Day 20 / 20 (100%)

Season 4 is over, at least for us volunteers.  There’s still a lot of work to be done in analyzing and publishing the findings – but that, at least, is all up to the staff to handle.

Old army bunker next to areas D4 and D5

Old army bunker next to areas D4 and D5

Turns out that we did some digging after all in a last-minute attempt to fill in some of the blanks remaining – such as one of C4’s walls.  This meant that at least some of us had a full day of work as we had to wash and read the pottery that we dug up, in addition to the actual digging.

I came down with a horrible cold that morning and spent most of the working time helping out with pottery washing and watching the pottery reading next to the containers.  I also set out some of the shards selected from the reading to dry so that they could be stored in bags without dissolving into mud:

Drying pottery

Drying pottery

We packed all the tools into the container for the last time this season.  Note the interesting method of wheelbarrow stacking:

Packing up the tools

Starting to pack up the tools

The last month was a lot of fun.  It was great getting to participate in the dig and meet fellow volunteers from all around the world.  It’s a little sad that it’s over, especially as I won’t be able to come back next year.

View from the top of the water tower

View from the top of the water tower


Day 19 / 20 (95%)

All areas finished digging halfway through the day.  We spent the rest of our working hours cleaning up the remaining areas – cutting sections and sweeping – to prepare them for the final photography tomorrow.

Even though it says 95% above, it should really be 100% – we’re done excavating for this season.  All that’s left is the cleaning up and the publishing.

*  *  *  *  *

And now for some videos about the dig:

Infolive TV, an Israeli internet news site, has two video clips up on Youtube about the dig.  The first one is a news feature, with clips of digging at the site and interviews with Prof. Oeming and with Raphaelle, one of the volunteers.  The second video is a much shorter piece, with some clips and no voiceover.  (Because Infolive TV has disabled embedding you’ll have to visit the Youtube pages to watch the videos.)

Here’s an excellent video from last year that a fellow dig volunteer made:

Day 18 / 20 (90%)

Two more days left.  Some of the other areas have already finished; here in C4 we’re racing to both finish digging our squares and prepare them for the final photography.

The dirt pile in our area is huge – almost a hill in itself.

Bulldozer loading truck with dirt from the C4 dump pile

Bulldozer loading truck with dirt from the C4 dump pile

And now, presenting the most important person at the dig:

Carsten, the equipment supervisor, showing off his container

Carsten, the equipment supervisor, showing off his container

I haven’t been posting enough pictures of the terrific view of Jerusalem and Bethlehem that we have from the site.  Here’s one part of it.

Part of the view to the southwest of the site - a monastery and its olive orchard

View to the southwest of the site - a monastery and its olive orchard

People from the media are still showing up here at the site.  We had a camera crew from Italy in our area yesterday – they interviewed the dig’s one Italian member, who was digging in the square next to mine.  (Hopefully the publicity will bring us more Italian volunteers next season!)

Day 17 / 20 (85%)

Since all the words on Ramat Rachel’s famous seal impressions are written in the Phoenician alphabet, I thought it would be useful to have a brief piece explaining how to read the letters used by the early inhabitants of the area.

The Phoenician alphabet is a forerunner to the modern Hebrew alphabet.  The square letters Hebrew readers will be familiar with today are actually borrowed from Aramaic and came into use later.  In Old Testament times Phoenician characters were the ones in common use, and we see them on coins, inscriptions and, here in Ramat Rachel, on jar handles.

Anyone who knows the Hebrew alphabet will have no trouble with the Phoenician one – it’s simply a matter of replacing one character with another.  For people who don’t it’s a little harder, but it’s still possible to puzzle out words and names.

Here’s the alphabet, with the letters next to their Hebrew equivalents and their approximate English ones:

Now let’s try it out on an actual example of Phoenician script.  Here’s a LMLK seal similar to the ones found in Ramat Rachel (remember that Hebrew letters read from right to left!):

Using the key, we can transcribe the letters as למלך/ממשת (LMLK / MMST) – adding vowels, it reads “lamelech / Mameshet”.  “Lamelech” means “to the king”, indicating that the vessel contained tribute to the monarch, and “Mameshet” is the name of the city or town that it came from.

This is another LMLK seal – at the top (a little scrunched up) it again reads LMLK.  At the bottom of the seal it reads ChBRN – Khevron (Hebron).

Now let’s try reading an actual LMLK seal:

Again it’s recognizable as LMLK/[Ch]BRN, even though one of the letters is broken off.

As you’ve probably noticed, there’s some variation between slightly different versions of the alphabet.  Luckily, at least with the stamp impressions, the inscription is usually one of only a few options.  With a basic knowledge of the alphabet it’s simple to identify the words on most seals.

Day 16 / 20 (80%)

One more week to go.  We’re working hard to try and finish up in all the areas before the season ends this Friday.  We are less people now than we were last week – more people left than came over the weekend – so it’s a good thing our general digging area is smaller than it was.

Though we’re getting closer to the deadline we’re still making interesting finds.  Only today we found beautiful fragments of Iron Age pottery – more complete and of better quality than most of our finds from the period – in area D6.

In C4 we’ve even opened up some new squares that we hope to finish in the last few days of digging that we have left.

Buckets of finds waiting for pottery wash

Buckets of finds waiting for pottery wash

CNS News has an article on the dig up here.  (The piece is aimed at a very specific demographic, and is slightly misleading – headline: Christians Excavate Holy Land Treasures for Summer Fun.)

Day 15 / 20 (75%)

The third (and so far most exhausting) week of the dig ended today.  This was the last full week of intensive work – next week we’ll be finishing the squares we already opened and cleaning up the site for the end of the season.

Dana and Manfred talking about Important Things

Dana and Manfred talking about Important Things

After the article in Haaretz came out, reporters from two news outlets – a cable station and an internet news site – came to do features on the dig.

The camera crew interviewing a family of volunteers

The camera crew interviewing a family of volunteers

Since I’ve been neglecting to show any part of Ramat Rachel other than the dig site, here’s a picture of some of the kibbutz’s fields:

Cherry and olive orchards, with the monument that serves as the kibbutzs logo in the background

Cherry and olive orchards, with the monument that serves as the kibbutz's logo in the background

Day 13 / 20 (65%)

The dig made the news!  Haaretz, Israel’s most respected newspaper, has an article about some of our finds.  (Unfortunately respected does not mean completely accurate – the coins from the columbarium were silver, not gold.)

*   *   *

We worked alongside a bulldozer in the northern square of C4 today.  Our goals were to enlarge the square and to remove the top layer of soil (old dirt pile from earlier excavation) to save us a lot of pointless digging.

Taking out a section wall

Taking out a section wall

(Why does the sky look so weird in these pictures, you ask?  No idea.  I blame my camera.)

Driver examining the underside of the bulldozer

Driver examining the underside of the bulldozer

It was more than a little unnerving working that close to a machine that big and potentially dangerous – even without taking recent events into account.  Not that little concerns like these daunted our area supervisor:

Dana walking past the bulldozers shovel

Dana walking past the bulldozer's shovel