• Name: Paul McLerran
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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

In the Field: Bethsaida Week One

Throughout the coming summer months, I will post weekly or periodic progress/activity updates for several digs in diverse parts of the world as they unfold during their summer 2005 seasons. It is hoped that the continuing updates will afford readers (especially those who are not able to participate in digs at this time) a taste (albeit "virtual") of what it is like to be on a dig, and also a chance to share in the excitement of discovery as it occurs in the field.......so watch for the postings entitled "In the Field" for the latest activities, large and small, before they hit the press!

Soon to be posted at the Bethsaida website, here is the most recent report from a key Bethsaida Excavations Project volunteer. Bethsaida, the famous ancient fishing town near the Sea of Galilee in present day Israel, was frequented by Jesus during His ministry. It was mentioned often in the Bible's New Testament account, and has been under archaeological excavation for a number of years. It has yielded numerous important finds bearing on the ancient Geshurite Kingdom of the time of David and Solomon and, of course, the town that Jesus and the apostles knew:

Wow, the '05 season opened on May 23rd. Rami Arav (Excavations Director) & Elizabeth McNamer brought groups from their respective schools and additional volunteers joined from other parts of the USA. The first main objective was to further our knowledge of the Hellenistic and Roman periods. It is hoped to do this by exposing the northern section of the upper area just across from the "clinic house". Another objective is to continue expanding (after 9 years) the area of the beautiful iron age main gate of the city. This will be accomplished by digging in the gate chamber 2 through different strata. By doing this we hope to see what the inner city gate looked like in earlier times. We'll dig the ancient city wall east of the city gate to get down to the bedrock of the ancient city that was destroyed in 732 BCE. We'll also extend the cobblestone street that approaches the city gate from the north. The street was excavated during the period of 2000 through 2001 when the rubble (with very large basalt boulders from the toppled 25 foot thick city wall) was cleared off of the beautiful cobblestone street and was walked upon for the first time in thousands of years! Ground penetrating radar has shown that the street continues northward about another 50 meters, so it appears that we have another couple of years of work just in this area. Come and join us to share in the adventure !

Sunday evening orientation and introductions were conducted at the main room at the dormitory of the Ginosar Inn. Monday morning we drove out to the site which is about 10 miles (17 kilometers) north of kibbutz Ginosar. Rami explained about the site and the rest of the morning was spent cleaning up the area and setting up the shade awnings, sifters and the pottery washing area. During the course of the week the outer city wall next to the bastion to the east of the main city gate was uncovered. We continue to look for the bedrock base of the most ancient iron age walls of the city. Good progress was made taking off the top layer of dirt from the continuation of the cobblestone street leading to the city from the north. The top layer of dirt was also removed from the northern section of the upper area ("C").

Two coins were found; one apparently medieval and the second probably Roman. The "find of the week" was a beautiful bead that was discovered while sifting dirt. This illustrates how important every aspect of the work is, from digging out the dirt and rocks and putting all interesting items into the "find" bucket to sifting the dirt and lastly washing all the items in the "find" bucket. What is missed during the 1st stage can often be picked up during the sifting or washing.

---- Shai Schwartz

See the Bethsaida website for more information about the Bethsaida Excavations Project.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Pieces of Blackbeard's Ship?

Several items discovered in association with a shipwreck off the coast of North Carolina suggest that the sunken vessel dates to the early 18th century. The vessel is thought to be that of Blackbeard, the famous pirate of that period. The recently discovered items include the stem of a wine glass, the ship's sternpost, a six-foot long cannon, and an eight-foot long cannon.

Read More

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Interactive Dig at Jamestown Rediscovery

For students and dig volunteer wannabees, the Jamestown Rediscovery Project offers a website chalk-full of educational stuff, including an interactive dig learning experience that gives you a very basic taste for the methodology behind how the Project archaeologists carry out their ongoing work at the famous Jamestown site on Jamestown Island, Virginia. Jamestown was the site of the first permanent English colony on the American continent, and was arguably the beginning of what became the United States. Current excavations at the site are focusing on uncovering the remains of the original 1607 James Fort and surrounding settlement. If you are interested, go to the website for an enjoyable educational opportunity.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Koobi Fora Research Project

The site of Koobi Fora near Lake Turkana in northern Kenya has long been known as one of the most important sites in the world for human origins research. The wealth of fossil remains and the geologic stratigraphy have shed new light on the world of early Homo, arguably the ancestral genus of all humans. The research being conducted here has and will continue to help answer some important questions about Homo Erectus, the species of early man who first left Africa to inhabit the more northern climes of Europe and Asia. The Koobi Fora Research Project continues to conduct annual field sessions with the participation of scholars and students around the world and funding from organizations like the Leakey Foundation and the National Geographic Society. Now you can join, in a virtual way, by reading their regular written dispatches from the field. If you are interested, you can follow along with the field research by going to the website and staying updated as they progress through the field season. It's not like actually being there, but for those of us who do not have the privilege of being onsite, it is the next best thing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Archaeological Vacations in the Caribbean

Archaeology enthusiasts and students with a flare for 18th Century colonial history who wouldn't mind a taste of island life in the Caribbean will get the ideal opportunity on the island of St. Eustatius. Every year from January through August, archaeological research and excavations are conducted under programs administered by the College of William and Mary (USA), Leiden University (the Netherlands), and the University College London (UK). The programs involve excavation, artifact processing, and periodic evening lectures on archaeological topics. In addition, participants have the opportunity to enjoy the local culture and food, the national parks which include a rainforest at the Quill volcano, and, of course, diving and snorkeling.

St. Eustatius was a major transshipment center serving Europe, the Americas and the West Indies between 1770 and 1800. During the Revolutionary War, France and Holland provided arms to U.S. forces fighting the British through this port. It is regarded as having an abundance of colonial period sites. If you are interested in this opportunity, go to the website for more information.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The New World's Founding Population

How many people made up the original group that crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Asia to make the New World their home? Approximately 70, says Jody Hey, Professor of Genetics at Rutgers University. By using a computation using genetic information to create models of population divergence, Professor Hey can not only determine how many, but when -- approximately 12,000 to 14,000 years ago -- the split occurred. This is roughly consistent with the dating for most of the archaeological evidence.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

A Monumental New Find at Ancient Petra

The remains of a monumental banquet hall dating as far back as the First Century was recently unearthed at the ancient site of Petra in Jordan. Thus far, 22 heads of ancient gods have been identified atop the capitals of columns that once graced the magnificent hall, which purportedly collapsed after a major earthquake in 363 AD. This, after a team had been digging in the area for the past four years.

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Friday, May 20, 2005

A 5,000-Year-Old Mortuary Chamber Unearthed in Egypt

Archaeologists have recently uncovered a 5,000-year-old mortuary enclosure of ancient Egypt's first Pharaoh, King Hor-Aha. King Hor-Aha founded the First Dynasty, and not much is known about his life or the Dynasty he founded. Continuing excavations and research promise to shed new light on an otherwise sketchy period in ancient Egyptian history.

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Archaeological Survey Opportunities in South Africa

When participating in a dig, most of us have little exposure to the various methodologies used in the pre-excavation, survey phase of a project. Here is a chance to gain a meaningful, in-depth exposure to archaeological survey work, an essential part of the total process of archaeological research. From now through December of 2007 there are opportunities for both volunteers and students to participate in groundbreaking archaeological survey work in the Soutpansberg mountain range of South Africa. The region has been host to human habitation from the Early Stone Age (2,000,000 years ago) to the later Iron Age period. The research results have the potential to generate new archaeological projects designed to uncover human settlement patterns and lifeways of early humans in Africa. The following excerpt from the website describes the nature of the work:

Archaeological research in South Africa has traditionally focused on single site, intensive research rather than on regional, extensive surveys. This has resulted in a continuous growth of settlement data which is however, not interchangeable in a systematic and controlled fashion. The Soutpansberg High Altitude Settlement Survey (SHASS) will aim at documenting all the historic and prehistoric features resulting from human activities along the high altitude regions of the western Soutpansberg. The objective is to formulate a working directory of sites in the area for future research, based on a Geographic Information System (GIS) platform. An extensive description of the project will be provided on request. Volunteers will be expected to manage and summarize regional archaeological survey data for the Soutpansberg node. This information will be gathered by transect surveys with a Global Positioning System (GPS) providing raster information for the plotting of archaeological phenomenon. The data will then be fed to a lab-based GIS system where data will be managed and analysed. In the lab environment, further digital information will be mated with the gathered geographical information. Equipment used will include GPS, GIS, Pocket PC and various camera formats for the field, notebook and desktop computers, measuring and weighting equipment, studio photography and microscopic analysis.

As part of the program, project participants will also visit numerous cultural sites in South Africa.

Does this interest you? Find out more at the website.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Ancient Peruvian Tombs a Gold Mine for Archaeologists

While leading a team digging near a pyramid ramp in the ancient city of Pachacamac in Peru, archaeologist Peter Eeckhout of the Free University of Brussels uncovered no less than 69 intact tombs and funerary bundles, containing a wealth of artifacts that escaped the ravages of time and looting. The finds represent a veritable gold mine for scholars attempting to reconstruct the lifeways and culture of people who settled and worshiped here over successive time periods. Evidence suggests that pilgrims and families came here to seek cures from an oracle for diseases like cancer, tuberculosis and cancer. The remains of the ancient ceremonial city of Pachacamac contain an array of mud-brick pyramids and plazas, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Peru.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A 10-Day Expedition to Belize and Tikal

A very attractive variety of experiences, which includes tours of some significant archaeological sites in Belize and Guatemala, are packed into an amazing 10-day educational tour package offered by International Expeditions. There are packages currently available through December of this year. If you are interested, see the website for more information.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Early Civilization in China Uncovered

Archaeologists in China have identified the ruins of a prehistoric Chinese state that existed between 3,000 and 2,200 B.C. The finding is based on surveys and excavations that have been conducted in the coastal city of Rizhao, in China's Shandong Province. The discovery supports ancient Chinese legend that the birth of Chinese civilization took place approximately 5,000 years ago.

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Friday, May 13, 2005

Early Humans Took the Coastal Route

Recent mitochondria DNA research on a variety of native populations now suggests that early humans (homo sapiens) first migrated out of Africa........ not through Egypt and the Sinai and up into Europe, but along the southern coastline of the Arabian peninsula and into India, Indonesia and Australia.

Read the Article

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Archaeological Tour: Hiking the Inca Trail

If you are looking for something other than a "get-down-and-dirty" archaeological dig experience with a little more adventure than the standard tour, perhaps a trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu will do the trick. Geographic Expeditions offers a trekking experience among the Incan ruins of Peru, where you will hike and overnight at campsites. This itinerary includes, of course, a beautiful uphill hike to the glorious ruins of Machu Picchu. If you are interested, visit the website for more information.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Luxury Homes and a Slave Cabin Do Mix

Conventional wisdom argues that slave cabins and luxury homes in the 21st Century do not mix, but a little restoration project in Prince George's County, Maryland may well prove that wisdom wrong. A tiny, dilapidated structure in Upper Marlboro, long identified as a former 1830's slave quarters, is about to receive a facelift based on archaeological investigation and a careful examination of the remaining structure, and it is set to be the centerpiece of a new subdivision of million-dollar-plus homes.

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Monday, May 09, 2005

Ancient Parthian Capital Unearthed

The Parthian Empire of the 2nd and 1st Centuries, B.C., controlling what is now modern Iran and Iraq, rivaled even Rome in its grandeur for a space of time in history. Italian archaeologists in Turkmenistan are currently excavating the remains of what was once the great ancient capital of the Empire. Known as Old Nisa, the excavators are uncovering a fortified complex with well-preserved walls six to eight meters high. Monumental buildings, mausoleums and shrines, inscriptions and a treasury, among many other finds, have also been uncovered. Much more is expected to come to light.

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Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Cape Field School in South Africa

If you are a student of anthropology or archaeology and you are looking for an exciting and meaningful field school to enrich your skills and education, the Cape Field School of South Africa may be right for you. In three-month sessions twice a year, Professor Christopher Henshilwood leads field schools that take students to the coastal caves of the De Hoop Nature Reserve, where archaeological excavation and research is being conducted on Middle- and Late-Stone Age human deposits that will shed light on the lifeways of early humans that lived up to 300,000 years ago. The sessions run from February 1, 2006 -- May 1, 2006 and then again beginning in September. The deadline for application for the first session is October 1, 2005, so there is plenty of time to think about it and submit your paperwork.

More Information

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Discoveries in the Ruins of Yin

Some very interesting finds have recently been made at the famous ruins of Yin (the Shang Dynasty) in China's Henan Province. Among the 3,000- year-old finds are seven horse and chariot pits and three tombs, all within the ancient city of Anyang, the capital of the Shang Dynasty. One of the most notable finds is a well-preserved short bronze sword. This tops a long list of amazing discoveries in this area of China, which includes foundations of temples and palaces, bronzes and jade carvings. Read More

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Discovery at Cranberry Bog

The residents of Cranberry, Pennsylvania, are discovering that Native Americans preceded them there by 3,000 years. Recent excavations conducted by an archaeological consultant in anticipation of construction of the new Graham Park have uncovered the remains of a settlement that saw significant hunting, foraging and trading. Some of the implements were made from materials imported from 150 miles away, drawing archaeologists to suggest that the ancient inhabitants were related, in some fashion, to the Hopewell (moundbuilder) culture further to the west. At that ancient time, Cranberry was largely characterized as a bog. It was drained and converted to dry land in the 19th century as new settlement proceeded. Another good example of the fruits of archaeological survey and excavation prerequisite to modern development. Read More.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Neanderthals: More Widespread Than We Thought

Recent research findings now suggest that the Neanderthal, the hominin that made its home primarily in certain localities in Europe before the advent of modern Homo Sapiens in the region some 40,000 to 30,000 years ago, was not so local after all. Study of a human femur fragment found in a cave in France in 2002 identifies it as that of Neanderthal, and that the shape of the fragment and testing of its mitochondrial DNA show that this specimen, which lived during the Middle Paleolithic, was much more mobile with a larger territory of habitation than is usually associated with Neanderthals during this period of time. Up to this point, scientists have attributed the greater mobility and larger territorial habitation to the behavioral changes and adaptations that accompanied the Homo Sapiens (Cro-Magnons).

Read The Article

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Digging at Tiberias: A Volunteer's Experience

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Judith Schwartz participated as a volunteer in the excavations at the ancient site of Tiberias, Israel, this Spring. Here is a sampling from her personal account of her experience.

Tiberias, Israel -- I decided this session to dig only twice a week. As a "local volunteer", digging 4 days a week for the whole month means giving up all of my activities, commitments, and supermarket visits for a long stretch. So Monday afternoon I used all my willpower and waved my dirt-covered arm and said, "See you Wednesday". (Someone else found the marble floor. (See previous post about the finds at Tiberias.) For three weeks, the dirt level in my shoes increased while my energy level was gradually reduced by digging, night lectures and trips to archaeological sites...all of which were unmissable.

Week 4 came along and Katherina casually said "We saw the edge of a floor tile as we were doing heavy digging in one area. Would you like to explore there?" I was captured heart and soul. For me, uncovering architectural features means even more than finding complete, beautifully designed, perfectly proportioned, highly decorated ceramic juglets!

One o'clock Monday afternoon arrived. I had removed uncountable numbers of buckets of dirt and revealed a 3 foot line of lovely red tiles in a neat row. Should I retreat? Say "See you Wednesday?" Go to the supermarket and aerobics the next day? No way! There I was early Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday...following tiles till they petered out, finding a tiny stretch of red frescoed wall in situ and having myself a good old time. In the balance, willpower hasn't got a chance against archaeology!

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The archaeologists have a saying that the best finds are on the first and last days of the dig. This proved true in the very first session at Tiberias, last year, when the 17 foot bronze chain was found.

Spring 2005 was no exception. Volunteers were digging in the second apse of the basilica where some beautiful ceramics had been found the week before by Vanessa. The last few hours of the dig arrived. And sitting in the apse diligently digging as the minute hand crept around was Jill, painstakingly removing from the dirt one after another of amazing, complete or almost complete juglets.

The dig ended ...no, not with a bang...perish the thought... with flashbulbs flashing at the row of lovely beautifully designed, perfectly proportioned ceramic jugs that ended the spring session.

-- Judith Schwartz, Tiberias Excavations Volunteer, Kibbutz Ginosar, Israel

Photographs courtesy Judith Schwartz