It’s hard to believe that I’m leaving tomorrow for my excavations. I’ve been waiting for what feels like forever for today and now that today is here, it honestly doesn’t feel real.
Since the last time I posted I’ve hardly been idle. This spring, I began learning about the history and material culture of the Levant’s Late Bronze and Iron I periods as well as archaeological measuring with Dr. Liz Bloch Smith, I began learning Ancient Greek, and I began learning about archaeological research methods and GIS through my work on the Ur Project at the Penn Museum.
I’ve learned so much since the beginning of the spring and I’ve had so much fun being able to devote time to my interests in place of the usual school requirements which I had in the past. I went into the spring doubting that I could balance all of the study which I had wanted to do with the commitment that I had made to my school’s spring musical. But, somehow I managed to fit everything in and I couldn’t be happier with how my spring went. I can’t wait to start excavating and I can’t wait to start writing my summer updates.
I’ve written about Dr. Liz Bloch Smith in the past. Liz helped me before and is actually responsible for me finding Abel in the first place. When I got back at the end of last summer, I had a chance to meet with Liz and debrief about my experiences. During that meeting, we discussed the possibility of doing an independent study in the spring. A couple of ideas were thrown around about a possible independent study. The idea that we eventually landed on was to try to study the archaeological periods which I would encounter at Abel Beth Maacah, namely the Iron I period and the Late Bronze Age. In addition, we agreed that we would go over some archaeological techniques such as measuring as well as the site reports for previous seasons at Abel.
To learn about these periods, Liz assigned me readings from Amihai Mazar’s Archaeology of the Land of the Bible: 10,000-586 B.C.E and select readings from The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant: c. 8000-332 BCE. Both books were amazing resources. Mazar organizes his book into periods but then divides his chapters into subsections about the history, dating, pottery, metallurgy, writing, architecture and many other topics relating to the specific period the chapter is about. In addition, his book provided many helpful plates which clarified some of the more complicated material. The Oxford Handbook was useful because it augmented what I had learned from Mazar’s book. It is more up to date, and sometimes touches on topics about which our understanding has changed since Mazar wrote his book. In addition, going over some information twice allowed me to really cement it for myself.
When I met with Liz, we would talk through some of the more difficult concepts and she would highlight areas of importance. Asking Liz questions taught me more than either book ever could. Liz also taught me the basics of archaeological measurement. She showed me how to use a graphing ruler and graphing paper. She then had me measure her kitchen which was challenging, but after awhile I got the hang of it and my rough sketch was very rewarding. I also learned about benchmarks and how heights are taken on digs. Both of these were things that I had observed but not really understood in my previous summer of excavation. Now I can go into the dig with a greater understanding of the importance and delicacy of both tasks.
My time learning with Liz was really a privilege. Although I didn’t get to meet with her as much as I would’ve liked to to her having various engagements, the time that I did spend with her was so valuable and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Greek is something which has intimidated me for a very long time. I remember in 10th Grade hearing my exegesis teacher tell the class about how difficult it was when compared to Hebrew or Aramaic. I’ve never been good at Hebrew and so I was deeply concerned about Greek. I’ve wanted to be a Classics major for years but the language aspect has always hung over me like the Sword of Damocles. However, after seriously putting my mind into Greek, I’ve realized that my previous language limitations in French and Hebrew were due to a lack of serious interest and in the case of Hebrew, an exceptionally terrible course and program.
Putting my mind into Greek has removed many of the reservations I had about my ability to study the ancient languages in college and beyond. I had made some contact with my school’s Latin teacher, Mr. Hofstetter, about taking on Latin, but it had never come to fruition. Just before the last day of my second semester, I talked to him again, only this time with the intention of setting up an independent study to learn Greek. He told me to learn the alphabet by the time I returned from my week long trip to France and said that we would begin learning when I returned.
At first I had difficulty with the new alphabet, but I eventually got it and when I returned home, I dove right in. My school’s Latin teacher is a real old timer and go figure he had me learning Greek out of a textbook from 1928, a time before answer keys. This in addition to Greek’s use of cases made starting out difficult for me. However, Mr. Hofstetter’s well humored and patient nature helped me through this and we got along really well. Together, we worked our way through 10 chapters. Although this only amounts to 30 pages in a 270 page book, I feel like the Greek that I did learn was a very important first step. Knowing the alphabet and understanding some of the basic concepts of Greek will give me a leg up next year when I take elementary Greek in college. I have had a wonderful time beginning my study and I can’t wait to continue. My hope is that I’ll be able to find somebody on either of my digs to help me to continue to learn.
Whew. This post really got ahead of me. I guess I’ll end it here and make it part one of two. The rest of the post will be about the Ur Digitization Project.