Square Supervising 101 at Tell es-Safi/Gath
By: Florencia (Flor) Fustinoni, 2016 Platt Fellowship Recipient
This summer, I was very fortunate, thanks in a large part of the help of my ASOR Fellowship, to return to the site of Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel, where I worked last summer. The site is located halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon. It’s a large, multi-period Tell, perhaps most well known for being a part of the Philistine Pentapolis, the supposed hometown of the biblical Goliath. From the top of the tell, it is possible to see all the way out to Mediterranean on a clear day, and we, the noble troop of Area F all the way up near the top, were usually treated to this view. As well as a lovely breeze that usually begun soon after breakfast. It makes the daily hike to the top more than worth it.
It was my second season at Safi, but my third time being part of an excavation and, for the first time, I would be supervising my own square.
For those who don’t know, a square supervisor is essentially in charge of the found artifacts in the square, as well as the associated paperwork. Whenever my volunteers found something new, I’d make a note of it, prepare some form of protection and transportation for the object (buckets for pottery and, more often than not, what we affectionately dubbed ‘baby boxes’ for other finds), and add a tag to identify the object.
I’d note down an object number, the locus it belonged to, the date, elevations for the object (the height we found it at), and a code for what type of object it was. As you can imagine, when the day yielded a lot of finds, as it often did this season, it resulted in a lot of tags, and a lot of writing. While a trowel will forever be the archaeologist’s best friend, I learned this season that a working pen and colored sharpies are quintessential for keeping track of everything.
In addition to record keeping, as a square supervisor I was in charge of organizing my volunteers. Squares 16C and 26A were, aside from myself, worked by Israelis for the majority of the season. The excavation has close ties to several universities worldwide, and chief among them is Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, through which the project originates. Several Bar-Ilan students join the dig every summer as part of their course work. I was lucky to have, at one point, four very talented Israeli students working with me.
Now, square supervisors don’t simply organize volunteers: we show them how to excavate, explain why we record information the way we do, and often, if they’re interested, teach them how to do some of the paperwork. All of my volunteers were fairly keen, and they all finished their time at the dig having written at least one tag, some of them even going as far as doing some extra work. And this was all done despite the fact that I myself was (and am) still learning how to get things done, and despite the different languages.
Language barriers disappear quickly in a dig, the hard work, sweat and dirt make sure of that, and the camaraderie built by excavating side by side ensures that we make fast friends, who are very patient when trying to communicate in two, three or sometimes four languages. While my conversational Hebrew remains practically non-existent, I can now tell you the names of several work tools and hey, we all have to start somewhere.
For my first time supervising, I couldn’t have asked for a better team of volunteers, better fellow staff at Area F and beyond, or a better project to be a part of. I am very grateful for the help I received from the project, and from ASOR for helping me return to Tell es-Safi/Gath, a site I am already looking forward to returning to and working at for quite a few years.
Florencia (Flor) Fustinoni is going into the second year of an MA in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology, with an emphasis on the Near East, at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. This summer she was a staff member of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological project in Israel. Prior to this, Flor has dug as a volunteer at Safi, and was part of a field school in Athienou, Cyprus.
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