siftingThe real dirt on sifting is that the dirt is on you. The glamor side of a dig is the digging: after someone else has conceived the plan, designed the dig, surveyed the squares, lined them with sandbags, and worked through the topsoil, the fun begins.

ToolsUsing a variety of tools, diggers work quickly down to a level where stone walls, mud brick, or broken pottery begins to show. Then we work more carefully to articulate the line of any walls or fallen mud brick, meticulously uncover enough of any relatively complete pottery to take a photo and measurement of its location, and eventually remove any finds.

jugAlong the way, we fill up tens and twenties and hundreds of buckets of dirt. In some squares where the director is looking for something specific, we’re required to sift all of that dirt.

Yes, that's my arm.

Yes, that’s my arm — what happens when the one-person sifter is busy, and you try using a two-person sifter by yourself.

Nobody really likes to sift, so for several days either I or Susan ended up doing the lion’s share of it while others stayed in the square and dug to their heart’s content. When Yossi Garfinkel, the director of the dig, noticed what was happening, however, he insisted that everyone should have a chance to dig, stopping to sift their own dirt every four or five buckets. That proved to be a more fair and workable solution.

YossiSquare

Yosef (Yossi) Garfinkel of Hebrew University, dig director.

The downside of sifting is not just the back-breaking and shoulder-wrenching labor of hauling buckets and lifting them one-handed to dump into the sifter, but that fine dust is constantly drifting onto your legs and arms, onto your shoes, and into every orifice of your face. SusanDirtyWe often wear bandanas, outlaw style, to cover our noses.

A beautifully made bead, probably of carnelian, from the Late Bronze Age (probably about 1200-1300 BCE)

A beautifully made bead, probably of carnelian, from the Late Bronze Age (probably about 1200-1300 BCE)

The upside of sifting is that you find some really nice things. We’ve found tiny beads, for example, that would otherwise been lost. Susan even found a golden earring loop for pierced ears — and her eye is so sharp that she found it digging rather than sifting.

EthanSifter

Eythan Levy, our square supervisor, picking out carbonized olive pits with a trowel, then transferring to aluminum foil. Touching such finds with the skin would throw off the carbon dating.

We also find less attractive but even more valuable things, like carbonized olive pits. Through the use of radiocarbon dating, such finds can tell you within a few years how long ago they were burned.

This bead appeared to be made of soft limestone, incised with a pattern, then painted or stained.

This bead appeared to be made of soft limestone, incised with a pattern, then painted or stained.

After sifting hundreds of buckets of dirt, I’m pretty sure that somewhere in excess of 99.99% of what we sift is little more than rocks, gravel, and dirt, with a sprinkling of worms and roots that have worked their way down. When that .01 percent find shows up, though, even sifting can be rewarding.

(Thanks to Susan for several of the pictures, both here and in other blogs).

Our square, as of July 6. When we started, it was level with the sandbags. Note the large bottom grinding stone in the back right corner and the corner foundation of a room in a larger building (yet uncovered) at left. Fallen mud brick from when the Late Bronze city was destroyed are in the foreground.

Our square, as of July 6. When we started, it was level with the sandbags. Note the large bottom grinding stone in the back right corner and the corner foundation of a room of a larger building (yet uncovered) at left. Fallen mud brick from when the Late Bronze city was destroyed are in the foreground.

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