Fourth Letter, from Jerusalem

Dear Family and Friends,
Today is our second full day of three in Jerusalem.We arrived Friday evening—the beginning of Shabbat—as we usually do and ensconced ourselves in rooms at St. George’s Cathedral guesthouse. We had a few minutes to take in the attractive dining room and bar with the lovely garden, then we hiked down Nablus road and through the Damascus Gate until we reached the Western Wall.
Up to this point the experience has been full of novelties and adventure for our first-timers, but Jerusalem multiplies the exotic encounters.On these hikes I wear my big white hat (a gift from David Johnson at Samford) so that those at the back can keep sight of me, and I give a brief lesson on how to move through a crowd like a Middle Easterner.But the sights, sounds, and scents allure, and the group slows like rubberneckers on a highway.Well I can’t blame them.They are seeing architecture that dates from the Crusades to the 16th century; smelling spices, coffee, and unpleasant odors; an…
Third Letter from Nazareth
Dear Family and Friends,

Last week’s letter is my Father’s Day post. I’m writing on Saturday because of a change in plans.Today the high temperature will be 101°F/38°C in Nazareth where I am and 109°F/43°C at Kinneret College where I had planned to be.
So tomorrow when it will be merely 85/29 up here and 96/36 down there, I and a few others will travel to our shipping container to organize artifacts and collect some for study.Along with trimming balk, taking line level elevations, and pottery reading, no one makes movies about this aspect of archaeology.We will have to reward ourselves with gelato afterwards.Today, therefore, I write.
Speaking of archaeology, the biggest surprise this year has been the Late Bronze age (1500–1200 BCE) pottery that has begun to turn up in the eastern squares of our Field I.We only have about four or five sherds so far.The first was a “wishbone handle” that normally is found on “milk bowls.”Then we got a body sherd from the…
Second Letter from Nazareth
Dear Family and Friends,
I am writing later than usual this Sunday because of morning chores.More about that momentarily.
Last week I mentioned that I met Dad everywhere.That is still the case, and I don’t imagine it will end.I cannot ask him all of the questions I have about his experiences digging in the 1970s and 80s, why he dated certain pottery forms the way he did, or any of the other things only he could tell me.Their number must be countless because I’m not running out.I ask and not hearing his answer reminds me to grieve.Did you ever hear him speak?Maybe you know what I’m talking about.At Kiddish last Friday Mom told me, “I miss his voice.”
Morning chores began when Tom McCollough and I met Motti Aviam at an archaeological site north of the eastern end of the Beit Netofa Valley, near the ancient divide between “Lower” and “Upper” Galilees.The adjectives refer to relative elevations: the modest hills of the Lower Galilee give way to the steep mount…

First Letter from Nazareth

Dear Family and Friends,
It is late in the morning on Sunday June 3.I did not write last Sunday because by then I had only been in the country two days.About 11 of us arrived Friday May 25 and 22 more the 26th.When all is said and done, we will be about 47 strong.Students from Samford University, University of South Florida, Randolph-Macon College, Southeastern University, and the University of Lausanne make up our youngest stratum, and our volunteers come from Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Kentucky, Illinois, Nebraska, Texas, Missouri, Utah, Israel, and Switzerland.I may have left out some spots.
The relatively cool temperatures and clouds have felt like a blessing.We have even endured the threat of rain, yet rain did not prevent the archaeology from happening, despite some students’ hopes. Speaking of archaeology, it has gone well so far.Our staff of area supervisors is made up of veterans of our own dig, Sepphoris, a…

Third Letter from Nazareth and Jerusalem

Sunday June 11 Through Sunday June 18, 2017
As I begin, it’s Sunday evening and tomorrow we start our last week in the field.I’m sitting near the top of a hill called Jebel Qat, just east of our site and a little over a mile north of Sepphoris.I’ve driven students to their field exam among the ruins on this hill, and I am listening to the wind rattle the loose cover of the porch roof that shades my head.The porch belongs to a hut that houses young men who guard the surrounding fields from produce and livestock poachers.The western breeze cools me.
This is the week I most wish to be back home but have the most to do. Closing down a dig season may require more work than starting one.Crew members will be at their busiest too, as they finish digging, trim and draw balks, sweep for final photos, and help other squares to do the same.Many will spend both mornings and afternoons at the site, so we will be on the lookout for exhaustion.The evening work, however, feels more relaxed and peac…

Second Letter from Nazareth

Sunday June 4, 2017
Dear Family and Friends,
Today is Pentecost Sunday for Christians, the month of Ramadan for Muslims, and a few days past the feast of Savuoth (Weeks) for Jews, and we are now at the midpoint of the dig.It seems improbable that time could move so swiftly.We must start thinking about how to close down excavations, and I am anticipating returning to Laura and sharing the rest of my summer with her.The work, however, is immune to such longings.It still demands precision.For its part, precision requires that we care about what we’re doing.That is part of the human element I talked about last week.
In the life cycle of the Shikhin Excavation Project, it is also time to start thinking about when to halt, or to interrupt, excavations in order to publish.Digging not only uncovers buildings and objects, it also reveals more questions, and we have to decide which ones we will try to answer.In the end, sometimes we conclude that we will publish what we have. I am learning t…

First Letter from Nazareth

Sunday, May 28, 2017
Dear Family and Friends,
It has been a busy 11 or so days in Israel, and I missed my deadline for my first letter.I have been pleased with the people and the weather: both are suited for our operations.
This year I feel acutely the void left by my parents, Jim (“Abuna”) and Carolyn Strange.This is not because we cannot operate without them.After all, expeditions all over Israel get by without either of them setting foot on their sites.It is because of who they are to me and to the dig.I feel it most, not at breakfast, which my mother brings to the site, or at pottery reading, for which I rely on my father’s expertise, but as I pass by their room while knocking on doors at 4 a.m. I hope for their return in 2018.
The early crew arrived on Tuesday May 16 and quickly got to work the next day.They prepared our store room, oversaw the delivery of tools and toilets to the site, began digging the southern half of a square that we opened last year, shot i…