As our first-ever archaeological dig approached, my wife and I prepared in the way that most couples would probably prepare. We packed our sunscreen and sunglasses. We purchased a couple of trowels and a few pairs of work gloves. We watched my favorite archaeology movie, Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade. We made our way to the airport, and, finally, we boarded the plane for Israel.
Of course, we experienced something a bit different than the sensationalized archaeology of Indiana Jones. There were no gun fights, and we didn’t have to defuse any booby traps. We didn’t tiptoe through any rat-infested passages or snake-filled pits (although we did remove a few scorpions from the pits we were digging, and there was some excitement when a local goat tried to eat the rope for the tent). We didn’t uncover the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, or even a treasure chest.
What we did experience was the essential routine of archaeological excavation. We hiked up the mountain each day, carrying full water jugs, and we hiked back down again, carrying empty ones. We filled empty buckets with dirt from our pit, dumped that dirt outside of the excavation area, and carried the buckets back to be filled once more. We “drained the tub,” lowering the surface of the pit slowly, uniformly, dusting around the large rocks to see if they fit within a structure. We retrieved pieces of pottery and animal bones, and later washed every piece so that it could be carefully studied. We took breaks for water, breaks for coffee, breaks for breakfast, and breaks to see what was just uncovered in another pit.
Such a slow, repetitive routine might not be the stuff of action movies, but it is the way that the past is uncovered. As layer after layer is stripped away, the structures and the artifacts of a settlement give a clearer picture of the people who were there, the time period they were there, and what happened while they were there.
For my wife and me, both students of Biblical history and both having a love for visiting ancient sites, participating in this dig was a valuable experience. Attending a lecture about the history of the area and hearing that this site might have been Biblical Ataroth or Naarah (Joshua 16:7) gave us an even greater appreciation for the importance of this work. We enjoyed both the dig and the tour of Israel, and we hope to be able to go back someday.