Heritage Fellow’s Array of Experiences at Tel Kedesh

By: Caitlin C. Clerkin, 2012 Heritage FellowC Clerkin

Thanks to ASOR’s generosity via the Heritage Fellowship, I was able to participate this summer in my second season of fieldwork at Tel Kedesh, in Israel’s beautiful Upper Galilee.  This final season of excavation at Kedesh’s Persian-Hellenistic Administrative Building saw my first season ever as a trench supervisor—an unexpected “battlefield promotion” and an amazing experience.

My first fieldwork experience was at Tel Kedesh in 2010, and the project returned this summer to excavate a few last sections of the building, as well as lift, excavate under, and replace Israel’s oldest mosaic floor (in the hopes of finding datable material).  Thus, this summer promised to immerse me in more excavation, and pottery washing and sorting, as well as let me peek into some of the issues of conservation and preservation of the mosaic handled by our conservator from the University of Michigan’s Kelsey Museum, Suzanne Davis.  And, indeed, my immersion in all these aspects of fieldwork was more intense than in my first season, from managing my own trench, to washing and sorting an extraordinarily large amount of pottery resulting from digging up a particularly pottery-rich portion of the site, to taking a few whacks and brush-strokes at the material underneath the mosaic floor myself.

For starters, while 2010 was myfirst season of excavation, it was the second for the trench I worked in, so I hadn’t experienced the beginning of the excavation process nor dealt closely with post-Persian period materials.  However, my 2012 trench had not been previously opened, so I was able to go see all phases this season, from topsoil with modern material (about which we were particularly careful, due to our proximity to very modern depositional activity—that is, the archaeological dump pile), to Byzantine-, Roman-, Hellenistic-, and Persian- era activity.

The beginning of the trench

Now, I read lots of mystery and detective novels in which hardboiled detectives stumble over bodies that get in the way of their solving of a simple blackmail case.  While I (secretly?) consider research and archaeology like detective work, I was a student of archaeology investigating the extent of the building’s north wall rather than a fictional detective investigating blackmail, thus, I was still surprised to find the bodies pile up in my trench where I merely expected a wall.  One skull—which at first sight we mistook for a whole ceramic vessel—turned into three burials placed neatly in the line of my wall.  So not only did I get to supervise my first trench, but I also received a vivid reminder that you often find large things that you aren’t expecting—and I got my first crack at dealing with human remains.

It was also lovely to be reunited with the members of the Kedesh excavation team, both the Druze workers (talented, funny, and ever-amused by my learning to count in Arabic) and the American field team, who are good and generous company, and particularly wonderful windows into the archaeological and advanced academic world for a Classics MA student.  It was an amazingly fun , interesting, and educational season, and I am appreciative of the wonderful fieldwork and travel opportunity I was given.  So, thank you to Dr. Sharon Herbert for inviting me to Kedesh, to the Kedesh team for being awesome, and especially to ASOR for enabling my participation with the Heritage Fellowship.


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