Field Work, Lab Work, Publication Work… And How Jason Pondered a Wookalar Hole

We are nearing the end of the field excavation for this season. We are not wrapping up our work, but ramping up for the analysis phase and for next year’s expedition. I won’t summarize the season here, but I want to give you a feeling for what was happening at the southern-most part of Field B (esp. in Dr. Robin Knauth’s area), and suggest to you some of the different duties that now face our directors, Steve Ortiz and Sam Wolff.

The Gezer project was divided into two fields of operation; last year I worked in Field A, this year in Field B. When we arrived at the start of the season, Field B looked like this:

Our job was to excavate (cleanly and systematically) that field and find the contexts and relationships of the layers below. We were especially interested in the Hellenistic, Persian, and Iron Age city of Gezer. Gezer was many cities because it was variously occupied during various periods, so that Hellenistic Gezer is not Bronze Age Gezer. We knew that Field B would be starting with the most recent phase of the city, the Hellenistic Gezer.

Following Steve Ortiz’s four keys to field work–Clean, Systematic, Relationship and Context–we started by… putting up shade cloth. Okay, putting up shade is not one of the four keys to field work (in fact, sometimes the shade makes Relationships hard to see), but digging in the shade makes for happy volunteers. In the next picture you see that we set up our shade cloth for both Field A and Field B. Field A is in the foreground along with the Casemate wall we excavated last year. Field B is behind Field A and takes up the top two levels seen in this picture.

Supervisors in Field B were Dr. Steve Andrews of Midwestern Seminary inKansas City, and me (his student); Dr. Robin Knauth of Lycoming College, and her previous student, Jason Zan (now working on his MA at Southwestern–my roommate who introduced me to Cowboy Bebop); and finally Dr. Dr. Joe Cathey of Southwestern Seminary — a student of the knife and gun, also working on his second Dr. for some reason.

As a team under Eliot Braun (senior fellow at the Albright Institute), we had the good pleasure of exposing layer after layer of the mound called Gezer. In the next picture, in the front, one can observe how Robin K. and her team revealed Hellenistic walls. Notice that the wall most prominent is “floating” — which is to say that Robin has gone below the bottom course of the wall (which is proper), and only dirt holds up the base. The remains of this wall are only around 1.5 feet tall, and the rest is gone. The photo looks out over Field B, though it is not possible to peer down into all the holes from this angle.

In the next picture, we see Robin’s gang. This was taken early-on in the dig season, and some of the same volunteers here got the chance to dig under two or three supervisors. Robin (blue hat and blue shirt) is a great vocalist, and so it was fitting that three of the girls who worked for her came to be known as The Choir — Sarah, in green, Chanel, wearing pink pants, and Alecia in the light purple shirt. Many a day they would hymn the site with songs of Jesus!

Field B is done excavating for the year. We are doing final drawings and removing some pottery, but the digging has ended. Even still, much work remains in the next three days. Remember, archaeology is a scientific practice, and the field is the lab. We have done the lab work, but now the analysis will last throughout the year. This is starting already, but it will take up much of the time of our head archaeologists. They will process the data and provide the final synthesis. From that, they have to prepare for publication and presentations at professional meetings.

Much has happened this season. We have found an Egyptian scarab, a Persian seal, an Egyptian coin, a Rhodian jar stamp, whole vessels of pottery… the list is quite nice. Most importantly, we are establishing the relationship between the different phases of occupation at Gezer. We have started to make connections between our field and earlier excavation work, esp. the job done by Hebrew Union in the 1970s, shown below:

We worked east of the plans shown here and laid the groundwork for the next season of digging. Along the way we found some great artifacts and ran into some perplexing mysteries, as in the case when Jason and crew arrived one morning to find a mystery mound (Jason is in camouflage with the brown military t-shirt):

But the intrigue was temporary. Joe C., skilled in fauna, easily identified the mound as being created by the Israeli Wookalar. We never saw one of the Wookalars, but, from time to time, we did see the shadow of their work when dirt came percolating to the surface; the little critters were doing their own excavations below the ground.

The phenomena of animals (moles, snakes, etc.) burrowing on an archaeological site is quite ordinary. We often find small fresh mounds of dirt in the mornings, and in my own area we excavated where burrows ran deep. In one of those little animal caves we discovered scraps of modern material used for nesting. At first it was confusing to find bits of plastic in what we knew to be an Iron Age horizon. Yet the scraps of plastic came with all kinds of other nesting material, and we were able to reason that it was animal bedding. Because of natural forces — plants, animals, water, settling, quakes, etc. — archaeological material can get transfered between archaeological levels. But when we find such transfers, we also find evidence. Some other clues used in our accounting for the misplaced plastic included loosely packed soil and a highly aerated matrix, both being conducive to the root systems and animal tunneling we found. Aerated and loose soil is the path of least resistance for tunneling critters and sprawling plants.

My web logs are necessarily brief in these last days of the season. I will be posting more updates once I get back from the site with my drawings completed. My drawings are nothing to write home about, but one should give you a sense of the kind of paperwork we must include in our field notebooks (stick figures are not normally included, I added it to give you a sense of scale):

Y4 South Balk, 2007, Rives

An accurate balk drawing takes about an hour to draw and an hour to annotate.

For the next day I will be primarily occupied with the supervisor notebook that I submit to my boss, Eliot. He takes all of the Field B supervisor notebooks — which include marked-up photos, top-plans, wall descriptions, field notes, phasing charts, pottery lists, artifact lists, final reports, etc. — and generates a final report of his own.

Steve and Sam take Eliot’s final report — and Gary’s from Field A — and they generate a final report of their own. Gary’s Final Report from Field A, 2006, is on the web in PDF. This report is quite impressive. And posting this data on the web is a stunning and bold move. Sam and Steve are raising the bar on turn-around time from excavation to publication.

One of the scandals of archaeology is the lack of timely publication after excavation. Remember, archaeology is the systematic destruction of a city or area. Each turn of the spade is an irreversible removal of information from the historical record. Therefore, publishing is the ethical obligation of the Archaeologist. Archaeologists are stewards of human history, not owners of private endeavors. Sadly, however, there are sites that have been excavated in the 1970s and 1980s that have yet to publish (probably from the 1950s and earlier — and maybe I will locate a representative list). This is what one scholar, Edwin Yamauchi, has called a scandal. The Tel Gezer Project has addressed the scandal, in part, by immediately publishing a detailed field report from 2006. This move cannot be overlook or underestimated. Using the Internet in this way is logical and of inestimable value for Biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies.

Steve Rives

Neve Shalom

This article was published under Archaeology, Gezer.

Comments are closed.