Archaeology 101

When we decided awhile back to go into the field of archaeology, we were on the receiving end of many questions. Number 1 was, “You’re going WHERE for six months?!” But there were other, more pertinant questions, such as “What exactly is archaeology?” and “What do you do at a dig?”

Archaeology is the study of the material remains of humanity (as opposed to paleontology). This is the study of artifacts. For a Biblical scholar, archaeology reveals the culture and practices behind the Bible narrative. Before your eyes, the Philistines transform from the wicked, Samson-hating enemies of Israel to a sophisticated and powerful people–who were also Israel’s enemies.

Philistine Pottery

Examples of Philistine Pottery Sherds (Left to Right): Philistine Monochrome, Cypriot Milk Jar, Another Cypriot Milk Jar, Monochrome Bell Jar Rim and Handle

But how do we get to those awesome artifacts that prove the Philistines weren’t just a bunch of hair-chopping savages? First, one must find the right spot. In this case, we’re at Ashkelon, which has maintained its identity through the ages. Archaeologists will divide such a site into grids. Each grid is divided into squares, and these can be divided into units or fine grids for digging. Through the use of technology, such as ground penetrating radar (GPR), archaeologists can get a fairly good bead on where to start in terms of buried architecture. Then, the bulldozers and backhoes come in. Because that’s a lot easier than taking off the top layer ourselves.

Archaeology Tools

Tools of the Trade (Back): Turia, Pickaxe, Brush and Dustpan, (Front) Trowel, Patich, Pottery Bucket

This is where we get to the fun part. Everyone gets a pickaxe. Some people are really great with pickaxes, some people aren’t, some people are a danger to humanity. At some point during the melee, somone is going to hit some pottery, or a rock, or a brick. Eventually a wall or even a whole complex will begin to emerge. As the work becomes more delicate, so do the tools. Now, you may be down next to a wall, and your supervisor will hand you a patich. This is your little pick that you use to chip away smaller chunks of dirt, rock, and sand. After a bit, you may be right against your wall, or you even found a piece of pottery or bone. So, you take out your handy-dandy trowel–the one you bought off Amazon and schlepped over land and sea just for this moment. With this, you will scrape, carve, and pick at thinner layers, and close in on artifacts. However, if you layer is important, such as floor or fiber (called phytolith), you may use a sophisticated tool like the bamboo skewer to gently lift and flake away dirt. If it’s really close work, they’ll bring out the dental pick instead. And when working with such fragile layers and objects, you can’t simply swipe over it with a brush. You will use an air puffer to puff away those pesky dust particles around your glorious find.

Scraping a Section

Using a Trowel to Scrape Down a Section (To Reveal Layers, Such as Floors)Using a Trowel to Explore the Edges of a PitUsing a Trowel to Explore the Edges of a Pit

Inevitably, though, amongst all this pickaxing, patiching, and trowling, you’ll make a mess. Or your surfaces will get lumpy. Cleanup and leveling is easy with the turia to scrape dirt into buckets and even up your surface. You’ll also use your brush and dustpan to clean up your area. Any pottery goes into a bucket labeled for your particular spot, and bones go into a labeled bag. Really special stuff will be individually packaged and labeled for research.

Archaeology Workspace

A Clean Area Is a Happy Area–Tools at Ready and Dirt Buckets in Use

Once everything is labeled, dusted, and tidy, the last tool in an archaeologist’s repetoir is the hot shower. You’ve played with ancient humanity all day, and now it’s time to join your own modern culture again. Happy digging!

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7 Responses to “Archaeology 101”

  1. Lori @ In My Kitchen, In My Life Says:

    Great 101 tutorial, and just at my level! So enjoying living this vicariously through you. Thanks again and again. Another topic request: A Day in the Life of a Dig Participant

  2. Augusta Winland Says:

    I zoomed-in on Trent’s ear, and I think I saw a bug in there. However, I did not see any wrinkles on you Rebekah.lol
    Thanks for keeping us posted. My weather alert radio just went off with flash flood warnings for eastern Limestone Co, and surrounding areas. God bless American and you. Remember July 4th. Gussie Winland

  3. Mike Coward Says:

    Keep up the writings. Praying for both of you. So thankful and excited for you. Mike Coward

  4. KATHY OLIVER Says:

    How interesting! I am so happy for you both! Since as far back as I can remember I wanted to be an archaeologist!!!!!

  5. Malissa Knudtson Says:

    I am wondering what the white fabric is covering in the wall on the last picture? I love seeing actual pieces of history in your hand! My God watch over you both and keep you in His care.

  6. stevewolfgang Says:

    Reblogged this on ἐκλεκτικός.

  7. Denise Says:

    a friend just returned from an excavating trip to Israel where a Turia was used. He said it was a very handy tool and would like to know where to purchase one. Does anyone know where a turia can be bought? Any info is greatly appreciated.

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