Week 2, 2010

This week’s posting is late because we worked through the weekend to make up for lost time. We worked only a half day today (Tuesday, June 8) to get a brief break, and we will return to full schedule tomorrow. We will also work next Sunday.

The work is going well, and most crews have made significant headway bringing down balks. Just two days ago, one balk gave up a ceramic vessel that has stumped all of us. The vessel looks like ½ of a ceramic pipe (semicircular in cross section), around 10 inches long, with one end closed and the other open, and around 20 holes of about a pencil’s width punched all around when the clay was wet. What in the world is it? Some sort of sieve? We’ll send it to the Israel Antiquities Authority for restoration, and perhaps identification. The soil in and around this object has yielded about 10 small bronze coins so far, which certainly has galvanized the crew that found it.

The team has come together well. Getting along, it turns out, is important for doing good archaeology. Friction drains energy and attention away from essential tasks, and we find that people who are angry, or hurt, stop caring about what they’re doing. So archaeology is really a human enterprise. As I contemplate what project I will pursue next in this country, I find myself thinking as much about preserving those aspects of the USF Excavations that have helped create friendships and a feeling of family as I do about archaeological questions.

This is the final season of the USF Excavations, and I have been feeling the absence of those who can no longer make it because of health problems, and of others who have died: Mary Huggins, Blair Mills, Diane Tracy-Cole, Doug Seymour, Doug Edwards, and most recently Gary “Termite” Lindstrom.

Blair played taps on his coronet at the end of work on Fridays. You could hear Mary’s laugh from across the field.

This summer, Annette has joined us for the first time in a long time. She dug for about nine seasons back in the 80s and 90’s, and she eventually became a staff member. Sometimes her husband joined her. I remember watching them cut a rug at our parties. He died of cancer four years ago, much too early. When she found out that this was our final season, she made last minute plans to come. It has been heartwarming to see her, and to learn that she will marry again soon.

My father, Jim “Abuna” Strange, says that when Termite died it felt like the end of an era. Gary came to Israel on a whim in 1970 and hardly missed a summer after that, becoming a fixture on digs all over the Galilee and at Caesarea. He was a termite exterminator from Oakland, California with a high school education. He smoked, drank, cussed, and was one of the kindest, most generous and non-judgmental people it has been my pleasure to work with. He also was a natural in the dirt: if you wanted it dug perfectly, you got Gary to do it.

Most of our Area Supervisors are not academics, but people like Mary, Gary, and Annette: they are professionals or homemakers, some with advanced degrees and some without. They come one year as volunteers, return, and return again, drawn by both the archaeology and the dig atmosphere, and eventually they are asked to take a square, because they have been taught the method over and over again. Quite frankly, they are as important to the dig as anything else. Perhaps some who are first-timers this year will turn into long-timers like these, and years from now we will remember this season with some melancholy, but also with the laughter that always accompanies our reunions.

Until the next post, pray for the peace of Israel.

James

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