Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Gezer 2014 - Diagram of the Gezer Water System

Click to Enlarge

Some of the blog readers have mentioned to me that they aren't quite clear on the specifics of the water system at Gezer. Hopefully the graphic above will help explain and illustrate the specifics of the system that are known. The tunnel/shaft of the massive ancient water system at Gezer measures 15 feet wide by 24 feet high (at it widest and highest point) and stretches 130 feet into the ground at a 38-degree angle. It is possible that the system was cut by Canaanites and dates to the Early Bronze Age. When NOBTS started the dig, nearly 65 percent of the tunnel was filled with dirt. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Gezer 2014 - The Gezer Water System Celebration

Dr. Jim Parker's remarks from the Gezer Water System Celebration June 11. Matthew Gould's remarks from the Gezer Water System Celebration June 11.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Gezer 2014 - Six Flags over Gezer

British Ambassador Matthew Gould speaks at Tel Gezer June 11. Photo by Brian Mooney
By Gary D. Myers

Our hearts are full tonight. Full with wonder regarding this massive and mysterious ancient water system. Full with the satisfaction that comes through diligent labor on a significant project. Full with hopes of returning to finish the quest to explain the mysteries of the system. Full with the fellowship and partnership on display tonight during the wonderful celebration at Tel Gezer.

Six Flags over Gezer
Tonight’s event was planned as grand celebration to mark the end of the Gezer Water System Expedition conducted by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA). Something special to conclude the initial five-year commitment. While we did finish the initial five-year commitment, task is not finished and we will have to return next year. Everyone took this in stride. The speakers, which included Tsvika Tsuk, INPA chief archaeologist; Shaul Goldstein, INPA director general; Matthew Gould, British Ambassador to Israel; and Leora Berry, director of Israel’s Tangible Heritage Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister; and Jim Parker, executive director of the Moskau Institute for Archaeology at NOBTS, spoke with excitement about what the future holds for the dig, and ultimately, the future opening of the system to visitors. The event seemed to spark new interest in the expedition and hopefully it will spur the project along to a very successful conclusion in the next few years.

Six flags flew over the tel tonight. Each one symbolized some significant contribution in discovering and studying the Gezer water system. The flags of Ireland and Great Britain commemorated R.A.S. Macalister’s dig at Gezer in the early 1900s. The Irishman, digging with British funding provided the Palestine Exploration Fund, discovered the water system and conducted a partial excavation. The beautiful, blue and white flag of Israel, the INPA flag and the Gezer Regional Council flag were all present. Obviously, we could not be here without the support of this beautiful nation, the parks authority or the Gezer council. And of course, the stars and stripes of Old Glory were there to represent the NOBTS team and our hard work at the site. When Tsvika mentioned the “six flags” earlier in the week, we all chuckled and someone told him about the Six Flags amusement parks in the U.S. From that moment on, some of us have been referring to the celebration as “Six Flags over Gezer.”

Two Thumbs up for Mr. Gould
British ambassador Matthew Gould came to see the system for the first time tonight just before he delivered his remarks at the celebration. He was clearly impressed by the work that has gone on to clear the system and awestruck at the fact the ancient peoples crafted such a magnificent thing so long ago. We were all impressed with Mr. Gould. He was personable, taking time to meet and chat with many of our team members. Gould’s remarks were thoughtful, gracious and complimentary of all who have been involved in the project.

Dr. Parker speaks. It's that a pretty location? Photo by Brian Mooney.

Here for the Long Haul
Dr. Parker’s remarks were excellent as always. He unapologetically shared how foundational the Bible is to our faith and how we are seeking to learn about the context in which the Bible was written. Traveling here and digging here helps us better teach NOBTS students how to teach the Bible to others, he said. Parker also said that our love for Israel and its people keeps us coming back. If you come to this land and really let it in, Israel will never by too far from your heart and mind.

Parker said that NOBTS intends to finish the water system dig, but when that is complete, we will find another place to dig. In essence, Parker said NOBTS plans to participate in archaeology here for years and years to come. 

Then we ate. The food was amazing! Asi Gino, our crane operator, asked us (with a sly smile) if we would rather have our usual lunchtime sandwiches instead of this fabulous spread. He couldn't find any takers.

Until Next Year
First thing this morning, our team worked to expose as much of the floor as possible and, you guessed it, the floor stepped down again. We cleaned that area and looked for a stopping point. The digging is done for the year and we still haven’t hit the lowest point of the pool.

Tomorrow our team will sift the three remaining bags of material, wash and sort pottery and clean up the site. Final photos will be taken tomorrow morning as well.

We end this season short on conclusions. But, I for one, feel no real sense of disappointment. We have many questions to ponder over the coming year and that is a good thing. Right now, the water system at Gezer is like a giant puzzle with many missing pieces. Next year we will renew our efforts to find those missing pieces and begin to put together that puzzle. One thing is certain, when we do finish this excavation, we will have quite a story to tell. More tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Gezer 2014 - The end is near ... hopefully the bottom is too

Me, left, with Eli Shukron at the base of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
By Gary D. Myers

Tonight’s blog will be brief because we had a very busy day. We worked a short day today and then traveled to Jerusalem to tour the City of David site excavated by Eli Shukron over a 20 year period. Each one by itself, no problem. But it added up to make for a long day. Our guide was none other than the excavator himself -- Eli Shukron!

Shukron knows his archaeology and he knows and values the Bible. He does a great job connecting archaeological finds with the the places, people and events of the Bible. Many modern archaeologists do not consider the Bible as a worthy source of information. For instance, many Israeli archaeologists do know believe David existed and they question the historicity of the United and Divided Kingdoms. For us, the truth of the Bible is undeniable and the Word of God is the reason we have come to this country to learn about the context in which the Bible was written. Even though we were exhausted from our busy excavation and touring schedule, the tour was a real treat.

Wrapping up
The dig is quickly coming to a close. In fact tomorrow is our last day to dig. We may have some sifting and pottery washing and sorting to do Thursday, but most of that day will be spent cleaning up and securing the site.

We hit a spot in the floor today which does not seem to slope. Is this the point where the floor stops its gradual slope? Or is it another step? Hopefully we can determine that tomorrow. The photograph above shows the “drill” holes/cupping marks that we discovered earlier this dig. Last year similar marks were found  just below the bottom step.

A portion of a flint sickle.

One Treat for You
Some of the more exciting finds (at least exciting for archaeological value) cannot be published on this blog site. These will be published in the final report when the dig concludes. However, there are some very neat things that do not have such restrictions. Above is a photo of one of these items. It is a portion of a flint sickle from harvesting grain. This piece of flint, along with several more, would have been attached to a curved piece of wood. I have read about these, seen drawings of these, and many of the flint pieces we have found could be part of a sickle, but I had not seen the pointed first piece of a sickle. It was a trill for me. This web page has a drawing of flint sickle from Neolithic England http://scm.pastfinders.org/scm_27_pull.htm The Canaanites used a similar concept.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Gezer 2014 – Just how big is this thing?

An Israeli pottery expert examines pottery from the Gezer Water System.

By Gary D. Myers

By any standard, the ancient water system at Gezer is massive. The opening towers to just under 24 feet high. This is 15 feet wide. The system is much larger than it needs to be to supply water for the ancient city. It is monumental.

Getting water would have been a serious task. It is a long way down to the area we believe held the water. Most likely it was women and slaves who made the daily trek up and down the steps to gather water. They probably needed a drink by the time they exited carrying the water.

The system is very big and R.A.S. Macalister uncovered much of the system. Any new understanding of the system must come from the area he failed to excavate. All digs have a bit of mystery, but this seemed easy enough after we reached Macalister’s Causeway. Well, just when we think we have a handle on this rock-hewn tunnel and pool, we learn more, and the puzzle keeps getting more difficult to solve. This is an intriguing place.

In my last full blog, I mentioned the big news of finding the floor. It seemed that we had found the final depth of the pool area. The plan was to continue on to the east, cleaning the floor. Well, as we dug further we encountered another drop off (or step?) and beyond that the floor continues to slope down at an angle. We are least 7-8 feet below the causeway and the floor keeps going down at a gentle grade. This new information has us wondering, and marveling yet again over the size and the mysteries of this system. Even as new theories are being formulated, we really don’t know what to expect or what we will encounter. This is certainly not the way Macalister envisioned the pool. Our dig continues to rewrite the traditional understand of the system. Exciting days indeed.

Pottery, Pottery, Pottery
Meanwhile the pottery yields from the pool area are incredible. We continue to find sherds of the fine Cypriot imported ware, large pieces of common water pots and a few more interesting items that you will have read about in the official dig report later on.

Our wet sifting system is working like a well oiled machine. Thank you John James! The two sifting teams are able to sift one bag each in about 20 minutes. This year we added new and improved sifting screens and we are using power washers to help cut through the mud. It has been much more effective than our sifting systems of previous years.

Counting the Days
The end of this dig season is quickly approaching, only two more days of digging. By Thursday we will begin cleaning up the tel and leaving for home. The end of a dig is always bittersweet. We made new friends and shared wonderful experiences together. The puzzle of the water system remains. What is this thing? Why is it so big? Why is the pool so deep? These questions will gnaw at our directors this year. But we have worked hard, given it our all and miss our loved ones at home. By Friday, we are all be ready for home. As we sit and fellowship in the evening at Neve Shalom, talk usually makes it back to food. We are all beginning to plan our first meal back in American. Today, someone said they were having a bacon cheeseburger as soon as they got home. That sounds pretty good to me.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Gezer 2014 - Quick Update

Late Bronze Age imported pottery from Cyprus. "Cypriot" or "Milk Bowl" pottery.
By Gary D. Myers

No time for more than a quick update. All is well with the Gezer team. We are trying to finish strong. However, it looks like it will take at least one more year to complete the dig. The pool area is deep and a great amount of material remains.

Exposing the entire pool is very important to the fulfillment of our goals. Our hope is that one more season will help us clear the pool, photograph and study the system and establish a date. We have come to grips with the necessity to return next year and let's be honest, the project was mammoth undertaking... no one else stepped up to take on this task. So NOBTS will return the Gezer to finish strong.

I will share a longer update tomorrow if possible. For now, please enjoy these photos from the dig.

Digging in the pool area.

Washing dishes? No. Washing pottery.

Pottery samples are marked with a Sharpie.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Gezer 2014 – Big News Today

This crews is uncovering a very large pot sherd near the pool floor.
By Gary D. Myers

You may have heard a loud noise coming from the bowels of the ancient Gezer Water System. Was it cheering or a collective sigh of relief. Probably both. The Gezer team found the bottom of the water system’s pool late into our work day today! It was an exciting way to finish off the day. This accomplishment is especially sweet for those who have given their blood, sweat and tears on multiple Gezer Water System digs. Sorry, no photographs are available at this time, hopefully we’ll have a few tomorrow. There is still much work to do and much more material to clear from the floor. Hopefully, we will be able to expose most of the floor along the southern wall of the system tomorrow.

Today, we discovered that we were ever so close to the bottom last year. The floor was only about a foot or so below one of our probes from last year. Instead of focusing on going further down into that probe at the start of the week, we worked to clear the other areas of the pool along the southern wall down to the depth of last year’s probe. It was the only way that we could get a large dig team working at the same time. It was the right decision. The intention was, and is, to keep the entire area cleared to approximately the same depth as we dig deeper into the pool. Today,  the team also discovered what could be drill holes left by the ancient people who carved out the water system.

Last season, the team encountered rounded marks near the bottom step and the going theory at the time was that the marks were left by an ancient drill – these are well attested in ancient Egypt. This is still a theory and new information could lead to other conclusions, but that is how archaeology works. The archaeologist must use science, scholarship and creative thinking to propose theories to explain what he or she encounters. However, the archaeologist, after proposing the theory, keeps an open mind and looks for other ways to explain the phenomena.

Ancient drills consisted of a copper tube attached a wooden pole which was spun by pulling opposing ropes back and forth or using a “bow.” Sand was placed under the copper tube. The grit and copper created enough friction to drill through stone. Click here for a video that explains and illustrates how the drills worked.

The pool area is still producing large amounts of pottery. And while we don’t expect to find complete vessels, we are finding bigger pieces of jars. We continued to see small sherds of Cypriot imported ware. About an hour before the team working at the bottom discovered the floor, the uncovered an especially larger sherd of a broken jar – know as an amphora – which would have been used for carrying water. To date, this is the largest piece we have found.

Now there is proof that the blogger actually works at the dig site. Photo by Larry Canada
Yavneh Yam site
A small group went back to Palmahim today to clean and shoot the final photography at the Yavneh Yam site that our team help clean earlier in the week. The area they helped clean was a stone quarry in the Byzantine period (which began in 330 A.D. and continued through 1453 A.D.) and was possibly used for some other purpose in the Middle Bronze Age. A Bronze Age burial area was discovered around the cave. It is extremely beneficial to the seminary’s Moskau Institute for Archaeology to be involved in as many digs as possible. Digs like this will help us to get better established in the archaeological community. With this project complete, our full team will be concentrated on clearing the floor, sifting the material and washing pottery.

Check out another Gezer blog
Marjorie James, on her second Gezer Water System dig, is also writing a blog about our work and the fun things we do while we are here. Check out her blog at http://engtchrmarjorie.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Gezer 2014: Another Day Older and Deeper in Mud

Excavating the pool at the bottom of the water system
By Gary D. Myers

In yesterday’s blog, I told readers this would happen. If we find anything unusual or extraordinary, I won’t be able to tell you what we found, post photographs or even describe it. You will have to wait until the final dig report publication to learn about all the neat things we find. Well, it did not take long for my prediction to come true. We found one of those things today. It was a moderately extraordinary find – nothing as grand as a scarab or an inscription – however, turning up something more than broken pottery created a buzz on the tel this morning.

Marking Pottery
Team members are beginning to learn a bit more about pottery, especially those of us who were here the past two years. All of the veteran volunteers can quickly spot Cypriot white slip ware. We turned up several nice sherds of this imported pottery this morning. We were astonished to learn of the commerce that took place in the Levant beginning as early as the Bronze Age – probably earlier than that. This white slip pottery was a common import item in the Late Bronze Age. Made on the island of Cyprus, the ware was shipped to the Levant to be sold. It is commonly found during excavations in Israel of sites occupied during the Late Bronze Age.

And about Pottery … It is Plentiful
After only two days of digging below Irish Archaeologist R.A.S. Macalister’s causeway the workload at the sifting tables is piling up. This is good news and bad news. The good news: There is a great amount of material that can be used to help establish a date for the construction of the water system. Each bag is yielding plentiful amounts of broken pottery. The bad news: It will be very difficult to complete the sifting work by the end of the dig, there is just so much to sift. We have already pulled around 100 bags of material to be sifted in our first two days of digging.

Down, Down, Down … Ring of Mud
The pool excavation is going well, but we haven’t located the bottom of the pool anywhere except in the area just below the bottom step. At a certain point the floor drops significantly. We are well over four feet down on the south half (a bit less than half) of the pool. The digging is difficult -- very soupy mud mixed with stones in some places and mud the consistency of fudge in others. We are encountering the occasional large boulder in the pool as well. Those who dig in the pool all day are a sight to see at the end of the day – covered head to toe in mud. However, we have had two volunteers dig in the muddiest of the muddy slop and come out with very little mud on their clothes. I, for one, consider this great talent. I would prefer to trade clothes with them at the end of the day when it is time to wash my clothes in bucket of soapy water.

A Day Off
In the three days that we have worked this week, some in our crew have put in very strenuous hours -- first at Palmahim and then back in the pool area at Gezer. We are happy to have a break tomorrow for Shavuot/Pentecost/Festival of Weeks. Instead of working, we will travel to Tel Dan and the Galilee tomorrow. Traveling days are just about as difficult as work days, but we are all excited about seeing the wonderfully preserved Bronze Age mud brick gate at Dan. This gate is the best preserved mud brick gate discovered so far. It is very similar to the Bronze Age gate at Gezer which we have cleaned and helped preserve over the past two dig seasons.

Tomorrow will be a nice break, but we will be happy to return to our search for the bottom of the pool Thursday morning bright and early. Shalom.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Gezer 2014 – Make way for the diggers

By Gary D. Myers What day is it? It has gotten very hard to keep track of the days. Despite the fact that it took us longer to get set up than previous in years, we have been working hard. The time passes quickly when you are busy.

As I mentioned in the last blog, Sunday was supposed to be the day that we started digging out the pool area. Every station would be busy – the diggers, the cable keeper who helps the bags up the slope, the winch operators, the crane signal team and most of all the pottery team (washers, sifters, recording secretary). It was supposed to be the day.

However, a team from Shenkar College had agree to come scan the tunnel in order to construct a digital 3D model during this year’s dig. It turns out that Sunday was the only day they could scan while our team was in Israel. The scan would begin at 8 a.m. and continue throughout the workday. We found out the Shenkar teams was after the last blog was published. So some members of our team worked to clean the Middle Bronze Age gate at Gezer while another group traveled to Palmahim to help excavate at carved cave that may have been used as a tomb in the Middle Bronze Age and later as a home or storage area in the Byzantine period. It was still a long busy day. The Palmahim group work very hard moving buckets of dirt all day just steps from the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. That is almost torture.

Back at Neve Shalom Sunday evening we participated in the community pool party and outdoor dinner. Later, our team gathered at the Neve Shalom amphitheater for worship service with singing and a brief sermon. I needed rest from Sunday and our weekend travels and felt the blog could wait. I turned in early. It was a good move, because Monday was a busy, hard work day.

After many delays and side projects, we finally began removing the material under the causeway on Monday. We pulled out 45 bags of material by lunch time. Many of us had a spring in our step when we arrived at the tel this morning, but the spring was gone by lunchtime. The digging was tough. Lots of mud, then a layer of rocks that you had to pick out by hand, then mud again. The sifting team worked hard all day as, but by quitting time a large backlog of bags had accumulated. They simply cannot keep up with the current pace of digging. We are turning up a great amount of pottery. We haven’t found anything exceptional and if we had, I probably could mention it in this blog. The first day of excavating the pool was a good day.

We will be back in the pool area digging again bright and early tomorrow. Wednesday we will not dig because of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost). That will be a touring day. We will work by back to work on Thursday and we will work on Friday this week instead of touring.

We have learned to expect the unexpected on this dig and you may have to do the same with the blog. I will make every effort possible to make at least three to four additional posts this week plus our weekly update video with Dr. Warner. The posts may be a bit irregular since our schedule is irregular. The last week of the dig we will likely only have three and half days of dig work and one day of cleanup. Again, I will attempt to post at least three and hopefully four blogs that week plus the weekly update video with Dr. Warner.

It's getting late ... Shalom Y’all.