Local time at Horbat Omrit, Israel

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Day 8

A half day of work today: 5am to 8:30. (Whose idea was that?) Most of our work involved this amazing inscription. It was found down the hill from temple in a small valley, a mostly dry creek bed called a wadi. So this big slab of basalt had to be moved uphill and then into a pickup. Took over 2 hours of careful work.

Then into the storehouse back at the kibbutz. This is as close as you will allowed to see the slab for a while:

It has a number of lines of inscription and mentions the emperor Diocletian, who ruled from 284 CE to 311 CE, and also his co-emperor Maximian, among others. I think this little guy is destined to go straight to the Israel Museum. (After proper study, of course.)

This afternoon we're off for a little touring in Banias. Pictures later.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Day 7

Yesterday Greta, our host here, took us on a tour of the kibbutz and gave us a little bit of its history. In 1934 a group of people, mainly from eastern Europe, formed a small community in southern Palestine. In 1942 Jewish authorities, such as they were, decided that a Jewish presence was needed along the Golan Heights and a string of kibbutzim was founded. That small community moved north to start this kibbutz. And, sure enough, in 1948 they helped make this part of Palestine part of the new Israeli state. How close to the Golan Heights is Kibbutz Kfar Szold? As close as you can get:

Up on top is a plateau, a butte if you will, that was once Syria. There are 2 residents of the Kibbutz' old folks home who date back to 1934.

Here's a picture of our square showing what we are finding: nothing! Our neighboring square has walls, columns and other fun stuff. We aren't very deep yet but the site supervisor suggests this is the 13th century level. But no remains of earlier times sticking through.

A good time to mention my schedule. The van to the site leaves at 5am, John and I get up at 4:15. We work until 8:30 when breakfast comes over from the Kibbutz. Then we continue until 11:30 when we clean up and return. Lunch is at 1pm in the cafeteria of the Kibbutz' air conditioner factory. After lunch our square team washes the pottery we found the day before and which has been soaking since. Then we're free for the day (unless there is some need to return to the site). A little reading outside in the shade, web surfing, maybe a snooze. Supper at 7:30, maybe a lecture after and bed soon after that.

Didn't get to walk the perimeter yesterday because I went back out to the site for some "compulsory" volunteer work. Today's the day.

NEWS ALERT: An inscription has been found! We've learned this afternoon that a visitor prowling around our site today (what is that all about?) found a massive basalt inscription. The honchos went kinda bat-s***. It has the greek word for Augustus in it. Yikes. More tomorrow.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Day 6

Well, archaeology-wise, we've pretty much cleaned off our top layer of dark earth and have reached a ragged layer of limestone dust. We'll see soon what lies underneath. I'll take the camera out tomorrow.

Physically I'm holding up well, somewhere in the middle. The heat and effort is affecting some of the kids and some are gung-ho workers. John and I are in the solid middle. There is a 3-mile perimeter around our gated community and I feel I can walk this hilly route today. John runs it every day in less than a half hour but won't stop to take pictures.

The picture today is from Jerusalem last week. A few times we saw large groups of soldiers just hanging out. Why? Don't know, but probably held in reserve in case GWB was attacked or something. This group was just outside the walls of the old city. Note all the spectators. We saw one woman call out to her son for a tearful mother-and-child reunion.
P.S. If you're ever traveling internationally, Skype telephone calls are great! John and I have been calling landlines in North America regularly for the last 10 days and haven't spent $5.00 yet.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Day 5

Yesterday the dig director, Dan Schowalter, showed us some of the fanciest artifacts found in previous digs. Since the temple slowly went out of business, these are not as many as one might expect. But there is some glass, marble and sculpture. And a nice sphinx that has been sent off to the Israel Museum. He thinks this is an official starting a race by dropping a cloth.

We continued to strip away the surface layer today. Lots of pottery shards but still the same rich, black, and dry upper layer. Lots of large rocks. Stay tuned. The weather has been warm but not oppressive except in the late afternoon. We cleaned the pottery that we found yesterday (and that had been soaking for a day). The asst director, an art historian who tries to decypher the architecture details of the site (and who is moving to a new job at Queens College (CUNY)), is going to give a lecture tonight.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Day 4

Real archaeology today: breaking up the ground with pick and hoe, shifting dirt and heaving boulders out of the way. By 9:30am I was looking at my watch hoping it was nearly time to knock off. By the end of the day the temperature was close on 90, I was nackered and spending less than 50% of the time working - the remainder resting.

No real finds yet - too early in the process.

Spent the afternoon reading until about 5pm when I went for a run around the perimeter of the kibbutz - it was still very hot and there's a savage hill in the middle of the run which I've yet to run without a pause.

This is proving a very taxing vacation physically!!

Day 4

What have we done in 2 days of digging? Well, in our 4 meter by 4 meter square, we've cleaned off all the vegetation, all the surface rocks and dug down (with picks and hoes) about 15 or 20 centimeters. Doesn't seem like much but it's still a couple tons of dirt.

This level is not very important, too close to the surface to tell us anything. Lots of pottery shards though and lots of big rocks sticking out, some "dressed", that is, with artifical surfaces. Even a couple of column drums.

It's 12:45 and off to lunch, the big meal of the day. I get the fish!

Picture of the day: Wild Wheat with Thistles. Remember that wheat was first domesticated a couple hundred miles north of here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Day 3

John, below, has covered the day well. We hope to find evidence of the main entrance off the main road, as it were. Lots of column drums, bases and capitals scattered around and we hope to uncover many more.

He didn't mention the civilized aspects of this dig, the first of which is the mostly paved road we travel over to get there. There's a porta-potty! There are tables and chairs for our breaks and "second breakfast", and, wonder of wonders, there's a tarp over our "square" for shade.

Day 3

This was the day we'd been looking forward to yet dreading the 5:00am start. In the event it wasn't too bad, Bill and I had packed our bags the evening before, so we just had time for a quick peanut butter sandwich and a cup of coffee before boarding the van out to the site. It was cool and only just light when we reached the site.

Imagine a wide lush valley - the Huleh valley. The hills on either side are bone dry, the grass burned yellow. On the easten side of the valley we can see Lebanon. Our side of the valley is Israeli and is essentially a part of the Golan heights. Our side is largely fenced off, as much as anything to keep us off the hills which are covered with landmines.

At our site, the work in previous years has excavated much of the two temples, and has also shown that at least in Roman times, the later temple (Temple 2) had been approached by a street lined with columns and perhaps covered over.

Part of this years work is to find the route of the street and how it crossed over a nearby shallow wadi. (valley). To this end Bill and I were assigned to different teams each of which was set to clearing all the surface grass and loose stones from a 5m square. This took most of the morning, then we set about measuring the elevations of all the larger stones embedded in the ground. Some of these left in each square were clearly part of the structures we expected to find, others perhaps just loose stones from a fill somewhere. Before beginning the excavation of the 5m squares we had to create a scale drawing of each square and photgraph each area. We'd prettty well finished this at the end of the days work. So perhaps tomorrow we'll actually begin excavations....

By the time we left the site the sun was up and the temperature into the late 80s, the bugs were active as well - small gnat like things that buzzed around your easr and sometimes bit you. Quite unpleasant!! Of course there's lots of kidding around about the snakes, scorpions and spiders said to be in the area. A prize has been offered to the person who kills the most scorpions of the whole period. So far I've yet to see my first!!

We're starting to get to know the students who are very friendly and seem an interesting bunch. Most of them seem to be in degree programs with a strong religious/history focus and I'm enjoying talking to them.

But as I write this, it's mid afternoon and the whole kibbutz is quiet - most people seem to be asleep....Bill is dozing in a chair under a tree. The temperature is well into the 90s. When it cools down a bit I plan to go for a run. It's only about 3.5 km around the perimeter fence, but there is a steep hill at one side of the kibbutz. At the top of this is a pill box facing the Golan. The perimeter fence is high and topped with barbed wire and in places razor wire as well. We have an armed guard at the gate which is manned 24/7,all this belieing the current tranquility of the place.

That's it from me, time for my run.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Day 2

Ok, first a little history. When Octavian beat Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, he became the new ruler in the eastern Mediterranean and all the sub-rulers there had to act fast. Most convinced the now Augustus of their new loyalty and none better than Herod of Judea. He built a temple, an Augusteum, to his new best buddy in about 20BCE. Josephus wrote:

So when he had conducted Caesar to the sea, and was returned home, he built him a most beautiful temple, of the whitest stone, in Zenodorus's country, near the place called Panium. This is a very fine cave in a mountain, under which there is a great cavity in the earth, and the cavern is abrupt, and prodigiously deep, and full of a still water; over it hangs a vast mountain; and under the caverns arise the springs of the river Jordan. Herod adorned this place, which was already a very remarkable one, still further by the erection of this temple, which he dedicated to Caesar.

We are at Panium, the cave where the Greeks had a shrine to the god Pan, now called Banias. Or at least our site, where the Augusteum is being excavated, is 2 miles from the cave. And the kibbutz is a further 2 miles away. We went to visit this morning and are pretty much free now. The new arrivals have to recover from jet lag, though these kids seem pretty hardy...

The site was discovered 10 years ago after a fire cleared away the brush and "dressed" stones were seen peaking out of the ground on the top of a hill. In the last ten years much has been exposed. You'll get a complete story of what has been found over the next few weeks! As well as details of my co-workers.