Heritage Fellow’s First Impressions Excavating at Tall al-Umayri

The cave with brush removed and the boulder showing

By: Amanda Hopkins, Wesley Theological Seminary, 2012 Heritage Fellow
You can read Amanda’s previous posts here and here.

Week 2

Digging is going slowly. Our first stumbling block, after cleanup is a large boulder (110 cm by 56 cm). The soft limestone boulder rests on loose soil (the accumulation debris) and it proved impossible to break into pieces. The sledge hammer blows were cushioned by the plug of soil upon which it rested. The most we could accomplish was the chipping of corners of the boulder. At some point it became small enough and round enough to lift up to the mouth of the cave and roll away.

This wonderful event happened at 11:00 on Friday, July 13th, the following day.  Finally, the boulder is “Yallah hajar” or gone! This leaves enough time to take measurements and drive our “shebab” (local worker) back to Tall al-Umayri in time for “saleh”, Friday prayers, and “masari”, money.

One wonders how did the boulder come to rest in the center of our cave? We don’t fully know. What we do know is that it was a modern occurrence since the soil underneath contained modern debris such as weeds and plastic.

Working on the boulder

We also know that an archaeologist’s first job is to describe the deposition and not to draw too many inferences.

Week 3

I feel anxious as I return to work on Monday, July 16th.  I am eager to begin digging and yet it seems that the “real excavation” is taking forever. The delay has a long list of “needs to do first”, such as getting permission and removing the boulder.

However, after getting our pottery pail ready and taking a morning picture, we begin. We start by taking the depth of the cave down to approximately one meter on all sides. The soil is loosely packed and brown with some soft limestone and large pebbles. The soil is dry.

The pottery we collect is small in size and rare in frequency.  It dates from the Iron II Period, the Persian Period, and the Byzantine period.  We also find the bones of a modern sheep, dog, and the shell of a deceased turtle. All this suggests recent accumulation debris.

We also notice that the ceiling of the cave has been chiseled and that it continues to spread outward. This outward spreading indicates that for us it is still growing in width. Dimensions that began at the mouth of the cave measure 2.3 m by 1.6 m. are now 3.6 m by 4.0 m. We have much digging to do if we are going to clear this cavern and better understand its function and role in the overall hillside site.

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