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How I Spent my Summer in Israel

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By: Cathie Moore, Heritage Excavation Grant Recipient 

I spent my summer in Israel on an archaeological dig at Tel Megiddo, I attended the entire seven week field school.  My work week was Sunday through Thursday, with Friday and Saturday off.  The work started super early and ended late.  The buses dropped us off at Tel Megiddo around 4:45 each morning and by the 8:00 breakfast it felt like I had already carried hundreds of buckets of dirt and dripped just as many buckets of sweat.  But after only a few days, the beautiful sunrises made up for the pre-dawn morning labor.  We returned to the Giv’at Haviva kibbutz (which we affectionately called the compound) by 2:00 for lunch and then our education packed evenings began at 4:00 with pottery and bone washing.  Field techniques classes followed, then dinner, and finally the staff would finish up the evening with lectures on some of their favorite topics.  Most lectures were over by 9:00pm, which very quickly became my new bedtime.

I learned many things during my time in Israel, not all of it about archaeology.  I learned about stratigraphy, the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, the Iron Age, proper archaeology terms and techniques, how to use a Total Station, and what a tabun was (I discovered 3 of the 6 found in my square), but the favorite thing I learned at Tel Megiddo was that if you are not sure if you found bone or pottery, lick it; bone sticks to your tongue, pottery does not.  I also learned the sound of the Israeli air raid sirens, one even went off in the middle of the work day on the Tel.  I soon became a witness to the constant struggle and retaliation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Cathie Moore at Tel Megiddo.

This latest round of fighting began only two weeks into my dig season.  Archaeology digs in southern Israel near Gaza became dangerous.  So by the end of week four refugee archaeology staff and volunteers from the Jaffa and Ashkelon digs joined our excavation.  Some people opted to leave early and caught the next plane home, but many of us stayed until the end.  Our weekend travel excursions were limited to north central Israel for our safety.  This still allowed me to explore much of Israel’s beautiful landscape and history.

Cathie Moore at Masada.

During my archaeological dig in Israel, I thought more about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict than ever before in my life.  Before I went to Israel, the situation there was just another Middle Eastern conflict that I did not understand.  I fought in the Iraqi war in 2004, when I was in the Coast Guard.  One of the reasons I chose to dig in the Middle East was because I wanted to find a different perspective on this land and its people.  I hoped that my experience in Israel would give me some insight as to why these two peoples have so much trouble getting along.

Spending those two months in Israel, during most of which they were warring with the Palestinians, sparked an interest in me to learn more about these two peoples, their history, and their cultures.  In the little time I have had since my return to conduct research, I have learned that they have a deep shared history that should unite them not tear them apart.  I also learned that their story is a very complicated one, one that unfortunately is far from finding a successful resolution.  I discovered some of this history on my dig at Tel Megiddo.  Not only did I find artifacts from the Iron Age — such as a few tabuns, metallurgy by-products, pottery, flint, and jewelry— I also unearthed bullet casings from the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.  Tel Megiddo was the site of numerous battles throughout the past four thousand years and there was no better way to learn about them than by slowly digging through the Tel layer by layer.

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