The day began before sunrise. Wake up was scheduled for 4:00, but we had to be on the bus to the site by 5:00. My room mate and I took a bold risk and slept in until 4:30. I don’t think there’s many times when one could begin to consider sleeping until 4:30 in the morning sleeping in. I decided to wear a t-shirt, long thin pants, and hiking boots. I packed my work bag with a camera, sunscreen, a water bottle, and my trowel. However, I forgot my gloves which resulted in me developing a couple tiny but annoying blisters. We were both out the door by 5. We met the rest of the team and boarded the bus for the site.
We arrived at the site after a short bus ride from the kibbutz. After the ride, we had to hike up the site which is much more difficult than one would think. Although a path is cleared to get up to the top, it’s windy and steep. As we were walking up to the site, Professor Robert Mullins, one of two site directors, explained to us a little bit of the history of the site. He also briefly explained the history of the excavations at Abel-Beth Maacah telling us about both the survey and the first and second season. Once we reached the top, we were able to look around and see the great view from the top of the site. It was a fantastic view where we could see the Golan on one side, Metulla and Lebanon in front of us, and the Hula valley filled with fruit trees of all sorts stretching down into and beyond central Israel. It was a great view to have as we dug.
Once the whole team reached the top of the hill we were divided into our two groups. One of the groups was working on a part of the site known as area A while the other was working on a different section of the site called area B. I was assigned to work in area A. Area A has been excavated for the last three seasons. However, the goal is to dig down even further than we already have. I was assigned to work with a partner in a particular corner section of Area A. I was very lucky to get the partner that I did. While she’s certainly not on the young side, she has a wealth of experience working in archaeology from numerous seasons out in the field. Before we started, there was a brief tutorial on tools and what they were used for. Once this was finished, we were sent right to work. The other field director, Nava brought my partner and I to our area, and told us that we were going to dig down 3 centimeters to start. We were digging.
My partner and I started our area out by clearing the entire area of what’s called winter wash. During the time when excavation is not taking place, wind causes soil to come into the area. Also, weeds somehow tend to get into the sites and these need to be taken out. We used brushes and dustpans to get rid of that first layer of winter wash. As I said before, my partner was extremely helpful, and taught me the best possible techniques for brushing and getting up winter wash. Once we cleared the top from the wash, it was much easier to see the remnants of walls and other structures that had been undergoing excavation in the previous year.
Once we had done the brushing, we grabbed a stack of buckets, 2 pick axes, and 2 digging tools called tareas. I was lucky because my partner had brought some of her own equipment for finer work which she shared. Chief among these tools was a sort of mini pick axe known as a patiche. We started by pick axing a layer of dirt. Once we did that, we ran over it with the tareas, scooped up the dirt, and put it in the buckets. Although it sounds tedious, there’s a certain addictive quality to it. While we were doing this, we were looking for any pieces of pottery that we could find. We put all of this together in a big bucket for pottery and bone. Once we filled up a bucket, I would carry it to a wheel barrow and bring another bucket down so that we could continue our work. We pretty quickly got through 3 cm this way and kept going down. We found quite a few pieces of pottery where we were digging, but nothing of great significance. This routine went on for awhile with my partner teaching me new techniques and explaining things when she needed to. Occasionally, a supervisor would come down to take measurements and to record anything that we found.
While some of the other groups were finding pots and cool things like that, today we weren’t so lucky. Nonetheless, we continued to dig in search of a floor to the room we were digging in. This went on pretty well until the director told me that we had to start sifting our dirt.
Sifting is the worst thing ever. So bad that it deserves its own paragraph. We have to carry buckets full of dirt to a sifter in pairs of two. My partner and I were getting up so much dirt that I was carrying 16 large buckets full of dirt over to the sifter. Once I dumped the bucket into the sifter, and shook out all of the dirt. Maybe I shouldn’t complain about the sifter, because it did yield my best finds of the day. Although it was nothing compared to the other squares, I did manage to find a couple animal bones during sifting. It’s hard work, and it’s annoying, and it slows down work, but in the end, when you find some great stuff by sifting, it makes it worth it at least a little bit more.
My partner and I were digging in a very specific square. Archaeology is all about precision. Every couple of minutes we would stop to check that our floor was level so that we dug evenly and could properly record findings. All the while, we were trying to form a balk. A balk is a layer left on the side of an archaeological dig which shows you how far down you have dug. It’s like a boundary wall except it’s cut into the dirt. My partner was a bit of a perfectionist and insisted that we make our balks perfect by brushing and picking and by whatever means necessary. It did leave us with a good result though.
Overall, my first day on a dig was really fun and quite interesting. I didn’t include everything because we were digging for so long. I’m having a great time and I can’t wait to go to sleep the second that I post this so I can wake up tomorrow at 4:30.