Thursday, June 23, 2011

Whirlwind finish

Final shot of M11/N11
I am back in Minnesota after a wonderful 2011 season excavating at Omrit.  The final few days of our trip were extremely busy and very exciting.  We wrapped up our time at Kibbutz Kfar Szold with final photos, pottery reading, and a goodbye banquet, complete with felafel and photo slideshows!  It was bittersweet to leave the kibbutz and I miss sitting out on the lawn reading in the sun now that it is cold and rainy here in Saint Paul.

Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum
We drove into Jerusalem Sunday morning, and went straight to the Israel Museum.  At the museum, we got a personal tour from the director of the conservation lab, Doody, and got a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the conservation lab and museum store rooms.  We also got to see the brand new Omrit installation in the Herodian architecture section of the Archaeology Wing, which was fantastic!  After our personal tour, we had around 30 more minutes to see more of the exhibition space.  Afterwards, many who were interested left for the Old City, to see the Western Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  Around 8 of us who had already experienced the Old City decided to remain at the museum to explore its galleries more fully.  Some highlights of my extra time at the museum include some beautiful illuminated folios of the Shanamah, or Persian epic poem "King of Kings," and Alexander the Great mosaic from an early church, and some reconstructed synagogues from around the world (including India, Suriname, and Venice).  I also enjoyed seeing some more modern exhibits, and after four weeks of excavating ancient Roman artifacts, my brain was thankful for the variety!

The Old City of Jerusalem
After our extra time at the Museum, we went to our hotel on Mount Scopus and had a few hours down-time before dinner.  I sat out on the hotel's terrace, and sipped a gold star while watching the sun set over the Old City.  It was a beautiful view and relaxing way to wrap up a busy day.  We drove out to Abu Ghosh, a town outside Jerusalem for dinner, and afterwards our friends from CUNY Queens left for the airport.  The Carthage students came back with us to the hotel, but left at around 1 am to go catch their flight.  When I awoke the next morning, only the Macalester students remained!

Meeting with Dalia Rabin at the Yitzhak Rabin Center

Monday was perhaps the most fulfilling and interesting day of the entire season.  We enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the hotel (real coffee!) and then squeezed into a van for a drive over to Tel Aviv for a special visit to the Yitzhak Rabin Center.  The center is dedicated to furthering peace and democracy within Israeli society, and has a special focus on education and exploring Israel's domestic diversity.  We toured the museum, and then had the great pleasure to have a private meeting with Sharon Mars, the director of International Relations, and the center's chair: Dalia Rabin, Yitzhak's daughter.  Sharon explained the center's mission and history, and Dalia answered questions.  The meeting was a great way to wrap up the work we'd been doing with Tel Hai in our Skype class and over the past few weeks in Israel.  After a few short hours at the Yithak Rabin center and in Tel Aviv, we piled back into the van and headed back to Jerusalem.

Fuat and Andy
Ice Cream in Ramallah

Once back in the City of Light, we met up with Fuat, brother of Leo (the owner of Macalester favorite Shish restaurant). Fuat took us into the West Bank, and we spent the afternoon touring the capital of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah.  Fuat took us by Yassar Arafat's tomb, to a world famous shawarma restaurant.  Aside from shawarma, we sampled some sheep's brains, which were not as delicious as the shawarma.  Fuat then took us into the heart of Ramallah for some ice-cream, which is a unique concoction made with gum resin.  The ice cream was good, though not my favorite.  However, although the food was delicious, the actual tour of Ramallah was far more interesting.  I rode in a cab with Andy, and our cab driver was a Pan-Arabaist who had just been in Dara, heart of the recent unrest in Syria!  Listening to his musings on life as a Palestinian living in east Jerusalem, and actually seeing the visible changes once we left Israel and entered the West Bank helped us understand more fully the complexities of the conflict in Israel.  While the Rabin center focused on the extreme diversity and divisions within Israeli society, our visit to Ramallha highlighted the fractured nature of the relationship between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.

Our visit to the Rabin center and to Ramallah fit so well together, and I think our travels and experiences on Sunday and Monday tied all our season's work together very nicely.  Our tour of the Israel Museum  highlighted how the history and artifacts from our excavation work is brought into the public sphere, where visitors from all over the world could engage and explore the past.  On the other hand, our meeting at the Rabin center and afternoon in Ramallah illustrated the complexity of attempting to attain peace in Israel-- because of divisions between Israelis and between Israelis and Palestinians.  Driving through the Kalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah was an eye-opening moment.  We finished the day feeling exhausted and emotionally drained, however I think many of us agreed that our experiences in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Ramallah were the best of the season.  We decompressed and discussed our impressions over dinner at the American Colony Hotel for our final meal, then we drove to the airport and headed our separate ways.

Friday, June 17, 2011

In the Field - Square M11

Closing Up

Well we have made it to the end of the dig.  Today we spent both the morning and afternoon sweeping out our mega-square to get it ready for final photos tomorrow.  H8, Machal's square, already took final photos, and we have spent the last week in a heightened state of activity as we scramble to get everything finished up before we leave for Jerusalem on Sunday.  The Omrit plague left us behind on site clean-up, but it seems we're about caught up today!  I will get some photos of M11/N11 tomorrow so we can have a before and after for the season.

Since we last talked about the square, we've not made much progress (because there wasn't much left to do).  We have M11 uncovered to pavers and to the monumental steps in almost the whole square.  A bit of the putative Byzantine flooring surface is left, and my squaremates took some of that out while I was out with the plague on Tuesday morning.  In N11, we took the trench down to bedrock, exposing the putative Byzantine wall which now acts as a separator between the two squares.  In the lower courses of the wall, we found a small corinthian column capital made of limestone, and a beautiful small marble capital too!

A shot of some of our Tel Hai friends from their visit on Tuesday night
Pictures, another session of pottery reading, and our final cookout tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tour of Square H8

Join Machal G ('12) for a tour of her square H8, located on the steps of the temple!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In the Field - Square H8

More gnat protection from our friends in H8.  The Bedouin look is big at Omrit this year.

Back in the Field!

Phwew.  The last few days have been quite a whirlwind.  We had a semi-productive half-day in the field on Saturday, and spent the afternoon reading pottery and working on cataloguing.  No surprises from our reading—most of our pottery buckets came back as mixed and not datable.  What was datable was early Islamic or late Byzantine.  No mysteries solved from M11, but we were expecting such an outcome from our square because of the evidence of later disturbance we found as we dug.

Sunday, our off day, was very interesting.  We traveled south to Huqoq, Prof. Jodi Magness’s new site.  She is a big deal in the archaeological world and it was great to meet her and see her excavations.  She had just started the week before our visit and it would be nice to return in a few years to see what the place looks like after a couple of seasons. 

Later that evening, disaster struck.  Almost the entire excavating team came down with a horrible 24-hr bug.  The night passed miserably for most of us, and yesterday we spent still sick and recovering.  However, today we were back in the field and morale is high!  Linsday found a great glass shard—it is a bottle base, and Jodi Magness and her team returned the favor of our visit.  Now, some Tel Hai students are coming to the Kibbutz for dinner and discussion.  We are all very tired, but hopefully the meeting goes well.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

In the Field - Square H8

Gnat protection offers a wide range of fashion accessory options.  Some opt for the classic and rugged bandana wear-- Machal G ('12) shows how to apply her triple-bandana protection below.  Complex, yet elegant.

Bandana one wraps around in the typical "biker" fashion

The second bandana is applied using an innovative, reverse wrap-around technique.

The third and final bandana is applied "bandit style,"to allow maximum facial coverage. As long as one doesn't wander into any Israeli convenience stores sporting the triple-bandana coverage, it is effective, fashionable, and safe.

Tour of Square M11


Today, a tour of my square, M11, with supervisor Kate Peterson ('11).  Includes a special guest appearance by site architect Prof. Michael Nelson of CUNY Queens.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Omrit Fashion Blog

Hi everyone,

I thought I'd supplement the regular updates with some shots of excavators in action and their field gear.  Today, myself and squaremate Kate P ('11) wearing some matching MUSA biking pants.  Super comfy and great for excavation in the field as well as biking.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day 21

Today was a toughie.  The gnats were unbearable and the sun was hot.  Too hot.  We started our square extension, dubbed the "penalty box."  It is east of M11, and is technically 1 and a half meters of N11.  The surface was really tough, just like the top layer in M11.  However, we worked hard and got through locus 1 by the end of the morning.  We also spent some quality time moving our shade and complaining about the heat/bugs.  Phwew.  They were so bad.  We went in early again, and went back out in the afternoon to do more preservation work on the temple.  We moved lots of rocks and buckets of gravel.

This past week has gone by really quickly-- we've been working so hard and wading through packs of gnats.  I am looking forward to a break this weekend.  Maybe hit the kibbutz pub-- named Henrietta's after Henrietta Szold, who gave her name to the kibbutz.  Our pottery expert, Debbie, is coming this weekend and we will get our pottery "read."  That means she'll examine all of our pottery and date it and maybe tell us what type of vessel it is.  This allows us to date and interpret things we find in our square.  Super cool!

Here are some action shots from the past few days-

Machal ('12) shooting some elevations.

Director Dan Schowalter of Carthage messing about in our square.  Helping us move lots of large rocks.

Well stay tuned!  I hope to have some more video tours of other squares coming soon.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 20

Today the gnats were so bad that we stayed out in the field only until 10.  However, we got a great deal done in M11 and the square is pretty much completely excavated!  We cleared out all the fill and have beautiful pavers all the way from the base of the steps to the south baulk.  Here is a picture of Lindsay, Kate, and I napping on the pavers yesterday (right).  Actually, we weren't napping, we were trying to escape from the gnat onslaught.

After we came in from the field, we relaxed until 4, when we went back out into the field.  We spent the afternoon moving rocks and buckets of gravel to fill in a part of the temple in order to preserve the foundation of the beautiful frescoed temenos in the western side of the early shrine.  It is where Grace's square was working earlier.  Tonight is Nanette's last night before she returns to Minnesota to play in the Ordway's production of Guys and Dolls, and we will miss her greatly!

Here is our square yesterday, before we pulled the last fill rocks.  Tomorrow, we'll probably start heading out from our eastern balk.  We're hoping to find evidence of a propylon, or monumental gate.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tour of the site-- Space 5-5 and the early shrine

Today, Amy Fisher gives us a tour of her square, Sp5-5.  She, Prof. Nanette Goldman, and her team are working inside the temple around the early shrine.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Day 18 -- Guest Blogger

Hi Everyone!  Today guest blogger Joey Frankl (aka the froshduster) will be submitting an exciting post for your enjoyment.

Frist, a quick update.  Yesterday, our off-day, was spent visiting the famous city of Sfat, located on a hilltop in the upper Galilee.  Sfat is famous for being the seat of Kaballah (mystic Judaism) and, more recently, Jewish art.  I am not a huge fan of Sfat, but I went anyway and enjoyed walking the shady courtyards and seeing the outside of the Mamluke Red Mosque, which was closed for no reason in particular.  After Sfat, we had a quick visit to a half-excavated crusader fortress, and then got some delicicious Turkish style food on the banks of the Jordan River.  Delicious!

Now, without further ado-- a memo from Mr. Frankl:

"Greetings from Omrit! My name is Joey Frankl (or Joey the younger to many on the dig) and I will be providing a guest entry for the blog today. This past year I was a freshman (also known as a froshduster) at Mac and declared as a Classic major in the spring.
I was extremely thankful to have the opportunity to excavate at Omrit this year with a group of almost exclusively returning students. Spending time with upperclassmen and graduates has provided great insight into the future of my academic career. From everyday banter on the dig, I have realized how much I have yet to learn in classics. But I am still young and have three more years to gain the experience of my peers at Omrit. Spending time with these veterans has also shown me the legacy of academic excellence in the Macalester Classics department. Graduates working on the dig like Joey Mayer (’11) and Ben Rubin (’01) are examples of grads that were accomplished while at Macalester, and are now successful beyond. It is my hope to continue this tradition.
Now to today! As Joey mentioned earlier, my square (Eve, Maggie, and Grace) completed our work uncovering the fresco wall in the temple complex. It was a painstaking process that included the labeling, analysis, and excavation of 17 different loci! However, for those of us who have a deep passion for balk (most of us) it was quite enjoyable. So today, we began our first full day of work on our new square N-11/N12. It is located in the area known as “the town” east of the temple complex. Today’s excavations consisted of a whole bunch of pickin’ and hoein’. It was back breaking work eased by the tasty Israeli hard candy “Must” and passionate sing-a-longs to Beatles’ songs (“Something” was particularly heart wrenching). Our team adjusted well to our environment and dealt with unforeseen obstacles (like the collapse of our shade) and difficult labor with daring courage.
 At the end of the day we were still in Locus 001 having only excavated the very top layer of our square. We collected a considerable amount of pottery along with a few exciting finds: a chunk of marble and roof tiles. Despite the vicious, flesh-eating gnats, it was a beautiful day in the Galilee as sweet as a bag of chilled chocolate milk.
My time spent so far in Israel has been a dream. The combination of fantastic food, great company, and invigorating work have made the last few weeks of my life simply fantastic. I hope I can return next year and see the beautiful green hills of the Galilee for another summer!  

With fond regards,
Joey Frankl"

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Day 16

Saturday was a great day!  I woke up feeling well-rested and ready to go.  I got a ride up to the site in one of the trucks, instead of a van, and we spent the morning moving dirt in M11.  We finished cleaning up after our last session of rock-hauling, and then drew a quick top plan, and hauled some more rocks.  We are digging very quickly now and are opening new loci almost every other day as we enter new strata in the square.  We have found that at the bottom of the last step we'd uncovered, there seems to be at least three courses of pavers that form a ramp.  We are unsure whether there are more stairs, or whether the ramp continues all the way down to the level of the temple's temenos.  We finished up early because it was Saturday, and catalogued before second breakfast.  Breakfast was served in the dining hall and included yoghurt and granola (my breakfast of choice, though they didn't have goat yoghurt or fresh blueberries).

After breakfast, we relaxed, washed pottery (for too long) and read.  Grace's square finished up in the west side of the temple complex (see the picture from day 1 to get an idea of where they were digging, though that picture is from last season).  Now they are moving out into the field to dig right behind us!  Those of us in M11 are excited to have neighbors, though Grace's team members will have to adjust to excavating out in the field.  The gnats are much nastier, and the work is often more physically taxing, though involves less trowelling.  We hope to expand square karaoke (squaraoke) to include their square next week!  Here they are washing their pottery (left).

Later in the day, a van-ful went with Nanette to get some coffee and unwind after a tough week in the field.  We drove over to nearby Kibbutz Dan, and had some real iced coffee, and a delicious pear-tart.  It was a little slice of European coffee-culture in the north Galilee, and it was just what I needed to keep the heat at bay.

Around 5 pm, I went out to the pool with little Joey ('14), Kate ('11), and Amy ('07) and it was fantastic.  The kibbutz pool is usually packed on the weekend because lots of Israelis come up to Kfar Szold for a weekend getaway.  However, going late usually allows one to avoid the crowds.  Additionally, when the gnats are bad (like now), going later means the gnats are less devastatingly thick.  I got some sun, did a couple of can-openers, and relaxed.  The hot weather of the early afternoon had eased into a cool, sunny evening and the breeze was just strong enough to keep me comfortable.  I come to Omrit to enjoy moments like that.  Now we are having a cook-out and I look forward to an off-day tomorrow.  I will sleep well tonight!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Day 15

Wow!  Today was a tough one.  I woke up sluggish and exhausted... I was fast asleep at 4:30 (deep in the juju-- chasing the train) and I didn't feel fully functional until second breakfast.  Out in the field, we spent the morning preparing to photograph the stairs.  We swept the whole square out and took out a few more stones that blocked the view.  One of the rocks we pulled out of the 13th century surface that covered the stairs turned out to be a fragment of a basalt basin-- maybe a grinding basin.  We also worked on a top plan; we needed to draw all the new features before ripping out more rocks and continuing downwards.  Edward top planned with Kate and I measuring and we finished just around second breakfast.  We will reshoot the stairs tomorrow just to make sure the photos come out clearly (by the time we finally photographed them the sun was up and the shadows were too strong).  See them above.

After second breakfast, we basically ripped out more rocks!  This is the third day in the week we've done heavy rock removal and it is one of the toughest maneuvers in the field.  To add insult to injury, the gnats were the worst they've been all season, and it was hot and airless, so the long sleeve shirts and bandanas we wore were suffocating.  Nevertheless, we persevered and got the next layer of rocks out.  We spent the remainder of the morning picking and hoeing like crazy-- moving buckets almost faster than Edward could barrow them over to the dump pile!  Check out some of our gnat-protection (from 2009 season-- left).

Upon return to the kibbutz, we washed pottery (we had too much and washed for almost an hour).  Ben Rubin, class of 2001, helped us and chatted to us about his experience getting his PhD at Michigan, and his adventures as professor at Williams College.  Time passed slowly though, because the gnats were out on the kibbutz too, and ate us while we sat, helplessly washing pottery.  Because it was Friday, the Druze came over and made some delicious falafel.  We wolfed it down and then dispersed to our respective rooms to stay cool and to regroup after a morning spent besieged by gnats.  

I spent the afternoon reading and napping, and then helped Amy (class of 2007) catalogue some of her recent finds in the master database with Charlie.  I enjoyed working with artifacts from another square, especially because Amy's square is working in the temple next to the early shrine.  They are finding the coolest artifacts and found the limestone pavers which seem to predate the shrine!  I got to see some of their well-preserved unguentaria and some cool beads and figurine fragments. Check out Nanette (the other supervisor in Amy's square) perched on the early shrine, to the right!

Overall, it was another tough day, but tomorrow is a half day, and I have a falafel sandwich stashed away in my fridge to snack on!  Always look for the silver lining.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Day 14

Today was one of the longest days of the season so far, but we uncovered some very exciting finds as well!  We finally found the stairs we were looking for in M11—pictured to the right (with Lindsay doing some serious work).  The first stair was uncovered in the middle of the day, and it seemed to be at the right height and orientation to be a stair.  Then we uncovered another step, and another course above those steps.  I am very surprised that the stairs we found were in such good shape because the surface that was on top of them was so poorly constructed.  In the temple complex, Amy and Nanette’s square uncovered evidence for a building that predates the early shrine!  An even more exciting development for the site!

Most of the day was spent working very hard.  The gnats were bad again, and it was pretty hot out.  We picked and hoed pretty much all day, and Edward and I barrowed a fair amount too.  We went down almost a meter in one day, which is pretty impressive.  After a quick lunch and too-short trip to the pool, I went back out in the field to help Andy build a firebreak on the site to help out a neighbor.  It was hard work hoeing and raking the tough vegetation back and I am definitely drained.  For dinner, we went back to the winery on the kibbutz where we had a light supper and some young wine.  It was a pleasant way to close out a long, very taxing day.  Now to bed, where I will hopefully feel rejuvenated before 4:30 tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day 13

Today was less buggy but not as fun as yesterday out in the field.  We spent the morning preparing to top plan the new loci, but were quite inefficient and it took all morning.  Only right before second breakfast did Kate start drawing (with Lindsay and myself measuring).  We had to break for breakfast, and again afterward, because Kate’s future “bosses” from the Israel Museum came to the site to see the frescoes.  While we waited, we trimmed balk and articulated rocks to get everything ready to rip out after we completed the top plan.  After finally finishing the top plan, we spent our last hour ripping out more large rocks.  Very similar to yesterday, though yesterday we had Dan’s help.  Today, Ron, the surveyor helped us pull rocks instead.  The breeze was nice and kept the gnats at bay, but I must have been dehydrated because I felt bad all morning.  But the barrowing must go on, and barrow I did.  Anyway, today was beautiful, and not too hot, so I took a picture of the Hula Valley from the site.  Enjoy!

After pottery wash and lunch, I helped Kate catalogue our finds from this season in the master artifact database with Charlie, our archivist.  In around 30 minutes, my square is heading out to the site with Dan to do some cleanup and odd jobs around the temple complex.  It is very hot and I would like to nap.  Also, the kibbutz pool opened today, so if I had the afternoon free, I’d definitely go swim!  But I’ll buy myself some ice cream after we come in, and everything will be just fine. 

Day 12

Sorry for the missed update; the past two days have been very busy.  Yesterday was an extremely productive day.  We took photos of the flooring surface in L003 (see the whole square as of yesterday morning, right) and then ripped out all of the huge rocks that littered the square.  We left a shelf of flooring near the threshold block, but took out almost everything else.  The new area, L004, seems a lot like L002, which was above it.  More dirt, more big rocks.  Despite the paucity of staircases under the flooring surface, yesterday marked one of the best days of this season’s excavations so far for the member of M11. 

In the morning, while we ripped out rocks, I was on wheelbarrow duty.  When we’re moving rocks, that means I have to be on top of my game.  My squaremates popped the rocks and then either “walked” them to the balk, where then we lifted them out, or carried them out straight away depending on their weight.  We had a ton of basalt rocks, which are extremely heavy.  Some of these were so heavy that instead of lifting them into the wheelbarrow, we had to lay the wheelbarrow on its side and then walk the rock into it.  Our dump pile, where all the dirt and rocks from our square go after we excavate them out, is a fair way from the square, and is up a hill.  Edward and I normally are on wheelbarrow duty, because of the extreme nature of the dump pile.  We are very proud of the dump—it takes great care and constant management to keep the system working smoothly.  Missteps can lead to rock spills in the middle of the pile, or collapses, or the dump fills up too quickly and you have nowhere to put any more dirt!  So the rock moving exploits of yesterday gave me a tough work out and challenged my barrowing skills to the utmost.

After second breakfast, Larry went in because his knees were hurting, and we lost Kate because she went to observe some conservation on the frescoed wall in the western temenos wall of the early shrine (she’ll be embarking on a conservation internship at the prestigious Israel Museum after the dig ends and was getting some practice).  So Edward, Lindsay, and I carried on alone.  Dan, one of the directors, spent some time keeping us company and helping out (see us hanging with Dan, left).  The gnats were so bad yesterday that I wrapped myself up in bandanas and stuffed my ears with cotton.  We distracted ourselves from the gnats by having square karaoke.  Highlights include singing “Hit Me Baby One More Time” (by Brittany Spears) with Andy Overman.  We spent the afternoon getting eaten alive, hoeing, and picking in the new L004.  Despite the horrible conditions, we all agreed it was the most fun we’ve had in the field so far!

Last night a few of us got a ride to a restaurant that serves American –style food (but it is actually good).  They have good burgers, you can get bacon (!) and cheese on your burger (!!!), and they have Stella Artois on tap.  Wow.  Some familiar culture in the heart of northern Israel!  Needles to say, dinner hit the spot after two weeks of kibbutz food and a long day in the hot sun at the mercy of the gnats.  I went to bed contented and itchy.