On Friday we left Tzuba for the first time since we’ve been here. We went to Bet Guvrin, a national park about forty minutes drive-time away. At Bet Guvrin they have a Tel called Tel Maresha. The hill was formed by many many years of constant habitation. Originally a Hebrew city, it was later taken by Edomites, then the Edomites were taken by Greeks, and then a Hebrew conquerer who, in a rare instance of such a thing in Jewish history, told the current inhabitants that they could convert, leave, or die. Maresha later became a very cosmopolitan city with many groups living within the walls. During the reign of the Judean Kingdom, Maresha was part of a line of cities which protected Jerusalem and the biblical heartland from invasion by coastal peoples.
On the way to Bet Guvrin: Noa, Tal and Emma, and Rachel.
The sign on the way in.
This is the next tel in the fortified line of cities to the north.
The next tel in the same line to the south.
Ian, our guide, is an American archaeologist. He was way cool.
Ian elucidates the history of Maresha.
Aaron Altmark, our resident film documentarian rolls some tape of the view.
The outer walls encompassed an area that well exceeds the limits of the tel itself and indeed surround the area equivalent to our modern suburbs. Houses built in that area would have been very hot during most parts of the year, but very cold at others. To compensate, the folks who lived in that area built caves. They all had massive basements carved straight into the very soft, white rock. Many of them were factories. People worked in them during the day and slept above ground at night. The work done in these factories ranged from pottery-making to weaving to olive-oil production to pigeon farming. Go figure. We descended into a cave system used for a variety of purposes and got to work. Nearly all the excavation that has taken place at Bet Guvrin has been carried out by toursits like us.
These caves need not be excavated in the ordinary archeaological way, preserving a flat digging surface so as to excavate by layer. This is because when the inhabitants were told to leave, die, or convert, they all dumped their homes into their caves. These caves are garbage dumps, completely full of all sorts of domestic crap from the era of the Maccabees and the story which has been twisted into our modern Chanukah legend.
We helped to excavate a couple of rooms that have already been mostly dug out. We were wroking to finally define the floors and various levels thereof as well as find any pottery, coins, etc. left in the rooms. The two rooms we were worked in are referred to as John Malkovich and Frontroom.
By the way, starting here many pictures seem to have little circles floating about. I believe this is caused by the ambient dust in the caves reflecting my camera’s flash.
I am epic.
An entrance and another entrance.
These tree girls, Jamie, Jordie, and Carina, sat in this one spot the whole time and chatted. Somehow, I think they cleared out more buckets of dirt than the rest of us combined.
You can see here the pattern of tool marks from when these caves were originally carved out, just prior to the Macccabean era.
This doorway was uncovered by NFTYites a few years ago.
EIE students getting told how to excavate.
We filled a lot of buckets of dirt, dirt, and more dirt!
We then took them up and sifted them, which I took no pictures of. Sorry folks. We divided into three-person teams. Two held a large screen set in a wooden frame and shook it about as the third poured buckets of the debris on the screen. When all the loose dirt had fallen through, we would remove the plain old rocks and each time were left with a half dozen or so artifacts. I found something metal. Ian identified it as a nice ring. He announced to the group that I had found something really beautiful. The best he had seen today. I repeated, “Beautiful! Best one!” People laughed. Days later, when I continue to bring it up, people don’t laugh anymore.
After the dig we were taken to another cave system that was discovered by robbers not too long ago. We “spelunked” about the place, crawling through tiny windows and crawling about through half-buried doors. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. When we came out we were really gross.
The harrowing entrance.
Ian talking about the entrance.
Amy and some other folks enter the largely-unexcavated cave.
More people doing the same thing as in the above picture.
Once in the cave, we squeezed through holes, holes, and more holes.
This particular hole was rather heart-rate-increasing. It was a straight drop down.
In this picutre, you see one of my roommates, Eric “Narco” Baron, from rather unflattering angle as he comes through a hole. Eric took most of the pictures of me going throug holes.
Near the start of our trek downwards, we passed this door into another chamber. I put this here to show you how buried these rooms are.
This cave had been a factory. These little alcoves in the wall were for raising pigeons!
Almost out, Eric climbs a 2,000 year old spiral staricase carved into solid bedrock by hand!
Nearing the exit, I begin to climb back upwards.
The other side of the exit.
Now tell me that wasn’t cool!
After we went through the newer cave, we congregated in a large tent-ish thing while Ian showed us examples of what happend to the things we found after the lab is done with them.
The smaller pieces of pottery that they find and can’t really use for anything are dumped near the exit for toursits to take as souvenirs. I took some. Pretty cool. Ian says its neat to have them out during Chanukah because the come from that time period. Damn cool.
Then, I bought a t-shirt. This brings my grand total of t-shirts with me in Israel to 36. I have twenty or so more at home.
Archaeology. Oh yeah. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.
Then we went home.
Is it weird that I already call Tzuba home?
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Next up are posts about prayer, the story of Kibbutz Tzuba as wildy gesticulated by Reuven Kalifon, a crusader castle, and the first few days of class. Not in that order, though.
Live from Israel: DAVID WENT DIGGING