Monday, 16 June 2014

Cleansing the temple (TBS02)

The idea of getting up at 03.45 seemed preposterous before going to sleep last night and, after becoming a reality this morning, it appeared also to be unethical. Still, if that's what it took to be an archaeologist then I was up for it - and being up for it was what it was all about at that time of the morning. On board the coach at 04.30, we set off for Tel Beth-Shemesh when most sensible people were still fast asleep in their beds.

The sun rising (long after we
had done the same)
After arriving at the tel just before five o'clock and following a brief introduction to the proper use of ladders, picks, trenching hoes and wheelbarrows, we set off from the 'breakfast shade' down the slope towards the excavation site. This current excavation has been ongoing since 1990. Two previous excavations had taken place here, one from 1911 to 1912, and another from 1928 to 1933. The current dig has generally taken place on an annual basis for a four week period each season, though it had been two years since the last pick had been wielded on the tel.

The site as we found it, overlooking the Sorek Valley
The first job at hand was to remove the weeds and other accumulations of the past two years. This would enable us to see more clearly the immediate context of our excavations whilst also prevent contamination from unrelated debris. I found myself cleaning out the east end of an Iron Age I temple that had been excavated the previous season. The story of this temple is most interesting, but will need to be told another time.

The process of cleaning up also revealed a number of pottery sherds which were later washed and briefly examined before being discarded. As these were all coming from the debris being cleaned up from the past two winters - the 'winter wash' - they were of little value to the archaeological process. For pieces to have significance, they must generally be found within the context in which they have lain undisturbed throughout the centuries.

At around half past the hour of eight, everyone stopped work and made their way back up to the breakfast shade where we were to eat ... breakfast. Technically speaking my fast had already been broken by the two slices of bread and Marmite I had consumed along with a cup of tea before leaving the kibbutz four hours earlier. The idea of a second breakfast seems as obsolete as the notion of secondary first aid, but it was more welcome.

The Iron Age I seal
During this 'official' breakfast Dale Manor, one of the directors of the dig, presented the 'find of the day' which, technically speaking again, was the 'find of yesterday' as it had been happened upon by two of the young ladies from the Canadian university whilst enjoying a preliminary stroll around the tel on Sunday. Though discovered somewhat out of context among the winter-wash debris, the seal was a splendid discovery from the Iron Age I period - (c. 1200-1000 B.C.).

At about one o'clock, eight hours after arriving on site, we departed to the kibbutz, in the same manner whence we had come, and to luncheon. If I had had concerns about the quality or quantity of food to be provided during our stay, all fears were allayed. Both were more than ample and a real treat to consume. The afternoon was relatively quiet, though I was warned that this would not be the norm from the morrow on.

A light supper
At about five o'clock (at the more civilised end of the day) we had our first evening lecture - several were planned for the weeks ahead. This evening Shlomo spoke on Tel Beth-Shemesh: A Tale of Three Expeditions in which he outlined a hundred years of archaeology at Beth-Shemesh, discussed the site's geographical and historical setting, and told the story of the Middle Bronze Age city wall and gate. Splendid!

Supper followed - a more simple spread than we had earlier, but quite sufficient - and was served outside in the pleasant evening sun. As unaccustomed as I am to retiring for night before midnight, it did seem appropriate to do so in light of the impending alarm!

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