Today we are archaeologists, of a sort, as Susan and I joined the Fourth Expedition to Lachish, directed by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University along with Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil of Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, TN.
Lachish is an ancient city about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. During the Israelite monarchy it was the second largest city in Judah, behind only Jerusalem. It was a strongly fortified city on the border of the Philistine pentapolis. And, alas, it was conquered by the Assyrians under Sennacherib in 701 BCE, and again by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar around 587 BCE. We’re trying to determine when the first Israelite fortification of the site began.
Sundays are different from regular days: we dig in the afternoon rather than the morning. After arriving in Jerusalem Saturday night, Susan and I made our way to the Central Bus Station Sunday morning, where we joined other volunteers on a 10 a.m. bus bound for Kedma Youth Village, where expedition members are housed. During the school year it’s a boarding school for at-risk youth, so accommodations are, shall we say, modest. The promised wifi signal is sketchy, so we wander around the campus with an open laptop looking for a stronger connection.
During the week, we dig from 5 a.m. until 1 p.m., but on Sundays we have lunch and then go dig from 1 p.m. until 8 p.m. Today got off to a happy start when we were assigned to a square that dates to the late bronze age: the last layer of Canaanite civilization before someone destroyed it and left it abandoned for 200 years (modern archaeologists lay out their dig in five meter squares and go down).
The book of Joshua claims that the Israelites under Joshua conquered Lachish, though others argue that the lack of Philistine pottery at Lachish suggests that it was destroyed before the Philistines settled in the area, and likely by the Philistines. Throughout the Canaanite period, Lachish was more or less a vassal to the Egyptians.
The work consists of digging – sometimes with picks, sometimes with trowels, sometimes with brushes – then piling the loose soil into buckets and sifting the soil. While digging as well as sifting, pieces of pottery, bone, flint, or other interesting objects are put into a “finds” bucket.
Susan brought good luck to the square. Before the day was over she had unearthed several accretions of pottery suggesting collapsed jugs or pots, plus a really interesting small vessel that appears complete, though it hasn’t been fully excavated or examined closely yet.
The work is dirty, as one might expect, and the dust is pervasive. We all left as filthy as you can imagine, the worst part being sinuses caked with dust. The temperature wasn’t too bad, as we had a nice breeze most of the day, but supervisors constantly reminded us to drink water.
I’ll say more about the experience in coming days: as for now, the 4 a.m. wake-up call is getting too close for comfort.