First Week

Third Post, Installment 1

Because of its length, today’s post will be in three installments.

I’m writing this on Sunday, June 14. We managed to get some archaeology done this week. It was a slow start for the USF Excavations because the National Parks Authority wanted us to have more insurance per digger than we did. And when we finally got into the field on Wednesday (at 8:30 am: 3 ½ hours late by our usual schedule!) we had to spend some time establishing our grid by stretching string from known points in the field, like the ancients did. It was a good lesson, but we all would have preferred a surveyor with a laser transit. We adjusted our schedule by moving our weekend tour to Tuesday and digging on Saturday.

On the Tuesday tour Samford students got to see the partially reconstructed Roman and Byzantine city of Beit She’an. There is nothing else like it in Israel: one actually gets a feel for what a Roman city must have looked like, complete with a huge theater (one of the largest in the Middle East), bath, temples, and sewers large enough to accommodate the slaves that had to clean them. One has to imagine red tiled roofs, dim interiors by present standards, the press of humanity, and strong odors. Modern Nazareth provides an idea of a compact and bustling urbs, but one mostly smells diesel exhaust, coffee with cardamom, and falafel. I think the smells of Beit She’an and Sepphoris would seem nearly overpowering to our noses, and not always pleasantly. Some areas in the Old City of Jerusalem might come close. One of the most shocking discoveries would be the body odor of our fellow humans.

In any case, there is an impressive tell that rises behind the Roman city, with an equally impressive set of stairs to the top; no elevator. Our students seemed to need encouragement to leave their older and slower instructors behind and go explore, but Tommy Archer, Anna Wilgus, Jack Wilgus, and two students from USF eventually did. We have some nice photos of Anna and Jack as tiny figures at the very top. This tell served as an Egyptian outpost and administrative center for much of its history.

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