This week seemed to go on forever. Time has a way of nearly standing still at times on archaeological digs and it’s only at the end of the week that you’re able to really look back and notice how much you actually managed to get done. This effect most likely comes about as a result of the fact that so much of the day is devoted to constant activity and so little devoted to free time. The effect was also more likely than not enhanced by the fact that this was both the first week and a week which was extraordinarily hot even by Israel standards.
For those who are reading and aren’t already familiar this is my third season excavating at Abel Beth Maacah, an archaeological site in Israel’s far North. The site represents nearly every possible period of occupation from the Early Bronze Age up until 1948. However, the vast majority of what’s been dug up at the site has been from the Middle Bronze, Iron I, and Iron II periods. For the past two years I’ve been digging in Area A which represents the remains of a tentative 5 strata of Iron I occupation including a monumental building as well as a limited exposure of Late Bronze and possibly an Iron II occupation which was unknown until earlier this week and represents another layer to what is already such an amazing example of how complex and rewarding archaeological tels truly are. This season however I’m working in Area O which is on the southwestern part of the tel in the lower city area.
Area O was previously opened up in 2014 as a result of area C(itadel) being aborted due to an artificial stone capping which was added to the top of the tel in order to create a substantial defensive position facing Lebanon. This capping made it impossible to reach the level of the citadel and so the decision was made to open area O for a single season. In that season four 5×5 squares were opened creating an East-West trench which revealed what looked like three strata two of which perhaps belonged to either the Middle Bronze Age or the Iron I period and one of which likely dated to the Early Bronze period which is the earliest known occupation of our site. The goals for this year are to open up three additional squares in order to clarify the phasing and dating of the different layers as well as to search for remains which can be solidly dated to the Iron I and Iron II periods.
When we first ascended the tel early on Monday morning the most noticeable thing was that large swaths of the side of the tel which usually is covered by thick dry bush was instead covered by ash. It seems as though in the months before our season there had been a fire which burned down a significant amount of the plant life on certain parts of the tel. This of course is great news as it will allow us to solidly survey parts of the tel which were not before easily accessible and for sure not even comparably visible. Who knows this area when solidly surveyed may reveal a new area for us to explore. But, even if this is not the case it will allow us to better understand our site.
Once up in Area O our first task was to begin cleaning up the area which since it hadn’t been touched in two years left us with quite bit to do. I was assigned to clean up a small area and to fix up half of the stratigraphic section which directly abutted one of the new squares which we were going to open up. This would help us to understand how far down we would have to dig in this square before we were able to confidently say that the material we were finding was from an archaeologically secure context as opposed to being from tilled and mixed topsoil. I love doing sections so this was a really great way for me to get back into the flow of excavation.
Much of the week was devoted to finding wall continuations of the walls which had previously been uncovered during the 2014 season. We were greatly successful in this task and as of the end of the week after digging through several layers of topsoil it seems as though we’ve uncovered an entire room contained entirely in the exact area of a previously excavated square and one of the new ones which we opened this season. There are issues in the phasing of this room and some things which are confusing that I won’t go into here. But, hopefully as we continue to dig in this area everything will become more clear and our questions will be answered. This area seems to contain a great deal of flint and also curiously turned up a crucible with evidence of metal. But, at the moment this is only an isolated piece of evidence around metallurgical activity in the area.
In addition to working in this one square I was also able to work in a different square which as of yet hasn’t turned up the same kind of walls and continuations that appeared in the other square. We dug this area at a much faster rate due to one of the site’s workmen helping us out. In spite of the fact that not much seemed to be going on in this square, we did find a beautifully carved and shaped stone mortar which we’ll likely eventually have residue analysis done for to help tell us perhaps more about its function.
Part of Thursday and the start of Friday was devoted to cleaning the area up in preparation for an end of the week drone photo. After the cleanup the area as a whole looked much nicer and allowed us to see some of the features that had previously only been visible in the top plan.
All in all my first week was tiring but rewarding and interesting. It’s so great to be back at this site with people I love being able to see and learn from everyday. I’m looking forward to another week of digging and clarifying as we try to better understand area O.