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 same form. (You can find images of these on the Internet.) I would not have known what we were looking at if it weren’t for Motti, who saw them in surveys 20 years ago. Tsvika Gal came to the site and identified a sherd from a Late Bronze cooking pot for us, so now I can add three LB forms to the list of Hellenistic and Roman forms I can call at the pottery reading table. Baby steps. It has been a real help to have Carl Savage with us. He has been digging at et-Tell (possibly biblical Bethsaida) for a long time and knows Iron Age, Persian, and Hellenistic forms well. It was gratifying to see him nodding his head when I made a call at the table. I also could hand him a form I didn’t know and either pat myself on the back when he also shrugged or learn the form when he did. Most photos of me reading pottery appear to capture my “I don’t know” face.
The same squares are also yielding more Late Iron age (1000–586) pottery than we are accustomed to seeing. That means we’re missing Early Iron age and Persian period pottery at Shikhin, at least in Fields I–V. Maybe we’ll start finding it in whatever Field VI turns out to be. All of these readings, by the way, are preliminary. Closer to publishing time, we will look over our pottery again, perhaps inviting colleagues who know the early periods better than we do and other colleagues who can show us pottery from cognate sites. We will draw or scan the pottery that we need to publish in order for our peers to evaluate our arguments. 20th Century Fox will not show up to film that either.
On Monday evening of this week Yeshu Dray led us in a hands-on workshop. He specializes in ancient technology and figured out the process and equipment that local artisans used for carving lamp molds into soft chalk limestone. Many that we have at Shikhin were carved into cores discarded after turning stone cups on a lathe. This is ancient industrial waste, and Yeshu went to a nearby site where these vessels were made in antiquity, picked up several chalk cores, and sawed them in half as the ancients did. He invented tools and carved replicas of some of the patterns we see in Shikhin molds and on Shikhin lamps. We got to try our hands at carving designs and making our own lamps by pressing clay into the molds.
These sorts of workshops transform our thinking about ancient technologies. We have been trained to assume that division of labor marks one of the social practices responsible for creating civilization. Now I wonder if we haven’t been projecting our own notions of specialization onto the scrim of prehistory. One thing that becomes clear to neophytes who carve their own molds and then make their own lamps in them is both how simple and how challenging the tasks are. The same person could certainly do both (and could even carve stone cups on a lathe), yet once you see the fine-veined grape leaves and millimeter-thick walls of some lamps, you realize you are looking at the work of masters.
Yeshu led the same workshop in December last year at the symposium held in my father’s honor. Dad gave great attention to making his own lamp, and we talked about the importance of what we learned.
Our numbers are now greatly diminished. We were at 47 at one point, but today we are down to 23 or so. Saying goodbye to Tom McCollough and Randy O’Neill has kind of taken the wind out of my sails, compounded by missing Laura. Tom is an old friend who was Field Supervisor at Sepphoris when I returned to digging in 1992. I worked under him for the next several years, and we share many fond memories and stories that make us laugh. He joined the dig this year as Associate Director and boy was that a good thing. Randy O’Neill became Shikhin Field Supervisor in 2012. He handles more things than I’m usually aware of and left yesterday. Motti’s last day with us was Friday and tomorrow he begins another dig at the site el-Araj (another contender for biblical Bethsaida). So I have to Associate Direct and Field Supervise for a week. Having a competent crew of Area Supervisors makes the tasks much easier.
Be thinking about our students who take their field exam late tomorrow afternoon. I hear they are nervous but apparently they are calming themselves by visiting sites in the far north of Israel today. They will escape the worst of the heat.
Tonight some of us will have dinner with Richard and Jackie, who took care of our group when we lived at Kibbutz Ha-Solelim in the 1990s. No doubt we will spend some time telling our old stories and laughing, mixed with remembering Dad.
Pray for the peace of Israel, and Happy Father’s Day.