Wrapping up at Tall al-Umayri

By: Amanda Hopkins, 2012 Heritage Fellow
Read Amanda’s earlier posts here (1), here (2), and here (3).

A Hopkins 6

Amanda and other excavators in the cave entrance

Week Four and the end of this year’s dig:

As we continue our digging something very exciting happens- a white, hollow and crumbly residue is found clinging to the chisel marks. This is definitely plaster! The chiseling and plaster can be found on the ceiling and sides of the cave. Further chiseling is also found when looking at the natural dissolution features that trail off from the SE and Southern quadrants of the cave. One can clearly see how the natural fissures in the rock have been humanly manipulated into channels that bend upward and toward the surface of the earth. All this plaster and chiseling suggest that the cave had been manipulated into a cistern.

This makes good sense as this area around the late Iron II farm house was a place of wine and olive oil production. Water would have been needed to clean the presses, and help with capturing the olive oil from the pressing surfaces. Water would also have been used to irrigate the grapes and olives in the fields surrounding the presses.

The cave at the end of excavation.

At the beginning of our dig we articulated a curvilinear opening that stretched 1.5m by 2.4m. At our dig’s conclusion, the initial opening had quickly blossomed into a rounded dome measuring 5.24 m by 4.4m. We reached a depth of 4m in the Southern quadrant of the cave (this is where we focused our efforts). However, we are still going down!!!!

Water and its importance is one image that I will take from our dig. How much effort was put into working this cave just to gather some run- off water!  This cave was not naturally well adapted to housing water. With its organic fissures in the rock and its large mouth that opens to the sun; quite a substantial amount of water must have been lost to the elements.

Still the ancestors worked the rock. They chiseled and plastered it without motorized equipment. They also dug. We don’t even know how far down they went or how many large boulders they encountered. We found massive chert boulders weighing around 500lbs but have no idea when this rock became ensconced in the cave.

The tenacity of our ancestors to survive and improve their lives by manipulating the landscape is quite astounding and awe inspiring. To be able to work where they once worked and without power tools humbles me. To find my own path crossing that of these strong and clever people is an incredible experience. To meet these people while working in a culture that has different traditions and holidays than my own further impresses upon me humanity’s diversity yet astounding dependence on water which remains indispensible to life.


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