Magnetic Heritage Fellow Digs in the Negev

By: Michele Stillinger, 2012 Heritage Fellow

Thanks in part to the ASOR Heritage Fellowship, I am completing my first field season in Israel collecting archaeomagnetic samples for my dissertation research.  It has been a very hot four weeks in the Negev desert, where we are excavating at the Iron-Age site of Khirbet Summeily, a small tell near the Bronze and Iron Age fortress site of Tell el-Hesi.  These sites were recently featured in the Near Eastern Archaeology Magazine (Vol 75, No 1) as locations along the transportation route between Gaza and Hebron.  Summeily is significant because it sits on the very edge of the Philistine/Judahite border and contains elements from both cultures.

My previous excavation experiences were rather uneventful, so I was pleased to find an immediate abundance of pottery sherds and learn about the various local styles from our directors, Jeffrey Blakely and James Hardin.  I was especially excited to find one of the first lithics, a beautiful chert sickle blade.  The digging techniques are slightly different than what I am used to; for example, this is my first experience excavating mudbrick walls, which are often difficult to distinguish from the compacted loess sediments surrounding them.

By the third week we were reaching a number of hearths and small destruction layers, allowing me the opportunity to finally take in-situ pottery sherds  and tabun samples (a small, conical, bread oven) for my archaeomagnetic research.  Archaeomagnetism is an absolute dating technique that measures the ancient magnetic field of the Earth stored within fired materials.  The intensity of the field changes through time and can be used to construct dating curves specific to a region.  This technique is ideal for situations where large amounts of fired ceramics exist and where there is a lack of material for radiocarbon dating.  My goal is to continue collecting samples throughout the Levant, refining my sampling methodology and contributing data to the archaeomagnetic database for the region in order to aid scholars in the Levant who are interested in refining the Iron-Age I and II transition dates.

Ultimately, I hope to use my skills in archaeomagnetic dating to participate in other research projects around the globe.  I have a great love for travel and experiencing new cultures.  Israel has been no exception.  We have spent weekends visiting archaeological sites from the Negev all the way up to the Golan Heights area and I have enjoyed exploring the diversity of habitats, geology, and cultures in the country.  I am looking forward to collecting a number of samples during our last week at the site and am already planning on locations to visit next season.   My sincerest thanks to ASOR and the anonymous donor who generously helped fund my field research.  My experiences have been very rewarding.

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