Affirmation through Reconstruction

My recent emergence from the shadowy timber post-holes and decayed Roman villas that constitute England’s archaeological landscape and my plunge back into the comforting materiality of Late Roman cities in Israel has set me thinking about the reuse and reconstruction of Roman remains in areas such as Palestine. Although Roman culture quickly disintegrated in Britain and other parts of Western Europe, the political continuity of the Roman into the Byzantine Empire in the Near East ensured the cultural relevance of the Roman legacy in Palestine well into the 6th and 7th centuries. Yet artistic and architectural styles did not remain unchanged. How did the inheritors of the Roman legacy in the East choose to reuse, reconstruct, and reinterpret the Roman remains they took care to preserve along the skylines of their respective cities?

Bet She'an, a Roman Decapolis city south of the Sea of Galilee which expanded and grew during the Late Roman period (4th to 6th centuries C.E.)

Bet She’an, a Roman Decapolis city south of the Sea of Galilee which expanded and grew during the Late Roman period (4th to 6th centuries C.E.)

An interesting case is Bet She’an, a site the Omrit crew visited last month. The site, with its hippodrome-cum-odeon, the monumental scenae frons of its Roman theater, and its sprawling bath complexes, was an impressive statement of Roman power in the recently Hellenized Near East. By the Byzantine period, however, the fabric of the city had begun to change due to the cultural shifts associated with the conversion to Christianity and the collapse of the Empire in the West. Traditionally, the shifts witnessed in Eastern Roman cities during the Late Roman period have been viewed with implicit value judgment, and Byzantine construction is often termed “inferior” to that of the Roman period. At Bet She’an, Late Roman additions to the city often prioritized economic functionality rather than aesthetic attractiveness as determined by the traditional Greco-Roman perspective: new streets meandered away from their straight Roman predecessors, basalt replaced limestone as the preferred building material, Byzantine shops filled in the intercolumniations of Roman porticos.

Yet the Late Roman period was also a time of population and economic expansion, and although the city remained proud of its Roman architectural heritage, it also worked to fit the old values into the very different visual culture of Late Antiquity. In the 6th century, a Late Roman basilica replaced a former Roman colonnade and decorative pool that ran along one of the main east-west streets of the city. Rather than destroying the colonnade, however, the inhabitants of the city used the elegant Roman portico to support a gabled roof. On the other side, a mirroring arcade (of ‘negligent construction,’ according to the excavators) was built with spolia of various sizes and shapes collected from former Roman buildings across the site. In a Greek metric inscription on the building, the personified arcade thanks his benefactor, who, it claims, had prevented the Roman portico from collapse. The Late Roman period dramatically changed the aesthetic of this portico. Yet its reuse nevertheless signifies a continuing allegiance to the Roman tradition—an allegiance indicated by its very reconfiguration of the Roman past according to new cultural values.

In the most recent stages of excavation at Omrit, we have explored the town that grew up around the temple in the Late Roman period. Although excavation at Omrit has not yet found the astonishingly well-preserved remains from the period that are seen at Bet She’an, many of the same trends reappear: the tendency to incorporate Roman spolia into Late Roman basalt walls, the division of Roman porticos into small shops, the localization of ceramics and other material finds. As we continue to excavate at Omrit, we should take care to avoid the value judgments that have been imposed on other sites in the Near East. Even the fact that settlement at Omrit—a settlement that may have grown up as a direct result of the pagan temple–flourished in the Late Roman settlement demonstrates a continued adherence to Roman legacy despite the religious and cultural changes of the 4th and 5th centuries. As excavation continues in future years and no doubt will uncover more Late Roman material, it will provide a fertile ground for the study of the ways in which a post-Roman settlement balanced an esteemed architectural heritage with new artistic values that rejected some of the precepts upon which the Roman visual tradition had been established. Perhaps, as at Bet She’an, the changes seen at Omrit in the Late Roman period did not reject or degrade the Roman tradition, but rather revitalized it through reinterpretation.

In the 21st century, we often think of ‘reconstruction’ in a scientific, exacting sense. Many sites attempt to ‘reconstruct’ their antique past by providing visitors with hypothetical drawings or sculpture that supposedly depict what ancient life ‘really looked like.’ Excavators at Umm al-Qanatir, the site of a Late Roman Jewish synagogue in the Golan, has even used computer programs to locate the original placement of wall tumble, with the ultimate goal of complete reconstruction of the building. In many ways, our ‘scientific’ reconstruction of archaeological sites betrays the same goals as the Late Roman basilica at Bet She’an. Despite our careful measurements and delineation of loci, as we work from the tangled mess that represents the reality of complex stratigraphy, of the ever-feared contamination, we realize that even this reconstruction necessitates interpretation, imagination. Yet this act of imaginative reconstruction–of recreating the past for a new generation–also revitalizes. No less than the Late Romans in Bet She’an and at Omrit, we archaeologists meet the Roman tradition halfway, constantly breathing into its remains the inspiration of contemporary values, constantly searching for its legacy in the aesthetic milieu of the 21st century, constantly reaffirming its continuing relevance by its comparison with our own world.

Posted in Articles

Rebecca’s Omrit Blog Post

The 2014 Omrit Excavation season has officially come to a close. I have really enjoyed my first season at Omrit. I learned a lot, and I leave with many wonderful memories. The past four weeks have gone by so quickly. My square, G16, was originally 5 x 10 meters. The first day at the site, we raked up shrubs and giant invasive onions. That same first day we started picking and hoeing; activities that are essential to archaeological excavations. We even collected a few pieces of pottery. Little did I know that we would eventually collect over 300 buckets of artifacts: pottery, stone, brick, metal, and coins…just to name a few.
As we discovered small pieces of critical and interesting artifacts in some areas, we began sifting. My square’s supervisor, Amy, created a daily rotation of hoeing, picking, and sifting. There were a total of five people in the square including Amy. Tom, another square member, stayed in one area of the square by himself during the season, so he was not part of the rotation. The rotation consisted of Erin, Rich, and me.

G16 after Week 1

G16 after Week 1

G16 after Week 3

G16 after Week 3

After the first day we knew that there was a wall in G16, but we did not know how long the wall was. As the weeks continued and we started opening and closing numerous loci we discovered lots of tumble (basalt and limestone), which we then carefully removed. We found more walls that were adjacent and parallel to the first wall we discovered.

A beautiful sunrise, seen from Omrit

A beautiful sunrise, seen from Omrit

During the last few days the directors wanted us to wall chase in the northern most locus; however, given the limited amount of time and the depth we had to dig down to, in order to find the possible wall from a neighboring square excavated the previous season, we were unable to find the wall. Instead, we abandoned the locus and focused on the southern half of G16. In the southern half there were limestone walls, built in various fashions such as header-stretcher and layers of cut stones.

Taking final photos

Taking final photos

G16 after Week 4

G16 after Week 4

G16 after Week 4

G16 after Week 4

On June 27th we took our final pictures. The other squares took their pictures early in the morning; however, we took our pictures at dusk. It is essential for final pictures that there are no shadows. Rather than hurrying to beat the sun, we were hurrying to still have sun. We were able to finish our final photos successfully.
I am really grateful for this opportunity. This was my first experience in archaeology, and I truly had a great time.
-Rebecca Williams ’17

DSC03589

Posted in Articles

Excavating with a Broken Wrist

I have a broken wrist. On May 4th, while visiting Scotland with some friends, I fell off the National Monument and landed on my right wrist. My third thought, after “that hurts way more than anything else I have experienced” and “should my wrist look like that,” was “how can I dig with a broken wrist?”

My friends and I posing on the monument just moments before my fall.

Me and my friends posing on the monument just moments before my fall.


The word “dig” stuck out in my mind because digging requires shovels and shovels require two hands. However, I have since learned that rarely do we use shovels at Omrit because they displace the dirt too much to catch all that may be hiding within it. Despite my attempts, the hoe is also not for me because in order to get the full benefit of the tool, some wrist movement is needed. And as much as I wanted to try, I am not allowed to use a pick axe.

My approved tools are all geared towards smaller-scale and detail work, such as a trowel or a hand pick. Because of this, I am often given smaller loci to level out or asked to articulate and clean the walls and balks to avoid contamination. Up in Y8, the square is too low for me to get safely in and out so I work on sifting the dirt buckets to find artifacts. Honestly, I love this job because it feels a bit like a treasure hunt and I was always that kid who kept her head down and looked for cool rocks or coins on the ground. Also, the artifacts are an important part of the dig and being able to pick around for them makes me feel like I am being helpful despite my injury. While I am not doing as much heavy lifting or pulling back as much dirt as most people, I have a job that allows me to contribute to the efforts of the team while not risking further damage to my wrist.

Troweling off the top of the balk in Y8.

Troweling off the top of the balk in Y8.


I fear this trip, and this injury, may have given me a new nickname: Bag Lady. Initially, I wore a bag out into the field, as I would when showering, to avoid getting dirt on and in my cast. Realizing how soon I’d run out of the bags I had packed, I requested people give me their spare bags, figuring two or three people may give me bags after trips to the kibbutz store or into town. Instead, I have become the final resting place for most people’s bags, with my room slowly becoming a pile of bags. Unfortunately, at this point in the dig, I have opted to wear a sling to relieve the strain on my atrophied muscle and now have an ever-growing pile of bags which will never see the dirt of Omrit.
My ever-growing pile of bags.

My ever-growing pile of bags.


I’d like to say that being in the cast takes away all my pain and the broken wrist is more of an inconvenience than an injury. But, as is to be expected, my time digging has caused some significant pain to my wrist. There were a few days where the pain was bad enough that Professor Rubin wanted me to go to the hospital or at least contact my doctor back home. It was decided, after assessing the painful areas and consulting with my doctor, that the pain was caused from the use of the muscle which had become atrophied after a month and a half of disuse. This episode prompted me to get a sling to stop the temptation I constantly felt to use my right hand and take the strain of supporting the weight of the cast off the muscles in my wrist. While the sling does not solve all the problems, the pain has greatly decreased and I have to spend less time worrying about my wrist and more time focusing on the dig.

Every day, I have moments of frustration because I cannot do all the tasks everyone else can. After months of building excitement over this dig and the implications it held for my future, to have something holding me back is definitely not ideal. Despite these feelings, I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity and to be treated like a valuable member of my square even if I only have one hand to use.

Posted in Articles

Kibbutz Cuisine

Archaeology is hard work. Hard work, in the hot sun, early in the morning. What we do here takes energy, and this energy relies on a steady source of fuel. Much of the time, students at Omrit live meal to meal. In many ways the food served at Kibbutz Kfar Szold is one of the most important elements of a successful dig season. For that reason, I feel compelled to say at least a few words about what we put in our bodies during a typical day on the dig.

On a normal day, we eat four meals. One consumes the first of those between 4 and 5am, depending on when that person wakes up and gets to the bus. This meal, appropriately titled “breakfast,” is one that we each prepare for ourselves the night before at dinner. Most students fashion some sort of peanut butter sandwich for their morning sustenance. Occasionally there are outliers–students who choose to forego the sandwich option in favor of another, typically healthier, snack purchased at the kibbutz store–but students differ mainly in how they choose to accessorize their peanut butter sandwich. Some opt for a smooth, sugary top layer of strawberry jelly, others spread a thick layer of date spread or apricot jam. A select few accompany the peanut butter with a sumptuous layer of faux-Nutella chocolate spread, ensuring that they will arrive at the site thoroughly energized.

Ignore all that mayonnaise--this is a photo of someone else's sandwich.

A full sandwich with turkey, cucumbers, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, a bit too much mayonnaise, and pepper; a slice of fresh-cut cantaloupe, and a savory potato pastry. Served with hot black coffee.

The next meal arrives in the field around 8:30. We call this meal “second breakfast,” though I can’t say that first breakfast is ever substantial enough to be called an actual meal. Second breakfast gives us our first real nourishment of the day–man cannot live on extra gluten-y white bread, processed pulverized nuts, and artificially sweetened fruit spread alone. A typical meal consists of a bread roll, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and either lunchmeat or cheese. Few eat these items piecemeal, choosing instead to construct some sort of sandwich, usually seasoned with a combination of mayonnaise, Tabasco, and dirt. Try as we might, the execution of these sandwiches is usually somewhat spotty. Occasionally, a ray of light will descend from heaven, bestowing upon us heaven’s bounty in the form of egg salad, tuna, or savory flaky pastries (see photo). Fruit is normally served as dessert, and hot beverages abound–or at least as long as there’s hot water in the heater.

Lunch is far less predictable. We eat lunch between 1 and 2pm in “The Factory,” a name we have given it for its normal use as the cafeteria for employees of Lordan, a tube coil manufacturer located on the kibbutz. I welcome this variety, since the daily routine tends to take a rough toll on one’s sanity. Still, the moment this variety transforms into mystery, the lunch experience can have an entirely different feel, the excitement of a novel culinary experience turning into the dread of uncomfortable change. Last year, I picked out what appeared to be a delicious chicken dish, the roughly cut strips of chicken braised in an earthy yellow sauce with dark gray olives. What a joy to be in a Mediterranean country where they serve olives in everything! I was truly fortunate. It was only when I had eaten four or five olives that I noticed the interweaving network of veins and arteries that, irrespective of whether they were figments of my imagination, were clearly staring at me from their place on my fork. I grudgingly ate the rest of this now unpalatable amalgam of chicken and kidneys, reminding myself all the while that there was really nothing wrong with the taste of the dish. Even though I would have no problem eating kidneys when they were clearly labeled, the surprise of this instant was enough to do me in.

Food tastes better served on a plastic tray.

A hunk of roasted chicken, couscous, cucumber and onion salad, a piping hot savory meat pastry, a slice of watermelon, and a tiny glass of water.

That being said, lunches on the kibbutz are nutritious and enjoyable. We first choose entrées, each of the five options characterized as fish, chicken, or “meat,” the latter providing a healthy dose of mystery along with the expected fat and protein. My personal favorite is the “chicken balls”–hollowed out spheres of chicken stuffed with rice and ground beef. Lather on the tahini and you’re good to go. Along with the entrée, we each choose several sides, typically rice or couscous, potatoes, cucumber salad, hummus or baba ghanoush. All of this gets washed down with either water or a vaguely medicinal pink beverage.

Dinner comes at 7:30pm, which is shockingly late given that an excavator’s typical bedtime is between 8:30 and 9 o’clock. I’m convinced this doesn’t give the food enough time to digest, but I suppose there’s no getting around our crazy schedule. Dinner is catered by a neighboring kibbutz, so the food is prepared especially for us. The setup is essentially the same as lunch–a few meat entrées, rice, hot vegetables, soup, and several cold side dishes, the most important being hummus. Meat dishes are typically pretty simple: chicken legs in a mild oily marinade, lamb patties in a thick brown glaze, what appears to be a dense beef stew drained of most of its broth, and the ubiquitous chicken schnitzel. Sides include hummus, tahini (which I place above hummus in the condiment hierarchy, second only to the powerful chunky emerald sauce which I insist on calling “spicy green stuff,” or SGS for short), a simple green salad with delicious cherry tomatoes, red cabbage salad, and sliced pickles. I find this meal the most fulfilling, but I find it strange how quickly it gets eaten. Our food tends to disappear as quickly as it gets on our plates, which demonstrates either how hungry we are or how much we want to get to bed (probably both, honestly).

Just look at all that green. It's like I'm a rabbit. A rabbit who does archaeology. Seriously, can you imagine a rabbit who does archaeology?

A cross section of some unknown animal, potato salad, green salad, pickled vegetables topped with SGS, and soup, served with water in an impressively flimsy plastic cup.

Students and staff tend to speak ill of the food on the dig, but at the end of the day it’s the only thing keeping us going. All things considered, our food is pretty damn good, and the situation has been and could be much, much worse; although I wasn’t around to experience it, I’ve heard many a story about the now-mythical corn pone served in years past. Despite what you may have gathered from the tone of this blog entry, I really enjoy the food served at Omrit, and not just because I prefer it to eggless cornbread.

Posted in Articles

We are at Omrit for archeology, but it is easy to get distracted by the local wildlife. At least, I get distracted; everyone else just squish the spiders on sight get back to digging.

Beyond the dig site stretch hills covered in golden fields of grass and spattered with the round, violet clusters of Globe-thistles. Amongst this austere beauty leap packs of Syrian Rock Hyraxes like so many exotic Guinea Pigs.

That is so damn cute. — Max Dietrich

That is so damn cute.
— Max Dietrich

The resemblance to the Guinea Pig is superficial, as the closest living relatives of the Hyrax are Elephants and Manatees (Hyraxes even have a pair of little tusk-like teeth). They are known to make a loud grunting noise when they chew, and this has caused them to be mistaken for ruminants in Leviticus 11:4-8 and designated as non-Kosher.

The insects abound. The Kibbutz where we stay has already been visited by an elegant giant moth and ghostly white praying mantis. In square J21 alone I coexist with all sorts of cute critters: centipedes, scorpions, fire ants, spider ants, jumping spiders, big spiders, little spiders, black spiders, white spiders, striped spiders, and even a mother spider tending her brood of spiderlings.

With so many spiders around, it is little surprise that a few of spider wasps have made homes in in the rocks nearby. These wasps paralyze spiders with their sting and implant them with eggs. Once the larvae hatch they eat their way out of the host spider: Alien-style. Between the cattle and the wasps (which also live in Williamstown) the fauna at Horvat Omrit can be surprisingly familiar.

Posted in Articles

The Strays

I expected the early mornings, the hard work, the hot sun, and the dry air, but the stray cats wandering around the kibbutz caught me off guard. Even in the small corner of the kibbutz that we occupy, there are at least a half dozen stray cats that visit us regularly. Most are timid, but one in particular is far more assertive than the rest. This cat, whom some students have dubbed “Oscar”, has a tendency to approach us directly. He (or she; for the sake of this blog I will assume that Oscar is male) often follows people around, begs for food, and lounges in crowded places. His utter disregard for any threat we might pose to him is remarkable.

I am always watching.

I am always watching.

Oscar’s boldness can be amusing, but it also causes problems. Anyone who has ever fed him knows that he pursues relentlessly. He often settles in unoccupied lawn chairs and stares balefully at any human who approaches. At other times, he will jump up next to people who are sitting and join them, leaning up close and absentmindedly extending his claws like switchblades. He usually won’t scratch unless provoked, but Oscar’s definition of “provocation” has proven flexible.

Even when he’s just lying around on a porch, there’s something about Oscar that I find disconcerting. Maybe it’s his missing ear, or his growing reputation, or his ability to disappear suddenly. Maybe it’s just that brooding, calculating look that he has, his bright eyes a mosaic of chaos and contempt. When looks me in the eye, I can imagine him thinking, “I have an idea, and you won’t like it”. My cat allergy does little to improve the situation.

Regardless, I’m beginning to get used to Oscar and the other cats. I don’t trust them, but I give them the grudging acceptance that one might have for a somewhat unpleasant neighbor. In a community as small as Kibbutz Kefar Szold, animal control is practically nonexistent. Besides, it’s possible that the strays serve an important ecological function on the kibbutz, and I prefer a few ill-tempered cats to a vermin problem.

Posted in Articles

Early Mornings at Omrit

Whenever I discuss the work schedule at Omrit with other people, I brace myself for the inevitable shudders when they learn about the 4:30 AM wake-up knock.

A friend might not be moved by the description of the physical labor— of the wheelbarrow runs and the picking, hoeing, and shoveling in 100 degree heat. Someone might not bat an eye at the bugs we encounter at Omrit and at the kibbutz (including a recent incident with a giant moth, and the unrelenting gnats that aim straight for our ears, eyes, and noses). However the 4:30 AM wake-up knock is guaranteed to prompt some sort of reaction! Even my roommate, a graduate student who has worked at numerous sites in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, and Yemen, never woke up so early for an archaeological dig.

A bright morning at Omrit

A bright morning at Omrit

Every morning the directors and supervisors come to our rooms and rap loudly on our doors to ensure that we will be ready for our 5:00 departure for Omrit. I won’t claim to represent the rest of the Williams contingent when I say that I actually enjoy getting up that early. Some days it is a gargantuan struggle to will myself out of bed, but oftentimes it seems easier for me to wake up at 4:30 here than to wake up for my 8:30 classes back at Williams. Perhaps if I had been greeted at 7:30 AM at Williams with a hearty “Boker Tov!” or “Wakey wakey eggs and bakey!” my mornings there would have been much more pleasant!

When we get to the site we are often welcomed by our neighborhood rooster as we prepare our shades and tools for the workday. By the end of the first week everyone has already settled into a routine; square teams huddle to strategize for the day’s work, and people stake claims on their favorite picks and hoes, at times guarding them with an obsessive affection that more or less captures the close relationship between archaeologists and their tools (some things never change). The refreshing morning chill, the stunning view of the Hula valley, and the satisfying rhythm of the site that I fall into again so easily make those early hours at Omrit my most enjoyable mornings of the year. Even the exhausting work of removing twenty large limestone blocks from my square, J21, cannot change that (but more to come on that later!)

 

Posted in Articles

A Note on Herod

Elvira again :)

Though anyone interested in the potential relationship of Herod the Great to our dig site should first read the blog page dedicated to Omrit’s historical background, I thought I might append a few words on this king of New Testament notoriety. Whatever the evidence for the Massacre of the Innocents, it’s beyond doubt that Herod oversaw an unparalleled building program in his kingdom. This program likely included the putative Augusteum at Omrit and certainly included several of the locations the team visited on day trips this season. While I made mention in my last post of three Herodian building spots we toured, I neglected an exhibit we saw that has much to do with another of the king’s haunts, Herodium.

Entitled Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey, the impressive show is on view at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem until January 4, 2014. The exhibit’s organizational principle is the funeral procession that would have taken the ruler from his deathbed in Jericho to his monumental tomb in 4 BCE. Just as this procession would have been an opportunity to commemorate Herod’s life and deeds, the show features mixed-media reconstructions of the architectural achievements through which the king made his mark on the Levantine landscape. And like the processional route itself, these reconstructions begin from a chamber of Herod’s palace at Jericho and end at his mausoleum, a tomb the late Prof. Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University seems to have discovered at Herodium in 2007. Each display includes architectural fragments and other finds from the corresponding archaeological site, and this is especially true of the mausoleum, reconstructed from pieces of the original and complete with what are thought to be the sarcophagi of the king and his family.

The show has given new vigor to my continuing reflection on the motivation for Herod’s construction projects, first among them the Augusteum that may lie in ruins at Omrit. In underscoring the variety and scale of these projects, the displays make apparent that the ruler used architecture in a delicate, sophisticated process of statecraft. It’s therefore plausible that he erected an Augusteum at our site, where Temple I seems to have encased the structure and absorbed the cult activity of an earlier, locally important pagan shrine. The Augusteum at Omrit would not only have helped declare Herod’s loyalty to Rome and his embodiment of imperial authority in his kingdom, but would also have helped define this kingdom in more pluralistic terms, terms favorable to the region’s internal stability.

For more information on Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey, check out the Israel Museum’s website at  http://www.english.imjnet.org.il.

Posted in 2013, Articles

Another Day, Another Lesson

Elvira here. We recent graduates lost access to the Williams network in late June! Many thanks to Lydia for helping me circumvent the problem.

“Please don’t write that in your field notebook,” said Mike, one of the directors of the excavation, to my square supervisor Edward three weeks ago with casual aplomb. My square-mates and I had joined the rest of the team a few minutes earlier to begin a mid-season tour of the open digging areas on site, and Edward had just indicated what he and I were certain to be the curved wall in our square. Unbeknownst to the two of us, Mike hadn’t yet been consulted for his opinion on the relationship of this wall to the one we believed was its continuation in the square immediately south of ours. This director thought instead that our wall is positioned at a wide angle to the other and may be unrelated to it. He in any case invited us to exercise more caution before drawing a conclusion like the one Edward had shared.

How appropriate that, not long after posting about the benefit and even the necessity of desire to archaeology, I’d receive a striking reminder of the risk this feeling likewise carries. Mike highlighted not only the possibility that my square’s wall doesn’t join nearby features to form a monumental structure, but also the possibility that the wall’s very curvature is an illusion. Though I’d come to think of this curvature as self-evident, the blocks that would be most necessary to the curve’s articulation are in fact missing.

My little anecdote does something other than remind me, too. It illustrates the reality of what I described in my last post as the due rigor of good archeological inquiry. The engaged form of disagreement I witnessed among my directors is a messy, but integral part of this reality, a part often misrepresented in the scholarly literature where archaeological research is published. In this literature, the arguments of scholars with whom an author disagrees tend to be presented as mere foils for his conclusions rather than as shapers of the thinking that led to those conclusions.

For a student like me, whose basic form of intellectual engagement during the school year is the reading and discussion of precisely such writing, it’s been an immense pleasure to participate in something both as mentally absorbing and as experientially vivid as the dig at Omrit. It’s been no less of a pleasure to contextualize my work on the dig with visits to additional centers of historical significance around Israel. Below is a (mostly lighthearted) selection of photos from the team’s excursions during the last ten days of the season: the Biblical city of Hazor, the largest archaeological site in northern Israel, on June 23; the Herodian harbor and civic complex at Caesarea Maritima on June 24; the fortress and palace at Masada, also Herodian, on June 29; and Jerusalem on June 30. I’m deeply grateful to all the students, teachers, and others who made my time in this country unforgettable not once, but twice.

A view of the unexcavated part of the lower city of Hazor from an Iron Age defense tower at the edge of the upper city. I couldn’t resist the impulse to include a panoramic shot among these photos!

A view of the unexcavated part of the lower city of Hazor from an Iron Age defense tower at the edge of the upper city. I couldn’t resist the temptation to include a panoramic shot.

Team members entering the fortified upper city of Hazor through an Iron Age gate. The pavilion in the background protects a roughly contemporary administrative complex.

Team members entering the fortified upper city of Hazor through an Iron Age gate. The pavilion in the background protects a roughly contemporary administrative complex.

Most of the Williams crew in what survives of Herod the Great’s waterfront palace at Caesarea, with the modern resort town in the background. The brilliant blue belongs not only to the sky, of course, but also to the Mediterranean, that fundamental nurturer of the civilizations on which sites like Omrit shed light. From left to right, Elvira, Lydia, Prof. Rubin, Sharona, and Emily.

Members of the Williams crew in what survives of Herod the Great’s waterfront palace at Caesarea, with the modern resort town in the background. The brilliant blue belongs not only to the sky, of course, but also to the Mediterranean, that fundamental nurturer of the civilizations on which sites like Omrit shed light. From left to right, Elvira, Lydia, Prof. Rubin, Sharona, and Emily.

A candid shot of our digging companions from Carthage College in front of the Herodian hippodrome at Caesarea.

A candid shot of our digging companions from Carthage College in front of the Herodian hippodrome at Caesarea.

Lydia wearing a gelato-induced grin at the end of the team’s tour of Caesarea. Espresso and dark chocolate, are those the flavors?

Lydia wearing a gelato-induced grin at the end of the team’s tour of Caesarea. Espresso, is that the flavor?

 

The majority of the Williams crew by the steps to the most spectacular part of Herod the Great’s palace at Masada, the mountaintop that was also the final refuge of Jews revolting against their Roman conquerors in the first century. From left to right, Sam, Sharona, Emily, Prof. Rubin, Lydia, and Elvira.

The majority of the Williams crew by the steps to the most spectacular part of Herod the Great’s palace at Masada, the mountaintop that was also the final refuge of Jews revolting against their Roman conquerors in the first century. From left to right, Sam, Sharona, Emily, Prof. Rubin, Lydia, and Elvira.

The same Williams-ites in what may have been a banquet hall of the Herodean palace at Masada, with the breathtakingly still Dead Sea in the background. Our smiles are stoic—the steps to these ruins are vertiginous, and the sun was merciless on the day of our visit.

The same Ephs in what may have been a banquet hall of the Herodian palace at Masada, with the breathtakingly still Dead Sea in the background. Our smiles are stoic—the steps to these ruins are vertiginous, and the sun was merciless on the day of our visit.

From left to right, Amy, Lydia, and Elvira preparing to enter the Old City of Jerusalem through the sixteenth-century Damascus Gate. I confess that our childish excitement is as much for the bakery we’re about to hunt down as for the city’s monumental marvels.

From left to right, Amy, Lydia, and Elvira about to enter Jerusalem’s Old City through the sixteenth-century Damascus Gate. I confess that our childish excitement is as much for the bakery we’re about to hunt down as for the city’s monumental marvels.

Mission accomplished in the Old City! Williams students at Zalatimo, the unmarked shop where the eponymous family bakes an Arab confection called mutabbaq (“folded” in Arabic) from a 150-year-old recipe. Connor and Amy are masking their eagerness to dig into the sugar-drenched layers of phyllo, while Elvira already seems nap-bound after a few sips of minty lemonade.

Mission accomplished in the Old City! Williams students at Zalatimo, the unmarked shop where the eponymous family bakes an Arab pastry called mutabbaq (“folded” in Arabic) from a 150-year-old recipe. Connor and Amy are masking their eagerness to dig into the sugar-drenched layers of phyllo, while Elvira already seems nap-bound after a few sips of minty lemonade.

From left to right, Connor, Amy, Elvira, and Lydia in front of the Western Wall of the Old City’s Temple Mount. It’s fitting for the team’s season of sightseeing to have culminated at the most enduringly relevant piece of Herodian architecture in Israel, a structure that continues to be of supreme religious value to millions.

From left to right, Connor, Amy, Elvira, and Lydia in front of the Western Wall of the Old City’s Temple Mount. It’s fitting for the team’s season of sightseeing to have culminated at the most enduringly relevant piece of Herodian architecture in Israel, a structure that continues to be of supreme religious value to millions.

Posted in 2013, Articles

Over the next few days, Elvira and Lydia will post several photos recording our group’s day trips to various sites around Israel.

Medieval and modern construction pile on top of each other and spill into the narrow, winding streets leading to Akko's Ottoman Jezzar Pasha mosque.

Medieval and modern construction pile on top of each other and spill into the narrow, winding streets leading to Akko’s Ottoman Jezzar Pasha mosque.

On one of our favorite trips, we visited Akko (Acre), a Galilean city perched on a small peninsula in the Mediterranean. The city’s access to the Mediterranean through its natural harbor has made it an attractive site for settlement since the 4th millennium BCE, and both the Hebrew Bible and Greek and Hellenistic texts mention the city. For the same reasons, Akko was a center of Roman and Byzantine military control over the Galilee region, and served an even more important role strategically when ruled by the Umayyads and Abbasids in the medieval period. In the 12th century, Crusaders captured the city and used it as a base for their expansion into the Levant. The eight centuries since the Crusader period have added everything from Ottoman mosques to Israeli administrative centers to the city, and today, a vibrant bicultural community thrives among the ancient remains.

A tower of honey-soaked baklava tempts window-shopping tourists to this pastry shop in Akko.

A tower of honey-soaked baklava tempts window-shopping tourists to this pastry shop in Akko.

A medieval city gate in Akko. At bottom, Elliot Culp (Carthage College) and Connor Dempsey '13.

A medieval city gate in Akko. At bottom, Elliot Culp (Carthage College) and Connor Dempsey ’13.

The spunky domes of a neighborhood mosque peep out among rooftop patios and the facades of more stately buildings.

The spunky domes of a neighborhood mosque peep out among rooftop patios and the facades of more stately buildings.

Vendors selling fruit and freshly squeezed juice line the streets of the Old City of Akko, providing much-needed sugar rushes to hot, thirsty tourists.

Vendors selling fruit and freshly squeezed juice line the streets of the Old City of Akko, providing much-needed sugar rushes to hot, thirsty tourists.

Five Williams students smile for the camera after a refreshing swim in the Mediterranean at Akko (Acre). To the right is the historic section of the city.

Five Williams students smile for the camera after a refreshing swim in the Mediterranean at Akko (Acre). To the right is the historic section of the city.

We traveled south to Bet She’an the next day. Containing twenty-two layers of settlement dating from the Early Neolithic period to the 8th century CE, Bet She’an (or Scythopolis, in Greek) became one of ten major centers of Roman administration in the Galilee region, together called the Decapolis cities. The site’s best-preserved remains, including a 2nd-century theater and a Roman bathhouse, date to this period as well as to the Byzantine and early Islamic eras. The site was abandoned after the earthquake of 749 CE.

Windblown and sun-scorched, Williams team members pose for a panoramic photo at the top of the tel at Bet She'an, which overlooks the Roman main street, theater, and bath complex. From left to right, Sam O'Donnell '15, Amy Berg '14, Lydia Heinrichs '15, and Elvira Miceli '13.

Windblown and sun-scorched, Williams team members pose for a panoramic photo at the top of the tel at Bet She’an, which overlooks the Roman main street, theater, and bath complex. From left to right, Sam O’Donnell ’15, Amy Berg ’14, Lydia Heinrichs ’15, and Elvira Miceli ’13

The theater front (scaenae frons) at Bet She'an.

The theater front (scaenae frons) at Bet She’an.

Detail of the well-preserved scaenae frons, or theater facade, at the Roman theater of Bet She'an. Its Corinthian capitals and elegant entablature firmly established this Decapolis city as a seat of Roman culture and power in the Middle East during the 1st century CE.

Detail of the well-preserved scaenae frons, or theater facade, at the Roman theater of Bet She’an. Its Corinthian capitals and elegant entablature firmly established this Decapolis city as a seat of Roman culture and power in the Middle East during the 1st century CE.

Posted in 2013, Articles