Life in the Trenches–Ashkelon Grid 16

First of all, we would like to thank our readers for their interest in our photo product–we had a wonderful time putting it together during our Vagabonding Tour, and it is now linked in our sidebar if you would like more information.  As today marks our 2nd Independence Day in Ashkelon, we would like to describe what life has been like for Rebekah for the past 4 weeks.

One of the exciting aspects of field archaeology is the various experiences available: occupation levels, the nature of finds, even the methods used can vary depending on where you are digging, and what you are digging for. Last season, I had the opportunity to work in Grid 38, where we carefully traced floors and occasionally broke out the delicate tools to flake up layers of phytolith (vestiges of organic materials like baskets or grain) or carefully pedestal beautiful Philistine artifacts. However, this season, I have been in the new Grid 16. Together with my old supervisor and a new team of volunteers, we have been excavating a step trench in the North Tel of Ashkelon.

The step trench is an excavation method in which the team digs a trench into a hill or slope of a tel (or rampart) to explore the occupation levels by excavating graduated levels from top to bottom—creating a visual stairway from the latest occupation to the earliest. For us, this was a steep bit on the side of what was at first assumed to be a Crusader-era moat by our friend Richard Cornwall.

Alleged Crusader Moat

Looking from the North Tel across the “moat.”

Our first week was spent transforming what we lovingly termed “The Waterslide,” a flat, slippery grade cleared by heavy equipment, into two squares and 6 steps. Over the past 4 weeks, those steps have been deconstructed and reconstructed as massive amounts of dirt have been dug and dumped by our team, fluctuating from 8 volunteers to 6, plus our two intrepid supervisors. And in those 4 weeks, we have articulated a fantastic tumbled down tower, cleaned out an early-Islamic water channel, sorted through many hundreds of years worth of assorted and intersecting garbage pits, and lovingly cleaned several courses of an Early Bronze Age mudbrick wall.

Grid 16--Week 1

Grid 16–Week 1

Grid 16--Week 4

Grid 16–Week 4

Each day is strenuous, as we use large tools like pickaxes and turias to move dirt into gufas and buckets (which we then haul out). And after the big messes are cleaned up, our task is to brush the loose soil off our area to reveal pit or mortar lines (this is an art—it’s really all in the wrist). But it’s exciting. We’re not treasure hunting, and would have been sorely disappointed so far if we were. But we’re seeking answers to questions of what parts of the site were inhabited, and by whom and how they lived. The Crusader and Islamic levels have yielded sherds from Cyprus to China and beautifully glazed local pieces. The Byzantine and Roman levels gave us parts of oil lamps and red-glazed ware. Atticware speaks of the Hellenistic age. Most precious of all have been the few ugly sherds of Early Bronze vessels.

Hauling Gufas of Dirt with a Smile

Hauling Gufas with a Smile

Through this quest for ancient humanity, you also learn a lot about modern humanity. You live in a land with foreign customs and politics, and learn to navigate and understand them. You also get to watch a rag-tag bunch of near-strangers from all walks of life evolve into a battle-hardened team unified by pride, mutual respect, and the occasional baked goods.

Grid 16 Family Photo

Grid 16 Family Photo

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One Response to “Life in the Trenches–Ashkelon Grid 16”

  1. stevewolfgang Says:

    Reblogged this on ἐκλεκτικός and commented:
    What archaeologists do …. from Trent & Rebekah’s Blog

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