Local time at Horbat Omrit, Israel

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Day 22

A restful day today, no half-day of digging. We're doing pottery instead. We collect a lot of it and periodically an expert is supposed to appear to tell us for sure what we have. Unfortunately she just had a baby!

So Gabi Mazor, who has helped excavate here (and who was the director at Beit Shean - he gave us our tour!) is doing a prescreening. We sit around a table, each pottery bag gets dumped out and he does his magic. (There is a separate bag of pottery, which we've already cleaned, for each separate "locus" in each square.)

He sorts the shards into different piles, looks it over, tell us what is, and then discards most of it. Sigh.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Day 21

What a slob I've been - no posts for over two weeks - apologies to all my fans!

Life here has settled down to a steady routine which occupies most of my time: work at the site in the morning, lunch, then hide away from the heat in the afternoon (temperatures are regularly over 102F in the shade), drinks, then dinner followed generally by bed at around 9pm! We’ve also had a number of lectures after dinner several of these focussed on temple architecture and religious practices in Roman times. I found these extremely useful in understanding the work we are doing on site.

Work at the site is hard but enjoyable, I've spent most of my time picking away at the dirt and levering out boulders - all this with the aim of revealing the original structures on the site

Where I am working we think we have found part of a pavement of unknown date but likely post-Roman. In other places we’ve found an olive press, a wall with a decorated plaster finish and numerous other buildings of unknown function. The problem is that stones from many of the original Roman structures have been reused in Byzantine times creating a real jumble of partially collapsed structures. It takes real skill and imagination to work out what has gone on.

Our current theory is that people would travel to the Temple and stay there for a day or two, requiring food and overnight accommodation for themselves and their animals, so there should be evidence of all this in the area.

One of the most interesting projects we’ve started has been an attempt to survey on foot the whole area of the site looking for evidence of these other buildings. Apart from the difficulties arising from the undergrowth, it seems that many of the useful stones from early structures have been re-used much more recently to form what look like farm buildings, nevertheless there are still many cut pieces of limestone lying round likely where they fell centuries ago. It’s going to be really difficult but very worthwhile to sort out what’s going on. I think this is the start of a long term project.

At weekends we’ve been on visits to other archaeological sites, but also during the week we’ve been to some nearby sites, one of the most impressive being at Kadesh up towards the Lebanese border. There we saw the remains of a vast administrative centre which had been in use since Phoenician times, perhaps acting to tax people travelling between Damascus and the coast. The building had some superb mosaic floors which had survived and walls built in a Persian style and designed to withstand earthquakes. Over the hillside were the remains of many other buildings and residences – hopefully the sort of complex remaining to be discovered at Omrit!

It’s weekend today, so after some work on the pottery we’ve found, we’re off on visits both today and a full day visit tomorrow…..then it’s a few days of really intensive cleaning up at the site in preparation for photographs before we close up for the season.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Day 20

(Drink lots of water.) Sure. (Take water breaks.) Always do. (Have enough water?) Leave off will you? Well actually, it's good advice. Because I had a dehydration episode today. So embarressing. A little nausea and inability to keep water down. All better now. Here's a picture from the Dome of the Rock to settle our stomachs.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Day 19

Here's a photo that gives you a little geography of the site.

In the upper left, next to the "2nd breakfast" tree is the temple, or rather multiple temples. Down to where the tent is located ran the colonnaded way, with big pillars, that was the entrance. Down to where there is green is a slope to a dry creek bed, a wadi. Where I am standing is up the other side of the wadi. One assumes there was a small bridge across the wadi.

Also it is assumed that I am standing where the main east-west road from the Mediterranean around to Damascus ran, it being perpendicular to the temple entrance road. There is a lot of digging going on trying to find that road. No definite success so far.

Here's a reconstruction of the temple from the far side looking down towards the wadi. The main road would run parallel to, and near, the top of the picture.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Day 18

Where I'm not: Blue Ridge, Georgia

Monday, June 2, 2008

Day 17

Here's a picture of the "Antony and Cleopatra" shrine ("Temple 0"). Note the foundation walls of Temple 1 that was built entirely over it. The floor of that temple, built by Herod for Augustus, was at the top of those walls. Sure looks like deliberate obliviation to me. (I got the date of Temple 2 wrong yesterday, it was built at the end of the 1st century CE, about 100 years after this shrine and 80 years after Herod's temple.)

Went out on a "surface survey" this afternoon organized by one of the professional archaeologists. A group of people organized in straight line walk over an area, sometimes over a period of weeks, and look for evidence of human activity. We were fairly disorganized but it was still an interesting activity.

Day 17 - Official Report

Week two of the 2008 excavations at Omrit saw the completion of work in two areas, and the move across the valley to the north to open up two new squares. We believe that these will turn up evidence of structures that lined the road north of the temple that ran between the Hula Valley and Damascus.

The completion of Amy Fisher’s square, yielded a massive foundation for the colonnade leading from the valley to the temple area. We also tore down balks from excavations in the area in 1999 and 2000, and opened up the end of the colonnaded way. It gives the appearance of a stoa with shops or offices leading up to the temple. The colonnade architecture was ionic in order. The team set up one of the capitals and found it to be beautifully preserved on one side. In fact, we used the image of an ionic column as the design for this year’s t-shirt.

In Willis Jensen’s square, the team uncovered a clear view of the bedding for the road that ran along the colonnaded way. Below the road bed, the team isolated the remains of several terra cotta pipe lines that served as either drainage or water supply for the temple complex (see attached).

Some pipelines are visible in the valley north of the colonnaded way, and we are now moving Amy’s group to a square just off of the valley where we might pick up the continuation of the road bed and the pipelines. This square might also provide insight on the bridge construction that must have joined the colonnaded way with the road to the north.

Meanwhile, Nannette Goldman has started a square across the valley, and is starting to pick up some traces of architecture that might have lined the road. Further to the east, Willis Jensen’s group is starting work on what appears to be an industrial complex of some sort, featuring a fairly complex system of holding tanks or vats.

All of the volunteers have been working very hard, and this has allowed us to investigate these additional areas. Their pictures attached show the satisfaction of completing work in a square.

We are also anticipating interesting results from a pedestrian survey that Field Supervisor Greg Stoehr is planning to run with some of the volunteers during the afternoons this coming week. This process involves a careful examination of a 30 meter swath of the site running east from the altar in front of the temple. The volunteers make note of any features or architectural remains observed while they are walking, and these are recorded for later analysis. This survey will be useful in determining the extent of the site, and planning future areas of excavation.

Dan Schowalter

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Day 16

Well, I've missed a couple of days - combination of fatigue and keeping busy. I'll try not to bug out.

So let's talk about what we're digging: At the lowest level, sitting on the ground is a small "shrine". Perhaps a cave underneath that made the area sacred in some way. This shrine, as our art historian said, could have been built by John and I in a year. Small stones on a small scale. Nevertheless impressive with a small wall surrounding its courtyard and lots of plaster and fresco.

It was built around 40BCE. Why? To whom? Unknown. I suspect Antony and Cleopatra had something to do with it. He was helping her expand her influence into this area and together they were the top dogs.

Another reason to think they had something to do with them was that it was totally destroyed about 20 BCE by Herod to honor his patron Augustus. The platform of his temple (the podium) was elevated and the foundation walls completely covered the shrine, many of whose stones were robbed for the new building. I'll show you a picture soon.

He built a fancy temple with columns on the podium and it lasted almost 200 years. In the late 2nd century CE it was rebuilt and expanded. Hard to tell how long that one lasted until its stones were reused and the earth swallowed it up. Though a small christian church was discovered close by. The picture is looking at the podium level. The black fill was used to expand the first podium and make it larger.

We went to Beit Shean today, the ancient Greco-Roman city of Scythopolis. When someone walked into this city, they knew who was in charge.