Jefferson Travels: Kibbutz Ruhama

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By: Jeff Porter, Heritage Fellowship Recipient 

Among the bustling crowd–the ruby-eyed transients who resemble prisoners more than Porter 1travelers, gang of three-foot pigeons carelessly strutting while complaining about the filthy bathrooms, and intermittent track meets by world-class sprinters with luggage in tow–there is not much to distract you in Terminal C. So, my eleven hour layover in the JFK Airport is a great chance to reflect on my field experience. I find myself questioning what I gained from this year’s research season.

*A pale, gaunt teenager, wearing the hoodie of a man twice his size, loudly hums and  drums his legs while staring at each girl that walks past. The song sounds familiar–tap…tap…tap, but I cannot put a name to it.*

I returned to Israel as the Technical Illustrator for the Tel el-Hesi Regional Project. In addition to my duties, I also acted as the staff photographer which happened to be a great relaxation tool. The group of ten or so who returned this season was quite slim in comparison to the 40+ from last year. Our small numbers and lack of scheduled tours and overnight trips allowed me to spend time exploring Kibbutz Ruhama. So, in my downtime I took the opportunity to reintroduce myself to my camera. I found my time utterly filled by the day’s click…click…click of the camera and the night’s dot…dot…dot of the drawings.

*A group of young girls exchange glances and the occasional words in between more pressing matters on their cell phones.*

There were a number of concurrent research projects and aside from the survey of Burier, an Ottoman and Mandate period village site 7.4 km north of Dorot, by Rachel Hallote and Benjamin Saidel, there was little fieldwork this season. We were accompanied by a group of conservators from East Carolina University coordinated by Susanne Grieve. Much of the technical writing for the project was managed by Jeff Blakely and he undertook the task of transcribing a journal of the man who procured the land for Kibbutz Ruhama. Additionally, Inbar Ktalav’s research has dealt with the temperature during the settlement period based on the shells found at the site and she will present her continued research of the mollusks of the region at the 2013 ASOR Annual Meeting in Baltimore. I’ve focused primarily on supplementing these publication and various other projects with illustrations and photographs.

*I observed a family–sitting quietly, sharing a bag of trail mix–in the aisle to the right of mine. Their rust-colored shirt read Thompson Family Reunion ’13, but none of them look alike.*

A fascinating aspect of the site was the various forms of loom weight found during the excavation: disc-shaped, pear-shaped, spherical, cylindrical, etc. Fortunately, for our group, a fire preserved these artifacts in situ. Susanne’s group worked diligently to reconstruct those loom weight that were not completely intact. It would seem the variety supports the idea that Khirbet Summeily was located on the border of ancient Judah and Philistia.

Porter2

So what did I gain from this year’s season beyond lines to my resume, citations in a few publications, and additional archaeological education? In the period between the start of last field season and this year’s research season, I was so focused on learning the technical means and methods of excavation that I lost sight of the overarching research goals for the project. This season has helped me to get reacquainted with those ideas and gain a new respect and understanding of the academic aspects of an excavation. It was certainly a great experience and I look forward to returning next season.

At this point, I would like to thank the donors who support the ASOR Heritage Fellowship. I can attest that your contributions allow students to consistently participate in these excavations and gain invaluable professional experience and personal growth. I would also like to show my appreciation to the co-directors Jimmy Hardin and Jeff Blakely for inviting me to return for this season.

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