Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Race to Pottery Washing

Quick, can I write an entry before pottery washing and still have time to get some Ice Coffee? Let's see.

Today, in our latest edition of "Getting to Know You" I'd like to introduce you to Dr. Daniel Master, Co-Director Ashkelon Excavations and Associate Professor of Achaeology at Wheaton College. Here goes.

Dr. Master doesn't remember what he wanted to be when he was little but he does remember that he was notorious for telling his cousins where to dig. Today, Dr. Master is still telling everyone where to dig. In fact, that is an important part of his job as co-director. Dr. Master's job is to plan the season's work, find people who want to do the same work and then make it happen and do whatever he can to make sure all the work gets done. His favorite part of the job is working with people he likes. And he has no least favorite part of the job because, he told me, if there was something he didn't like he would change it.

Favorite tool: Trowel
Most interesting find he has excavated: 604 BC destruction of Ascalon
Favorite treat while in Israel: Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia Ice Cream Bar covered in Dark Chocolate

BTW, the answer to the question is "no." I wasn't able to post this before pottery washing. At 8:19 it is now just 11 minutes until my bedtime. Until next time, the dirt is ready!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Getting to Know You

Today's installment of "Getting to Know You" features Robyn, a Ph.D. student in the Classics Department at the University of North Carolina. When I asked Robyn what she wanted to be when she was little she looked a little sheepish and confessed that she always wanted to be an archaeologist. There were obvious signs she told me. First, she was always digging in her back yard when she was a child. And, whenever she played with Barbie dolls she dressed them up as characters in Greek mythology!

Here on the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon Robyn is a Square Supervisor in Grid 47. That means she oversees the day to day excavation of a 10 x 10 meter area within the grid. Robyn's favorite part of the job is the people. She loves meeting new people and teaching them about archaeology. Her least favorite part of the job are the spiders and lack of coffee.

Favorite Tool: WHS trowel
Least Favorite Discovery: A never ending pottery pit she excavated last year
Favorite treat while in Israel: Ice Aroma (basically a mix between a coffee slushie and a coffee milkshake)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tel Tour

Today we had our first Tel Tour. It started in Grid 38 where Josh detailed the latest events. In Square 85 Johnathon and his volunteers have waded through Byzantine and Roman period drains on their way to the Persian period and, happily, what appears to be the first well preserved 8th century BCE floor ever found at Ashkelon. That is certainly a big discovery!

One of the goals of Square 85 is to keep moving towards the level of the gray sandbags you can see in this picture and the one below. Last year they uncovered a very important building dating to the Iron 1 period which extends into Square 85. Stay tuned for Johnathon's progress throughout the season as he gets closer and closer to uncovering the remainder of this important building.

Further down in the grid in Dana's square they are dealing with fill layers from the LB 1 period and a house with a courtyard from the LB 2. (LB = Late Bronze Age. The approximate dates for LB 1 are 1550 - 1400 roughly and for LB 2 1400 -1200.)

As mentioned previously, Grid 38 is the longest continually excavated grid on site but much of it is coming to the end of its long winding journey. Dana's may very well complete the excavation of his area this summer after which point Johnathon's square and the quest for the remainder of the Iron 1 building under the sandbags will be the focus of work.

From Grid 38 it was on to Grid 51 and happily I have pictures! Up first, Kate, who you met in our first "Getting to Know You" segment. Here she is explaining her very interesting grid which is newly expanded this season. With the new expansion Kate and her team of supervisors find themselves dealing with a wide range of time periods. They have everything from Islamic and Crusader through the Persian period. All in all some very interesting stratigraphy.

I have a few more details and, I hope, perhaps even a description of the grid from Kate herself who tells me she also has some great pictures to share.

They are very hard to see but if you look at the ground to the right of the volunteer with the red backpack can see some ceramic tiles which come from a Byzantine period villa.

In this picture Kathleen is standing inside a large drain which proved to be much bigger than expected. They also found some great things while excavating it which I hope to have more information on soon!

Under the shade cloth is where the earliest material in Grid 51 comes from. It is here that they hope to come down on the first occupation levels after the 604 BCE destruction of the city

I realize this is a bit skimpy but pottery washing is fast approaching and I must head off. I promise to have more than just pictures of Grid 51 soon!

Enjoy the dirt!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ashkelon Happenings

I am most tardy with a blog entry so without further ado here is the answer to the most recent "What? Where? When?"

This is a dog burial that dates to the Persian period, approximately 538 - 322 BCE. Between 1985 and 1992 over 1200 dog finds were recorded during the excavation of Ashkelon. Typically single dogs were found in shallow, unlined pits dug into large fill layers. Sometimes they were found dug into narrow streets. The burials were at many different heights suggesting, perhaps, that the burial of the dogs happened sporadically. There is no evidence that the dogs were either killed or diseased. And there is no evidence, such as skewed limbs or other types of distortions, that the dogs were just thrown into the pits. Rather, the dogs were generally buried on their sides with their tails carefully arranged to curl toward their feet.

What can we say about the dogs? Both male and female dogs were buried. They ranged in age from just a few days to extreme old age. There never was any evidence that one type of dog was selected over others although puppies did make up the largest percentage of burials. What about the breed? One of no particular ancestry. Parallels for this outside of Ashkelon are few and far between. If you want to learn more you can read the work of Dr. Brian Hesse and Dr. Paula Wapnish who have studied and written about Ashkelon's dog burials.

We will have another "Getting to Know You" this week. Stay tuned. I also hope to have a guest write a paragraph or two about Grid 51. We will have photos too... Fingers crossed. I know they have been dealing with a big drain which means that things have undoubtedly been interesting of late.

On the recording front. Another way we record information is to take photos of objects, architecture and, of course, stratigraphic relationships amongst other things. So here, for instance Ryan is cleaning a large piece of stone so that we could photograph it before doing any further work.

And it is a good thing we decided to take the picture. Last Friday we decided to expand the area of Grid 47, where I work in the theatre, in order to better expose the entirety of the building. So today we had a little extra help and the results couldn't be more impressive -- or messy, truth be told. We'll be cleaning up for a while but that's okay. We'll also have a much better understanding of the building.

So what exactly did we do? Well, stay tuned for pictures from tomorrow's work.

Wednesday is our first tell tour so we should be able to get the scoop on the other grids.

And for today a return to "Who? What? When?"

Until next time, the dirt is ready. Get digging!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Finding Artifacts

Work continues and everyone seems to be making progress. I went on a field trip to Grid 51 today and saw Dr. Kate's newly expanded empire which is quite impressive. One of the most interesting things I saw in her grid was a floor made of mudbrick tiles! There were a number of other interesting things to see in the grid and I hope to post pictures soon so that everyone back home can see all the exciting material.

We have found a number of interesting artifacts in Grid 47 this week from the very large to the very small. For instance, we found a large architectural fragment. We think it might have decorated the of the theatre we are excavating. Ryan is making sure that the marble fragment is labeled so that we know where it came from. Behind him, Mark is entering data into the computer so that everything is recorded properly. We have been finding many pieces of the building as we dig. We have found roof tiles, floor tiles. fresco fragments, mosaic floor fragments and much more. Today we also found a blade or knife made out of iron. The most exciting thing about it was that part of the wooden handle was still preserved which is rather unusual. The knife came from a pit where we found a lot of interesting things including lots of broken pots, a large number of iron nails and lots and lots of bones.

And finally, for the students at Hamilton Elementary. Perry was there when Emily, one of our volunteers, found her fourth oil lamp of the summer! Everyone agrees she is very lucky.

I want to send out a big thank you to the Hamilton students and families who have been following our work here on the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon. I know that the school year is almost over but you can keep following our work until July 16th when the season ends.

Next entry the answer to our last "What? Where? When?" And hopefully, a new staff member for everyone to meet.

Until then, the dirt is plentiful.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Who Becomes an Archaeologist?

Who becomes an archaeologist? Good question. There are as many different answers as there are people doing archaeology. Today in our first "Getting to Know You" segment I'm going to introduce one member of our team of archaeologists. I was hoping to have the video working but since that hasn't happened yet I'm just posting a brief paragraph about Dr. Kate.

Kate has a Ph.D. in archaeology from Harvard where she studied the pottery of the Sea Peoples on the coasts and inland in Anatolia & northern Syria (The Philistines are part of the larger phenomenon of the "Sea Peoples"). When in elementary school, she dreamed of becoming either a conductor or a donut maker. While she still daydreams of pastries, she is now the fearless leader of an entire area of excavation. In this area, she supervises the excavation of material from the Islamic through the Persian periods. During the excavation, Kate spends her mornings teaching the square supervisors how to be better excavators. In the afternoon, she "reads" pottery & teaches her supervisors & volunteers about the pottery that has been dug up during the morning.

Favorite Tool: Pick Axe
Least Favorite Excavated Item: Dog Burials
Favorite Gummy Snack: Gummy Eggs

Coming soon the answer to the most recent "What? Where? When?" and the next installment of "Getting to Know You."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Professionals

This week Grids 47 and Grids 38 benefited from the assistance of a team of professionals. First up, Jeffrey, Lucy and Noah. After helping with the cleanup in Grid 47 they went on to Grid 38 where they were able to help in the digging there. The trio did an excellent job shoveling dirt, collecting pottery and bringing smiles to the grid.

Jeffrey, Lucy and Noah weren't the only ones to help in Grid 47 this week. Today the head of the excavation Dr. Master took the opportunity to get his trowel dirty excavating monumental Roman architecture with us.

As director of the excavation Dr. Master is very busy and doesn't often have time to dig in the dirt so it was a thrill for us and exciting for him (I'm sure) to spend a few moments in the dirt. Stay tuned for an interview with Dr. Master as the season progresses. We'll soon have an opportunity to ask him about what is new at the ancient city of Ascalon.

As I've mentioned before Grid 47 isn't the only place that we are excavating. Today I wandered on over to Grid 38 to see what they are doing there. In Grid 38 they are excavating a Late Bronze Age house which dates to the 13th century BCE. The house has beaten earth floors and mudbrick walls. When the house went out of use, when the residents left, people used the area for large grain silos that cut through the earlier houses. In one picture you see the ladder that leads to John's square. This square has the latest (or more recent) material in Grid 38. John has Roman and Persian period material as well as material from the Iron Age. He has a long way to go until he catches up with everyone else in the Late Bronze Age. In the other picture you can see another one of Grid 38's Square Supervisors, Madeleine. She is hard at work at her computer. We use laptops in the field to record all of our work and discoveries. By putting everything on the computer it makes it easier for other scholars to see our research as they do their own work.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Grid 38 is clean . Grid 51 is getting there and in Grid 47 we are definitely making progress. If you remember, in Grid 47 we are excavating what we believe to be a Roman period theatre. Partially exposed by the excavations of John Garstang in the 1920s we have expanded the excavation area and are hoping to expose the full extent of the theatre. We also need to confirm it is a theatre and not some other type of structure using apsidal or curved walls. To do that we are looking for the stage of the theatre. In a Roman theatre there is are very specific words for the various parts of the stage. First, the front wall of the stage is called the proscaenium. The stage itself is called the pulpitum. And the back wall of the stage, through which there would be three entrances leading onto the stage, is called the scaenae frons. These then are the architectural features we are looking for that would help us to identify the structure as a theatre. Happily, today we found a wall, at least two meters wide, that may be either the proscaenium or the scaenae frons. We'll keep you posted our progress. In the meantime, here are some pictures after our first two days of cleaning in Grid 47. We'll take a look at some of the other grids too and let you know what is going on there.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Night Before Digging

What's up Hamilton Elementary School and the Wider World? Shhhh, Perry (Hamilton's world traveling bear) is in bed. He has to get up very early in the morning to go to work. Tomorrow is the first day of digging. Here are some "before" pictures of Grid 47 where we are uncovering a Roman period theatre. We'll keep posting our progress so make sure you check back!

More about what we are doing in Grid 47 will be forthcoming this week. In addition, we'll be adding a new feature to the blog. It's called "Getting to Know You" and every few days we will introduce and interview a member of the staff. (And if we are really on the ball this new feature will include video footage!)

Until next time, get to bed! The dig day starts early.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Just a quick hello

So, "What? Where? When?" or as I suggested last time, "Who? What? Where."

The answer is that the image (which I can't post right now since my computer is being a little complicated) is a fresco uncovered in what Professor Stager, co-director of the excavation, identifies as the Church of St. Mary of the Green which is located near Ascalon's Jerusalem Gate. The church, built in the 5th century, was originally laid out as a basilica divided into three aisles by two rows of columns which supported a gallery and a pitched roof. Tradition holds that the church continued to function as such throughout much of the Islamic period before being converted into a mosque by the Fatimids (late 9th - mid 12th century). When the Crusaders conquered Ascalon in 1153 CE the building was restored to a church with some changes in its plan. It was also during the Crusader period that frescoes, part of which you see here, were added to the central apse and two side niches of the church. In the central apse the frescoes are of four saints/bishops reading Greek scrolls, each scroll containing excerpts from the homilies of St. John Chrysostom, who was bishop of Constantinople from 398-407 CE.

Here's the next one. Any ideas?