3 weeks down, one more to go...
So I have been meaning to post on this blog for the past three weeks, and am finally doing it now. My name is Anna Wilgus, and I am a junior religion major from northeast Texas. I chose to come on the dig mainly because I just wanted to see the Holy Land and I am getting 4 credit hours to do so. I knew nothing about archaeology prior to this trip. I was curious, but it honestly was not my motivation for coming. But after spending three weeks digging up the earth at Sepphoris, archaeology has found a special place in my heart.
The first thing on the agenda upon arriving was to be split up into our squares. Each student was assigned to a small team of volunteers and one staff member who would be supervising the square. I was assigned to square 94, and my area supervisor is Joanna Strange, my professor's sister. The team met together one night before going out to the dig site, and Joanna did her best to explain to me what we would be doing every day. However to a completely inexperienced individual, technical archaeological terms like "balk", "goofah", and "locus" made it difficult for me to grasp what daily life would be like.
I learned quickly that most of what we were doing was simply moving dirt. My square was the largest area that was starting from ground level and having to work our way down. Most everyone else's had a head start, which meant that for us, we would be picking the dirt, hoeing it into black rubber buckets (known as "goofahs"), dumping the dirt in a hole on the other side of the field, and then doing it all again. In total, we moved 7 tons of dirt digging a hole about 5 feet deep. Archaeology for me was manual labor. I would catch myself looking longingly at square 91 across from mine as they sat comfortably brushing dirt from ancient pottery and coins they found, while singing power ballads to each other. I thought the dirt would never end.
After hauling dirt for two weeks, our work started to pay off. Finally, on Tuesday, June 16th, we hit the top of a stone in one corner of our square, which we knew to be the top of the southern wall of the civil basilica we were excavating. That was a good day! The more dirt we removed the more features we came down upon, and by the third week, my square was turning up pottery too. Our work started to slow down a little. Instead of moving goofahs of dirt, we were taking lots of measurements, notes, and drawings to thoroughly document every detail of our excavation. Square 94 turned out, in my opinion, to be the most rewarding square in the field!
One would think that getting up at 4 AM every morning to go immerse yourself in dirt for seven and a half hours would get tiring after a while. But the rewards have made it worth it. Finding the wall was incredibly satisfying, but there were other moments throughout the day that made me glad to keep going.
One of the benefits of waking up at 4 is that we were out at the dig site before the sun rose. Now, I live way out in the middle-of-nowhere, Texas on a beautiful, green hill surrounded by cattle. I can see for miles and the sunrises and sunsets are spectacular all the time. I have traveled and seen breathtaking sunrises in Africa and the French countryside as well. Having seen as many sunrises as I have, I think I am qualified to rank the sunrise over Sepphoris as one of the most glorious sights I have ever seen. From Sepphoris (a.k.a. the "city on a hill") one can see the mountains and valleys for miles. The line in The Emperor's New Groove said it best, "when the sun hits that ridge just right, these hills sing."
Another reward for a hard day's work is second breakfast. When we first wake up at 4, we eat a little cereal or pita with coffee or tea to get us going in the morning, and then after working for a few hours, Mrs. Strange brings out second breakfast to the dig site. It always consists of fresh pita, sesame rolls, mystery meat (ham-ish something), cheese, cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, olives, yogurt, peanut butter, and chocolate jam. After hauling dirt for three and a half hours, second breakfast is like manna from heaven. Chocolate, peanut butter pita is everyone's favorite. It is so good, that my roommate, Caroline, said one day that she is sure that Jesus' first words to us upon arriving in heaven will be "Welcome to heaven. Have a pita!"
Even though it has been hard work, I am really going to miss the dig after I leave. There is something magical about Israel. After seeing it, I understand why God chose this place to concentrate his attention. It is a feeling I cannot explain, but somehow when I am at Sepphoris, I truly feel as if I were digging up holy ground. Whether the motivation to come to Israel be for a religious pilgrimage or to learn archaeology, Israel is one country that should be on everyone's list to visit.