Rock, Paper, Trowels: Life on the Jezreel Expedition

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By: Emily Corrigan, recipient of the Heritage Fellowship Scholarship

This summer the Jezreel Valley in Israel became my home away from home for a month. Thanks in part to support I received from ASOR and the generous donors to the Heritage Fellowship Scholarship, I was able to be part of the Jezreel Expedition, a dig sponsored by the University of Evansville and University of Haifa. The Jezreel Valley is located in the northern part of Israel, in between Megiddo and Bet Shean. Every morning our day would begin with a 4:00 am wake up call, followed by a sleepy bus ride to the site, five minutes away. As we helped set up the shades and set out our tools for the day, we were treated to beautiful sunrises every morning. As a college student I have never gotten up before the sunrise, but after seeing it several dozen times, I think it just might be worth sacrificing a few hours of sleep to behold its beauty. 

Photo of one of the many beautiful sunrises seen from the site

Photo of one of the many beautiful sunrises seen from the site

Probably the hardest part of the early morning was setting up the shades. The giant piece of light-weight fabric held up by large plastic tubes would be easy to lift into place if they were dry, but the morning dew ensured the fabric always was wet and heavy. (Imagine trying to open a bottle when you’re hands are all greasy…except instead it’s 12 feet tall holding up a piece of unwieldy fabric!)

Today it has been a day of especially hard work. My square has discovered another layer of rocks. Although it seems daunting to excavate, we are encouraged by the progress we see once we get going.

Standing on our rock pile two weeks into the dig. Left to right: Don Smith, Katie Mickus, Emily Corrigan

Standing on our rock pile two weeks into the dig. Left to right: Don Smith, Katie Mickus, Emily Corrigan

I have to say, lifting hundreds of three to ten pound rocks worked wonders on my biceps. And although becoming fit is not the intended goal of archaeology, it is not a bad perk. As I continue to pick ax through layers of rocks and soil I am constantly finding pieces of pottery. On some excavations, pottery is such a rarity that each piece will get it’s own total station point. At Jezreel, we had so much pottery it was hard to keep up with it all! I suppose we are lucky in that aspect that we have a large sample of it, but it was also a curse. It was great to find all the pottery but having to wash it was very tedious. We saved water though by washing it in the nearby stream, and sharing the load and a few laughs with my peers passed the time pleasantly enough. We have also been finding grinding stones, loom weights, and other stone tools and objects of interest.

Image of a grinding stone found at Jezreel.

Image of a grinding stone found at Jezreel.

We worked for about three hours, paused for breakfast and then resumed working for another three hours until it became too hot to continue, usually around noon. After breakfast, the temperature is rising many degrees but the calories have yet to kick in. This is the perfect time for recording the field notes. Every day the students are required to keep a field notebook to show the progress of their square. We record a visual of the square, soil description, any artifacts found, and any other observations that might be helpful in decoding the site. In today’s journal, I can record that I found a beautiful piece of glass, most likely Roman. I had to take a point for it using the total station affectionately named “Gramps”, and the prism rod we nicknamed “the staff of Ra” after our forefather Indiana Jones’ adventures.

After working for a solid hour or hour and half the area supervisors would call for a cookie break. Everyone dropped their tools and huddled around the work desk to grab a quick biscuit and have a water break. This break served a dual purpose: to refuel and socialize, both vital to keep a happy and sane working environment. Everyone in my square got along very well and really bonded over the hard work

When the sun got to be too much for us one of the directors or supervisors would make the call to pack up and head back to the kibbutz for lunch. A kibbutz is a fairly common place to stay while on an archaeology dig in Israel. Kibbutz Yiz’ rael has been so welcoming and it is a great place to come after a hard day’s work and relax. Although I can’t imagine what must go through their heads when they see 30 westerners come into their dining hall covered in dirt and sweat. If they said anything, I suppose it’s a good thing I don’t speak Hebrew very well yet. We spend the afternoons showering, napping, or utilizing the kibbutz swimming pool. About every other day my square will have pottery reading where we lay out the pottery found the previous few days and our experts, dig co-directors Norma and Jennie, and area supervisors Ian Cipin and Noga Blockman, would expertly identify the diagnosable pieces of pottery. 

Emily Corrigan (right) excavating an instillation full of pottery.

Emily Corrigan (right) excavating an instillation full of pottery.

 It is always fascinating to see them work, noticing features completely unknown previously. I definitely learned a lot from their experience and expertise.

Overall the Jezreel Expedition was an excellent first field school experience and it was a fantastic introduction to Israel for the first time. I never felt unimportant and the staff was great at explaining unknown concepts to myself and other students. I now feel prepared to take on more responsibility in an archaeology excavation and I truly hope I can return to the Jezreel Valley to continue this excavation.

Emily is a Junior Archaeology major at the University of Evansville in Indiana with an emphasis in biblical languages and biblical studies.

View the Jezreel Expedition Facebook page and Twitter account.

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