Local time at Horbat Omrit, Israel

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Day 16: What exactly is wrong with observing Shabbat anyway?

We get the Christian day of rest off and welcome it is after a full day yesterday. Was I little cranky?

Tracy and Joey have stopped by to visit so this may take awhile. Well actually my square leader also just came by and I went off for a while and cleaned pottery. He's the fellow in front in the above picture. Our Glorious Director is on the right, he'd come by to evaluate our square and engage in pensive speculation.

As I might have said before, we are about 50 feet away from a "water feature" (a fountain?, a basin?). It has hydraulic plaster and there is a drain. A group is clearing around it and our square is an attempt to give a little context. Starting next week we are going to connect our square with theirs by a 2 meter wide trench. Just to see what we find.

It's peaceful and calm, we've had breakfast (pancakes!), I've been to the kib store, washed a little pottery and am now deciding who I might visit in a while. After lunch we are going to Bet She'an. This is one of largest Roman ruins areas in the world and an amazing place to walk around. I'll post a picture or 2 later today.

I had fully resolved, having visited Bet She'an a few times before, to continue relaxing and recovering at the kib today, but an afternoon departure and the promise of a fancy restaurant meal on the way home persuaded me otherwise. I'll download the Sunday Times to my Kindle and enjoy the bus ride. There is also a patio area at Bet She'an that overlooks the site (with a nice cafe) so I may spend more than a little time there. More anon.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Day 15: End of the week

Let me tell about the last hour of the last workday of the week. Field breakfast seems like ages ago, if not yesterday. The minutes drag but wheelbarrows full off dirt multiply like the gnats that swarm in a dense cloud and bite every part of your body. Sweat evaporates in the bright Middle Eastern sun. Why am I here? Oh ya, I'm having a good time!

We found a the top of a column drum a ways down in our square today. What the heck is that doing there? It's flat so may not have tumbled from somewhere else. It's the kind of mystery we love. Maybe it was a coffee table in someone's living room?

I think the ballista we found yesterday should go to the Qiryat Shmona police museum so they can have 2000 years of weapons instead of 200.

Down the hill from us along the road we use is a rather large drilling complex. Seems too big for water, besides we have the headwaters of the Jordan. There's no oil in Israel but we are sitting on the Great Rift Valley which extends from Kenya up through the Red Sea and Dead Sea, under our valley and into Lebanon and Syria. So: it's most likely geothermal. Cool.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Day 14: the morning

I arise after 4 am and prepare for the day. Load my pack, try not to forget the water bottle, have a tea, maybe some oatmeal, and head down to the bus for 5am departure. A solemn, quiet crowd files on. A ten minute ride, half over roads barely there, broken by a too-noisy conversation or 2. We trudge up the last few hundred yards of road that the bus can't handle and emerge onto our ancient hilltop.

At our squares we get our direction for the day and gather our wheelbarrow, picks and hoes, brushes, trowels and buckets. We communards are ready! The dawn has started and the light would have inspired van Gogh. As the sun rises unseen behind the Golan the far valley walls are shrouded in pink and the green valley floor is magical. I stop to watch this unfold as I uncover stones to conjure with. After the end of the first hour when the sun pops up over the eastern hills we know another day is just beginning. Time to sweat!

Our square is not yet a meter deep but half-way to bedrock, we hope, based on nearby diggings. A large wall (too large?) bisects our square. What was it for? At the far end, near the bucket (picture to follow in a few minutes) is a slight opening that was a door. We can see the jamb and the holes for the door poles. The 2 sides have different soils but little identifiable pottery. We may just have to follow the wall to find more information. We did find a "ballista", a perfectly round stone a little larger than a hardball that the Romans launched as a missile. We felt a little continuity with our landmine and I hope it was there only because some young boy was playing soldier.

Gabi Mazor, an Israeli archaeologist who works here with us, is going to give us a talk tonight about growing up in Jerusalem during the 1948 war. I'll try not to be provocative.

Here's a picture I just took. How we spend our afternoons:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Day 13: Guest Blog

Hello Loyal Blog Followers,
This afternoon you're all in for a guest blog courtesy of Joey Mayer, a student excavator from Macalester. You might recognize me from the fantastic picture of Cricket Bill has on the blog- I'm the one showing off my man-thighs.

Today on the site an exciting day for excavating! I work in a square with Becca, Richie, Tracy, Jordan, and square supervisor Amy Fisher (who is fantastic) and we're sort of the odd ducklings of the dig. Our square is outside the fence from the other squares and we don't see much of the other excavators except at second breakfast. We haven't been finding much thus far- a coin on the first day, lots of pottery, a fair amount of glass and tessera (mosaic fragments) but the other squares were either on the temple or coming down on well defined walls. Our square is located near the north wadi and we are working on expanding our understanding of the colonnaded way which leads from the main Tyre-Damascus road to the temple. We call ourselves the Bedouin 'Barrowers because out dump pile is up a hill and pretty far away- we're always nomadically pushing our wheelbarrow around.

Today however, we found an actual Bedouin grave. We were digging down onto what seemed to be a wall, and worrying about another area of the square which might be a grave as well when Richie pulled up what turned out to be the incisor of an adolescent. Though we excavation newbies are excited, the old hands are a bit annoyed because graves are a bureaucratic hassle. After second breakfast, during which we discussed the outcome of a fight between Chuck Norris and Shaq, various Shaq related words (we think the temple might not be an Augusteum but a Shaq-esteum), and the upcoming Jewish holiday of Shavuot, we returned to the square and excitedly continued the excavation. Area-supervisor Greg came over and helped us, and we pulled out more bone, a glass bracelet fragment, the top of a beautiful glass bottle, and some nice pottery. Still in situ are a large pottery sherd complete with rim and handle, a smashed skull, and more! The grave seems to be disturbed: a large root probably pushed some bones up to their present location, and centuries of rainy seasons have caused the bones to move around as well. By the end of the digging day, we were pretty sure we had a 13th century Bedouin grave and the rest of our square was taking shape nicely (finally)! I'm looking forward to another exciting day with the Bedouin 'Barrowers tomorrow, and I hope to keep you all updated on more finds from our square as the excavation progresses! Pictures to follow so check in again soon!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day 12 Con't: Drama/Trauma

Well, let's put this silly explosive situation behind us! There was a possibility that quite a few students had decided to leave. Now it looks like only 2. We'll be sorry to see them go.

But the rest of us were glad to put in a half day this afternoon. We're exposing a wall in our square that looks interesting:

Day 12: "Living Museum"

If you haven't seen yesterday's post, a land mine was found on the site last week and that's why we've gotten too much down time. The police and defense forces are satisfied it's perfectly safe to head back out.

We got our police briefing this morning. Wow. We were in a small room where in cabinets and on the wall were 100s of ways that people kill each other. It's the stuff they've discarded in this part of Palestine for the last 200 years. Land mines, of course, also grenades, bazookas, rifles, artillery shells of every shape and form. Even a huge metal cannon ball from the time of Napoleon. Interesting, informative and scary. Didn't take my camera unfortunately.

There 3 types of people who might be messing around with land mines. Farmers who want to protect their cows. Kids (of course) who are out for a thrill. (The policeman said he used to be one of those. Now he gets paid for it.) And, who knew, collectors. Well, maybe terrorists too, though that's very low probability. Any one of those may have stashed a mine in the excavation - with or without the intention of retrieving it later.

We're headed out to the excavation in the late afternoon today to get back on the horse that threw us.

The boys from Macalester have an appropriate frisbee cricket game they play, whose rules involve knocking down bottles, exchanging wickets and chugging beer that I don't quite understand. But that's ok because cricket will always be a mystery to me.

I got my stitches out today at the kib clinic. The cut is healing perfectly.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day 11: Sea of Galilee

Sorry this didn't post yesterday, Blogspot problems.

We had a lecture this morning on the current, as opposed to ancient, political situation in this area. It's always been difficult! Then off to the Sea of Galilee (it's really just a large lake) on a road trip. We visited Capernaum (Kafer Nahum) where a modern church and ancient synagogue sit side by side. Then the 2000 year old wooden fishing boat with an an amazing modern history. And a swim. Of course, a swim.

In case you've been wondering why we haven't been digging, well, I waited a little for the situation to settle and people at home to be notified. Seems a land mine was found at our dig site. Not an old buried one (though there such in areas near us) but an old one dumped recently. Just vandalism perhaps? Hard to know but the police and security forces are satisfied that there are no more and it's safe to return. Parents and college administrators agree, so we will.

Safety rules will be instituted (Mainly no wandering around in the tall weeds) and tomorrow we're off to the local police station for a talk on land mine safety and recognition. Nobody ever said archaeology was boring! Just wish I'd been there when our mine was blown up!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Day 10: Rafting the Jordan

Here's my picture from yesterday of Mt. Hermon. The fence around the kib and the inner perimeter road are in the lower left.

We had a surprise today, no digging until Wednesday. So this morning we got a lecture on the architecture of the temples and in the afternoon we went rafting on the Jordan River. Yes, that Jordan. It's lush and verdant up here and it was fine trip.

I'm sitting around now with 8 students and 3 bottles of beer. This is a remarkably staid group (except for Paul) but bright and fun. Right now we're listening to Rufus and Chaka Khan and waiting to go to dinner.

P.S. Though everyone is now dancing to Benny Goodman.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Day 9: Caesarea Maritima

Today the gang is off to Caesarea Maritima.

(Whoops, I just got interrupted by Jordan who is a total cribbage fanatic. She's been under the weather all week - bummer - so we only got one game in so far. She wanted a game before the bus left. This is my best picture of her.)

When the Romans gave Herod control of Judea he didn't have a seaport on the Med. Since he wanted to communicate with the rulers of the world he founded one and created a magnificent breakwall. And, of course, he named it Caesarea. I've been there 3 times already so I'm chilling at the Kib today. The staff who are staying and I will drive over to Akko this afternoon (ancient Acre) and join them for dinner.

The bike riding is proceeding apace. I'll take it out this afternoon to get a good view of Mount Hermon. It's on the Israel-Syria-Lebanon border and is 5 or 6 km from here. The ruins of Caesarea Philippi are at its base and a ski resort is on the top. (Though you have to avoid the busted-up tanks.)

I'm hanging with Paul today, a Carthage student who is an asst square leader. He's been to CM before and is staying to work on his paperwork. Lots and lots of paperwork:

Now I'm going to download the Sunday NY Times and Washington Post nto my Kindle and go sit under a tree with a strong instant arab coffee and my iPod! Heaven in Israel.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Day 8: Shabbat redux

Not over yet!

An interesting afternoon. A ceramicist from Jerusalem was here checking our pottery from last season. She was having a child last year and couldn't make it. She brought him this year.

It was exciting to learn that most of the pottery shards were classified "Roman, 1st-3rd century". The BBQ tonight was a success I think. A lot of interesting students who seem to get along well. And since they even talk to me, I'm happy.

Day 8: Shabbat Shalom!

It's the day of rest in Israel so we work 1/2 day. Go figure. My square goes apace. We picked one side of the wall to dig down and started finding lots of ceramics. We're not very deep yet so we're full of hope. Of course that pottery we do find is in small pieces and we hope an expert can identify when (approximately) it was made.

Natalie's parents, I'm told, like my pictures so that's Natalie above. And here's a group who wanted their picture taken:

We have BBQ tonight when a kibbutz resident will cook some chicken legs and sausage for us. Our food can vary. Our breakfast in the field is bread and fixings, hard boiled eggs, oranges and hot water for coffee. Tastes very good out there actually. Lunch in the factory cafeteria is 3 or 4 meat choices (chicken schnitzel seems to be the favorite - the kibbutz was founded by Germans after all), lots of veggies and salads. In the evening we have kosher which means mainly no dairy or no meat. Perhaps neither it seems to me. No desserts to be found anywhere, which is strange once we realized it.

BTW, modern bread wheat was a hybrid of domesticated Emmer wheat and a wild species of wheat never domesticated. This happened somewhere in the Caspian region after domesticated Emmer had conquered all. Bread wheat was the new conqueror and Emmer was left in the dust, but with a good track record. But this means that bread wheat has no wild progenitor and was created de novo as it were. If humans disappeared so would bread wheat. Here's wild Emmer (which could very well have originated in northern Israel). It's growing near the area where we eat breakfast.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Day 7: No rest yet

Today started our real task, heading down into the dirt and into the past. Mainly we found rocks and stones. Big ones. I want to crouch down and brush dust from a fine vase, but I haul bucket and barrels of dirt. Or fill them. We did find the top of a wall running perpendicular to the street. So we'll be looking to see what we can find in the rubble on either side of it.

The temple sits on a hill and there is a paved road with columns (the collonaded way) leading up to it. About 50 feet off that street is sitting a large stone basin that looks like a fountain. So one group is digging around it and another (mine) is digging at the closest point next to the street. Next the intervening space will be dug. Maybe we'll discover what was going on...

Tonight begins Shabbat and the kibbutz always gets weekend visitors. Today as a group of us were sitting out on the grass, a retired Israeli colonel stopped by to talk. His daughter lives on a nearby kibbutz. And he doesn't like Netanyahu. Otherwise not much to report here.

Tomorrow we put in a half day (5:30 - 8:30!) and then are off to Banias, the source of the Jordan River.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Day 6: Be there and be square

First a medical update: The leg is healing nicely and never gave me any pain. I've been out on the bike and put in a full day today, stitches come out in a week.

OK, archaeology: Previously we cleaned most of the vegetation in the 5m x 5m square we'll be digging, put up our shade tent and gathered our equipment. Of course, I missed most of yesterday.

Today we fulfilled our ambition to be day laborers: We cleared out the top 15 cm or so, the top layer. We don't expect much there and it won't tell us much because who knows how it got there. There were the tops of a few large rocks (natural) and stones (worked) exposed on the surface and as we cleared this surprisingly large amount of earth the tops of many more were exposed. Lots of heavy material to be lifted out. There are a lot of worked stones though they are in a tumble. Maybe they'll start to mean something as we go deeper. Among them was this:

It's not a column but a medieval arab roof roller! To flatten the reeds making up the roof. Or so we were told by an Israeli expert.

This afternoon we went to the weekly flea market in Qiryat Schmona. I got 2 kilos of dates and 1 kilo of pistachios. That ought to hold me for a while.

And oh, if her parents are reading this, Natalie is doing a excellent job. A real fine earth mover she is.

And John Robinson, who is also digging in the same square, has a blog also, listed over in the left-hand column.

Turns out the director here, Andy Overman, has always wanted a bike here in Israel and for some strange reason, which I don't quite understand, never got one. I haven't seen "my" bike in 24 hours but have a suspicion where it is...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Day 5: Spikes and Bikes

Well, the day started off ok, but...

We had mostly cleared the area where we are to dig and I was carrying a large tent pole (for a shade tarp) and was maneuvering around some rocks when a tent spike already in place gashed my leg. Whoops. But it was a flesh wound. (Always wanted to say that.)

Not deep but a little wide so off I'm taken to the local clinic. A doctor from Eastern Europe (Do you speak Russian?, Czech?, French?, Hebrew?) and a nurse who translated for us. He was real good and in a flash I had 7 stitches. States?, staates?, oh, stitches!

On the way back we stopped to pick up some benches. The person giving them to us ran a bike shop. While there I was disappointed to learn he didn't rent bikes. 5 minutes later I thought to ask him: "Have you a cheap bike you can sell me?" Well, indeed he did, for $85 I got a good bike to ride around the kibbutz. Though I might wait a few days to try it.

My room (#11) is behind the bike.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Day 4. Con't

I went out in the late afternoon to help deliver some equipment to the site and to help (asst director) Dan cut down a large, nasty bramble bush close to where we want to start digging. Hidden away by it was a small pile of stones. And a column drum. HoHum.

Well, not exactly. There are lots on them found already but another one is always exciting. I'll try to get a picture for tomorrow.

We were all assigned our "squares" tonight where we start digging for real tomorrow. There is a "water feature" near the temple. Who knew. And what is that? Tomorrow we start to find out.

Day 4: Taking elevations

Another morning (5am to noon) of cleaning up the site. Weeds grow everywhere every year and their roots can cause damage. Boring work in the sun so we're ready to do "real" work tomorrow. Pushing wheelbarrows of dirt and such like.

We came back a little early and learned how to work the level to take elevations. Working from a given fixed point whose exact distance above sea level is known we can measure the depth (or rather height) of any point where we are digging. This depth will change each day as we dig down and we will know the distance above sea level of every significant feature we find. And which feature we destroy or move as we dig down.

The weather yesterday was in the high 90s but cooler today. That's why we work only until noon.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Day 3: Finds

There has been 15 of us until today: 3 old geezer volunteers (me, Ron and Charlie), one mother-of-teenagers volunteer from Arizona, 2 archaeologists (Dan and Greg) and 9 students from Carthage College (Paul and Hannah from last year). Today another 15 or so arrived from Macalester College including our noble director. More on them later.

We were out at the site cleaning away the vegetation so we can see what we're doing. It must have been a rainy spring. (Don't tell Helen that I've been weeding like crazy.) I have been a bit on edge because I wanted wild Emmer wheat to be there. Turns out it's not our major weed but it's at Omrit in abundance. Domesticated Emmer was the major wheat through antiquity and, along with barley, fueled the rise of civilization. Bread wheat was a later arrival and it's said that the Romans made the Egyptians switch to it from Emmer in order to provide them with a better provisions. More anon..

I also found something else, our first real find. As I went to sit on a large stone block extracted from the earth last year I saw a penny. But it wasn't a penny but a coin whose surrounding matrix had disappeared over the last year and now was just sitting there. It has to be cleaned before it can be evaluated, but undoubtedly is 1500 to 2000 years old.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Day 2: Jet Lag

A quiet day overcoming jet lag, though the amount of beer being drunk (not by me!) will interfere I'm sure. My task today was helping get some equipment out of storage and take it to the site. Gotta have that breakfast table!

The kibbutz was built near a spring so water is abundant and there is lush, verdant subtropical foliage everywhere. The dwellings all have amazing gardens and there is a large communal park with a burbling brook. In the picture above the bomb shelter we use for storage and for sorting out and recording each day's finds is in the right foreground.

It's a modern bomb shelter with a sink, air conditioning and a TV. Even a light over the front door for guidance at night. But the walls are three feet thick.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Day 1: Arrival Saturday

An uneventful long trip and a bus ride to the kibbutz arriving about 9pm. A small supper and unpacking. And this entry. Recovery from jet lag tomorrow and a little work at the site.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Week -1: Background

Andrew Overman, Jack Olive and Michael Nelson have written (2007) about Herod and the temple he built for Augustus at Omrit:

"In the year 20 BCE Augustus departed for Rome following his Syrian campaign. He carried with him the Roman standards the Parthians had won thirty years earlier as a sure sign that he had subdued the eastern frontier. He was escorted to the Mediterranean by Herod. When Herod returned to the Ituraean/northern Galilean region "he erected to him (Augustus) a very beautiful temple of white stone in the territory of Zenodorus, near a place called Paneion" (Jos., Ant. 15:363). Herod did this as a sign of his devotion and gratitude for Augustus' continued support and patronage in the face of local resentment and the embassy of notable local leaders who had pleaded with Augustus to be released from Herod's rule ... The area of Paneion, a sacred cave, was considered to be the location under which the sources of the Jordan were to be found, and recognized for its natural beauty. As recent excavations and ceramic analysis has shown, in the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods, Panieon was a popular and largely rural cultic centre dedicated to the god Pan. In the passage from Antiquities (and the shorter parallel in War 1.404) we seem to have the introduction of the Imperial Cult into the Ituraean region, representing an obvious statement by Herod about the loyalty and service of the principality to the Emperor. The establishment of a temple dedicated to Augustus by Herod is reminiscent of Dio's description (50.20.6) of the formation and evolution of the Imperial Cult in the Greek East starting under Augustus:

"'Foreigners, whom he called Greeks, were allowed to create some precincts to himself (Augustus) - the Asians in Pergamon and the Bithynians at Nicomedeia. That is where this started. Under other emperors it spread out not only among the Greek nations, but also among all others under Roman rule.'

"The temple dedicated to Augustus near Paneion represents such a precinct in the Greek east indicating the region's submission to the new regime. ... The temple (Herod) built in Augustus' honour in the region of Panias is an excellent example of one of the earliest imperial buildings in the east dedicated to Augustus. The first phase of the temple at Omrit dates approximately to 20 BCE."

Josephus, the first century CE Jewish historian, has references to the Paneion/Panias region of Palestine other than those mentioned above. I have collected many of these references and a link is also available in the column at the left.