate complex of cisterns and underground silos, Roman pottery and nails, and underneath one of the floors, another Egyptian scarab with similar iconography and dated to roughly the same period as the one found during the 2013 season. As we dug deeper into my square, various theories arose among the staff members to explain the structure that did not appear to by a typical Israelite house. It seems that the enclosure may have been some sort of storage facility from the Iron I period built beside residential edifices. At the end of the first week we had what looked to be a circular stone structure. By the end of the last day we had dug out about 5 feet of packed earth from the stone-lined installation to finally find a flag-stone paving at the bottom, likely indicating that the structure was a silo for grain storage. It was an exciting find that helped clarify the use of the building after all the hard work by the members of our square. The last day also included finding two sling stones and a bronze arrowhead, thanks to our metal-detecting crew.
A typical day on the dig began at 4am with breakfast at our hotel, then a quick bus ride through the modern city of Jerusalem to our site to begin work around 6am. After gathering tools and setting up tents to protect us from the intense sunlight, we worked until lunch at 10:30am. After lunch we worked until 1:30pm digging, hauling dirt and rocks, sifting, plotting elevations, and meticulously recording all of our findings. After returning to the hotel it was time for pottery washing and reading until around 5pm. Dinner was at 6pm, followed by a nightly lecture on various topics from pottery making to ancient architecture at 7pm. By 8pm most of us were ready to go straight to bed so that we could do it all over again the next day!
The excavation was good cultural experience for me as well. In my square alone I was able to meet Muslims from the local village, Jewish archaeologists interested in various facets of the dig, including pottery, architecture, and numismatics, as well as work with Christians of diverse backgrounds. The excavation brought individuals from all of these different groups together to work toward a common goal, and in the West Bank of all places!
It’s difficult to describe the incredible experience I had during my time at Khirbet el Maqatir, other than to say I can’t wait to go on another archaeological excavation and hope that I have the opportunity to do so next season. For its part in making this trip happen, I would like to sincerely and humbly thank ASOR and its benefactors for their generosity.
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