Monthly Archives: June 2012

Seeing Them All…For the First Time

by Josef O'Donnell

Dig days can sometimes be very routine and repetitive. Recently, I have been doing a lot of sifting and peeling back layers of dirt, wondering if something will finally emerge. There is always discussion with each new layer about what this crack or that strain of caliche might mean. But where I have been digging has been rather boring this week, and nothing definitive has appeared.

So I would like to give short introductions to my fellow cohorts, whose faces have escaped publication here… until now:

Sophie is our leader… chronologically. That is, she arrived first, by quite a bit. She is our creative and artistic companion, and she always has a smile to cheer people up. This is her (on the right) in Jerusalem, in front of the shrine to the Hospitalers.

Geoffery is the pious one. He set out on a quest in Jerusalem for a place to pray. In the Sepulchral, he was nearly crushed by the crowds. Finally here, in the Hagia Maria, he fulfilled his task.

Don is our “wild and crazy guy.” He is up for nearly any challenge. And he is exploring the Holy Land with such fervor, we all wonder what exactly her is searching for. Here he is looking out over Jerusalem from the Tower of David.

Eric is the epidemy of friendship. He is always there in support of his friends and backs them whenever they need it. Here, he is standing in what I believe was a room used for cultic (religious) purposes, revealed in an archaeological dig behind St. Peter in Gallicantu (of the Cocking Crow).

Alex is our Islamist, having studied Islam and Arabic, I turned to him when my knowledge is faulty and he always has an answer. Alex is a friendly, down-to-earth guy who keeps the mood mellow. This is him at the dig site, sifting through the remnants of the past.

Now you have seen the all. This weekend brings more and new exciting things. This weekend we travel south.

The Simple Joy of Digging

by Geoffrey Ludvik

So it has been another week in the field. After tomorrow, I will have been excavating in Israel for 2 weeks, though it seems only yesterday I was typing my first blog post on my kitchen table at home. Time is a funny thing, I suppose. Anyways, this week has gone far more…smoothly for me. By that I mean that by now I am “in shape” enough to work throughout the day each day with no ill effects while getting up at 4am (still getting used to that one). Whereas last week was about adjusting to the hard manual labor, this week has been  one of simply putting my nose to the grindstone and working.

As I work, I have come to that happy place I remember from previous field experiences that just can’t be replicated in any air conditioned lab. The satisfaction of your trowel scratching the soil in a controlled, fell swoop. The rhythm of your pick axe knocking into the plow zone. That inexplicable reaction when you find a pot sherd or chipped piece of flint (though literally one of several thousand). The daily routine of excavation life is both difficult and joyous. I am in the Holy Land digging where I never thought I would be able to. In all, it is a simple joy to return to base sweaty and physically exhausted and one I look forward to for the rest of my stay here. Now, to bed. Then, “it’s off to work we go!”

Common Medical Aliments: Biblical Archaeology edition

by Alexander Mcquillan

When traveling there are common medical conditions one might suffer from, such as your average travelers diarrhea, Jet-Lag, and/or culture shock. These aliments can have harsh consequences, or cause awkward moments when socializing. When out on an archaeological dig in the Middle-East there are a whole new set of medical maladies one has to look out for. The following is a list of current, and past aliments that I have suffered so far on my dig. There may be some grosser descriptions in this post, but don’t worry, because I will refrain from describing the consistency of my…new archaeology word alert… unfossilized coprolite.

Blisters: Soooo many blisters on every part of my body, especially my fingers. I have been wearing work gloves, but after what seems like the tenth billion pick-ax strike, no work glove can protect the hands of a mere academic.

Weird Ear Wax: I had no idea, and be warned this does have some gross-out factor, how weird my ear wax has become. I’m not sure if it is from the sun’s heat, or the Israeli air, but my ear wax has become clear, almost transparent. At first I was extremely freaked out but I haven’t died yet, so I think I will be O.k.

Goofa Back: A Goofa is the word used for the baskets we use on the dig site to move dirt from the pits, to the sifting stations. The baskets are made out of old tires, and can handle a surprising amount of dirt. Which when lift improperly, cause the very common aliment: Goofa Back.

Fat Finger: I am still a little confused about how this finger aliment is caused, but I can describe the symptoms, and my hypotheses. Fat Finger is a hand problem, that causes ones hands, specifically ones fingers, to feel to fat for the skin. Almost as if there is too much fluid or muscle in the hands. It is semi-unpleasant, but after about two days of not digging intensively, ones hands should return to normal.

Dirt Boogers: This may have been the biggest shock, and a hot topic of conversation around the tent at the dig site. The processes of digging, troweling, and sifting, have a tendency to kick up a large amounts of dirt, which then becomes air-born, and travels into ones nose. This prehistoric, biblical period refuse then combines with the dehydrated snot in ones nose, creating, a half organic matter, half ancient biblical period, hard crusty dark brown, earthy booger. You are literally becoming one with history, and it is pretty wild.

I hope these medical maladies can help you, the reader, better prepare for future digs, and the pitfalls you might run into. Dirty fingernails, and sweaty-mud caked on your face, can be cleaned, and soft stool will pass, but the experience never will. Which is why though my aliments will slow me down, I will transcend these minor disabilities to truly live in the moment for the rest of this dig, and continue to breath deeply in an attempt to become one with history.

The Next Level (June 26)

by Eric Carlucci

We have finally come to what our group believes is the next locus. This means we will finally be out of the spill of the looters. We will now be able to do more with the pot sherds we find in the levels. Today, we did not dig into it, but just scrapped it to the level as best as we could. This way, we can take elevations tomorrow to tell us what height the next locus is at.

From this point on, we will most likely find less pot sherds, and there will be less of a mixed jumble of types of different ages. There will be better organization of them from now on. It also will help us date the non-diagnostic sherds better than before, because the locus will be more controlled of age rather than the spill from the looters.

DEAL WITH IT! Heat and Sore Muscles in the Field

by Geoffrey Ludvik

With the first week finished and the second begun, I have already remembered field techniques that I thought I had forgotten and learned to cope with new environments. In the US, I was digging in southern IL, where the humidity was incredibly intense for work. In Israel, however, I have encountered a brand new type of environment I am still trying to adjust to. That is, intense dry heat and a scorching sun. After a week of digging, I am blistered, bruised, and sun burned and after a weekend of hiking around Jerusalem (which was AMAZING!!!!) my feet are even more sore. However, in the field, as in life at large, we simply have to deal with it and keep on going. This dig has once again struck home the fact that endurance is key. The ability to keep going even if you are tired, sore, or hot is absolutely essential, though “soft” living is also nice in doses. However, Aristotle was right when he said “Moderation in all things.”

So, although my body has all manner of minor aches and pains from muscles I never knew I could pull, I am growing more and more comfortable with my environment and in soldiering on. After all, I have already grown stronger and tougher than two weeks ago at this time. When I get back, I shall be twice the man I was before…in muscle mass, of course (but the food is SOOOOO delicious the opposite might just become the case). We shall see. So for now, back to an amazing excavation with amazing discoveries, like the mudbrick walls that I helped find through days of diligent effort. As for those minor aches and pains, I find that humming a tune in my head quickly erases them from my mind. Note: “Akuma matata” from Disney’s “The Lion King” is one of my personal favorites for this task! Farewell and I will write again Thursday.

Attack of the Killer Ants

by Alexander Mcquillan


I forgot to post this after I wrote this so this is my last post, from Thursday, I am truly sorry for the delay…

As we continue to dig deeper into the dirt and farther into the past, we occasionally run into hazards. This normally comes in the form of a  large rock, another digger with a scary pickaxe swing, or the rare scorpion. Yet, none of these pitfalls come close to the danger and fear I felt when digging, and accidentally hit a nest of ants. These where not your average, kill with a magnifying glass, american ants, but robust and muscular, Israeli desert ants. They where larger than any ant I had ever seen, had lanky legs, and even larger Jaws style chompers. My first assumption was that these ants where no match for the power of my Marsheltown 4 1/2 Inch trowel, but with their mass numbers I was quickly over powered, and forced out of the hole. The ants, had crawled up my pants and arms, and clamped on to my skin, very similar to how a tick would, and then to spin in circles and sting me. To stop the irritation, I had to find the ants, literally in my pants, and rip them off of my skin. The experience was a lot more freaky then it was painful. As I finished up digging, and scooping the dirt, and a majority of the angry ants into the buckets, my problem only spread to the fellow members of my digging team. The ants began to attack the sifters, who had now become in contact with the contaminated dirt.

With in just this first week I have gained so much knowledge, and practical experience. I can now identify, pottery from rock, and bone, as well as how to cut a flat and strait balk, but most importantly I have learned to not mess with Israeli Ants.

The Mount of Olives

by Sophie Carman

This past weekend, the excavation team spent the weekend in Jerusalem. We ended the day early and bussed over to the city. We saw all of the major sites, including the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (to name a few). One of the last things we to do is walk up the Mount of Olives. I was told that the trip up was a ‘hike.’ What they failed to tell me was that the walk up was actually a ‘HIKE!!!!’

Step 20…

“I am so excited to walk up the Mount of Olives!”

Step 50…

“I must be almost half way there.”

Step 100…

“Pain is weakness leaving the body”

Step 150…

“Ok. This is more steps than I thought…”

Step 200…

“I don’t do this many steps on a Stairmaster.”

Step 300…

“I’m not sure if I’m sweating or if my body is crying.”

Step 350…


Step 400…

I finally reached the top of the Mount of Olives drenched in sweat and utterly exhausted. I was to distracted by the burning in my legs to look up to see the view. From the lookout, we could see the entire city. We could look down on the Done of the Rock, see the towers of the churches, and follow the past of the ancient wall surrounding holy city. Although the walk up was long and painful, it was well worth the pain.

The End of the First Week (June 22)

by Eric Carlucci

At the closing of the first week, things in the square were finally coming together. By now, we had dug into all four of our quadrants and had leveled them all out. Unfortunately, we have yet to reach our true surface layer. We are continuously working hard though the dump from the looters in 1999. Looking at the open square’s bulk next to ours, we can see that we are not too far off from the true surface. Another day or so and we will be able to break through.

After our hard work in the morning, we were taken on a trip to Jerusalem. We would stay there for two days seeing many sites. Friday, we saw the Western Wall. It was a great experience, even though I am not religious. The history of Jerusalem is just so full, it hangs in the air.

O Jerusalem

by Josef O'Donnell

We made our way to Jerusalem this weekend… many more hours of walking on cobblestone streets, but here, it is up hill, both ways. And anyone who has walked Jerusalem will tell you that;s true, no matter what you do, so seem to spend most of your time going up-hill. And the blisters were well worth the experience.

I cannot begin to list the variety of places we went to, from museums, churches, and archaeological sites, to places of significance, like the Jewish cemetery and the Mount of Olives. This is a city every person should visit once in their lives, whether they are religious or not (but watch your wallet).

My first urge walking into the old city each time, was to begin flipping over stands. While there are museums, schools, synagogues, churches, and mosques, as well as homes, the old city seems to have become an enormous market place.

But in all of Jerusalem, the thing that struck me the most, was the amount of suffering condensed into one place. I do not mean poverty, or even the violence, though we certainly saw some of both. But the people who prayed at the western wall, the people who write their prayers in the notebook at the Hagia Maria (filling “five subjects” every 10 days), and the people who came to pray, for help, for guidance, for hope. This was what touched me the most about Jerusalem.


by Sophie Carman

“He had known Hagrid to present a vicious baby dragon with a teddy bear, seen him croon over giant scorpions with suckers and stingers, attempt to reason with his brutal giant of a half-brother, but this was perhaps the most incomprehensible of all his monster fancies: the giant talking spider, Aragog, who dwelled deep within the Forbidden Forest and which he and Ron had only narrowly escaped four years previously”                     -Harry Potter

Back in Wisconsin, I would have said that I have arachnophobia. I would see a spider and immediately find someone to kill it. Being in Israel, I have learned that the size of a spider is relative. What I would consider a large spider at home, is a very small spider here. There is one spider here that is comparable to the Aragog spiders of Harry Potter. That spider is the camel spider. It is so named because its legs are long like those of a camel. They can range in size, reaching diameters of over twelve inches. It is various shades of yellow and red and is undoubtedly the ugliest bug I have ever seen.

Despite my arachnophobia, I find myself being intrigued by these giants. I spent the first four weeks of my stay in Israel free of large bugs. However, they seem to have been waiting for me in the field. The first day of digging, a sandbag was lifted to find a ‘small’ camel spider, about five inches in diameter. Instead of panicking (which I predicted was going to be my reaction), I chased after it yelling, “Someone get a camera! Quick!” I was terrified and exhilarated all at the same time. I was unable to get a photo of the creature because I could probably run as fast as I can. The spider ran from the sand bag to the trench next door to find shelter in the multiple rodent holes in the wall of a bulk. He will most certainly emerge to an unsuspecting digger soon.

Although these spiders are not poisonous, they have bacteria that would be harmful if someone were to be bitten. I will certainly steer clear of the camel spiders, but I look forward to seeing one again soon.