Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Gezer 2015 – And that’s a wrap

By Gary D. Myers 

The work is never truly complete at an ongoing excavation. Always more work to do next year. Dig directors have to decide when it is best to stop excavation and focus on washing, reading and recording all the pottery. That moment came today. Around 12:40 p.m. today, the digging team was notified to complete its work by 1:30 p.m. 

For all intents and purposes, the 2015 Gezer Water System Expedition has come to an end.
The next few days will involve hours of cleanup, reading and recording pottery and the taking of final photos. Reports will be completed and the tools will be stored.

June 8: First Water, Then Rocks
The deep water threw the dig team a curve on June 7. It is difficult to work all day in shin-deep water. The plague of the water was followed by the plague of the rocks. For several days we had been dealing with a substantial level of rocks. But by June 8, it had become almost in possible to stick your shovel in the ground without hitting a very large stone. We had to stop for a while and measure the area and look at the stones closely to determine if these could be from an unknown structure. After careful examination it was determine to be rubble which tumbled or was thrown into the system. 

Our work on June 8 resulted in the largest bag count of this season – 51 bags. We turned to the north to remove a large area of dirt and debris between the center point of the basin and the northern wall. The goal was to find the floor all the way across the width of the basin. We didn’t make on the June 8, but there was still time Tuesday.

Work in Eli’s House also came to a close. The team made great progress this season and learned more about the site near the Canaanite gate. They also encountered large areas of fill dirt and pottery from R.A.S. Macalister’s dig in the early 1900s. 

June 9: Washing Dishes
Eighty pottery buckets were waiting on the dig team when they arrived this morning. With such a large backlog, almost everyone had to wash pottery before anything else could be dug or sifted. Each piece of pottery is scrubbed with a small brush, inspected for inscriptions and place in a box to dry. Before 9:30, all the pottery was washed and we were all back to our original work spots.

Two team members started the day in the cavern behind the water system. The two were investigating the source of the dirt intrusions in the cavern. The goal was to find a crack which may be allowing dirt intrusions into the cavern. No crack was found. However, the area was covered with clear vinyl sheeting in hopes of catching a cone of dirt intrusion before the next dig season to help isolate such a crack. 

For Emotional Health, We Needed to Find the Floor
In the remaining time this morning, the team began searching for the floor in the middle of the basin. We knew that this would be our last digging day, so we dug as fast as possible this afternoon. It was as if our sanity or emotional health depended on reaching the floor from the center of the basin to the north. We have exposed a good amount of floor along the southern wall, this would give a new look at the basin. We were almost there when we got word to stop digging by 1:30. We dug feverishly and found the floor [more about that in later blogs].

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Gezer 2015: The things you find at the bottom of a water system

A beautiful morning at Tel Gezer.
By Gary D. Myers

R.A.S. Macalister. I feel your pain. I guess I should have expected water at the bottom of a water system, but I don’t like it any more than you did.
For the past three work days, the diggers at the bottom of the Gezer Water System have been battling water just like Macalister, the original excavator of the system, did in 1908. The Irishman wrote about his experience with the water at Gezer in his final published volume about the dig, The Excavation of Gezer: 1902-1905 and 1907-1909:

The staircase terminates at a pool of unknown depth—a long crowbar failed to reach the bottom—now full of soft watery mud. Water stands wherever this mud is dug away, and the level of the water remains constant no matter how much be taken away. The first day on which the water was found it was uncertain whether it was a spring or merely accumulation of rain water. Buckets were provided, and at least two hundred gallons of water drawn of and poured away, without making the smallest impression on the level. (R.A.S. Macalister, 261)

Macalister, believing he would need divers to excavate the pool, deemed it “archaeologically unprofitable” and moved on to explore the cavern. That helped us have untouched material to excavate under Macalister’s causeway of stones.

Three days ago, some 3 meters under the surface that Macalister laid across the pool area to access the cavern, we encountered water. The first day it wasn’t so bad, but by Friday, the water was affecting our work. When we arrived at the tel this morning, the pool area had much more water than it did Friday.

The bottom after removing 100+ gallons of water.
Using three 20 liter jugs, the team removed close to 140 gallons of water. The jugs were placed in a bag and winched to the platform to be hauled out with the crane and dumped. It took nine trips to remove that much water. Unlike Macalister, we could see the difference in the water level—it did shrink considerably. However, we abandoned that effort after lunch without clearing out all the water. The rest of the afternoon was spent digging further into the pool area. We moved much mud and rock in the afternoon as well as two large stones, possibly rumble from buildings in the city above.

So, where is the water coming from? Most likely, it is rainfall seeping through the many layers of dirt and debris. But why did Macalister encounter so much more water in 1908 (he was in this deep water 8-9 feet above where we are)? Has mechanical pumping lowered the water table? We don’t know all the answers. It is easy to see why Macalister gave up on the pool, but we won’t give up. On we dig.

The Unsung Heroes of the Dig
One can never fully emphasize the importance each person’s role on this dig. Each position in the water system dig is vitally important to our success. We have diggers, winch hook workers, safety gate operators, a winch operator, platform workers who unhooks the bags from the winch and hooks them to the crane, signal engineers (those who alert the crane operator to pull up bags), a crane operator, and sifters. We cannot do the task without all of these people in place. Then we wash pottery at the dig tent and keep records about the finds we make. We need about 18 people to successfully operate this portion of the dig. We appreciate the contribution each individual makes each day. Thank you for what you do and the way you do it

Eli’s House
I didn’t make it to "Eli's House" today due to the issue with the water down below, but I hear things are going well. Eli Yannai and a small team are examining the connection between the houses at the Canaanite gate area and the water system. Yesterday, during our tour of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, we were able to see the two gold goddesses discovered in “Eli’s House,” by a team of American archaeologists in the 1970s. Amazing find.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Gezer 2015 - Week Two Update

By Gary D. Myers

Week two of the Gezer Water System Expedition is in the books and back by popular demand is the video update by Dr. Dan Warner. The camera loves him ... or he loves the camera. One of the two. We had to shoot the video without the microphone today, so the audio isn't the greatest, however, it provides a excellent overview of the work we have accomplished. We are grateful for his leadership along with Dr. Jim Park, Dennis Cole and Tsvika Tsuk.

We had a very slow start this year, but we have made significant progress. The team has continued the probe in the pool/basin area to approximately 25 from what we have been calling the bottom step. We are near the bottom in this area, but we have encountered a significant amount of water.Yesterday, we removed 20 gallons of water using buckets. Today, we removed another 16 gallons of water. Today, the area refilled quickly. We believe that the water is due to a wetter than usual rain season in Israel this year, however, the water is keeping us from getting a clear look at the bottom.

Four work days remain before we clean up the site and return home. Though we are missing our families, the time has passed quickly. Current plans call for clearing a 6-8 foot wide swath across the width of the pool area. This could help us better understand whether the steps continue past our "bottom step." Opening this trench will give full exposure to significant segment of the floor. It will be a difficult task, but the diggers are ready.

Kudos to our trustees and their families
The Gezer dig has been blessed to have two NOBTS trustees (Tom Clore of Illinois and Dan Wilson of California) and two children of trustees (J.D. Leavell and Cameron Wilson) digging with us. On top of that, we even have a former trustee and his wife, John and Marge James ... they are back for their third dig season. I have been impressed with all of these individuals. Their work ethic. Their walks with Christ. Our trustees (and former trustees) work hard at whatever they put their hands to and they have raised amazing children. It has been a blessing to share this unique experience with all of them.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Gezer 2015 - Day Eight: He set my feet on the Rock

Psalm 40
1 I waited patiently for the Lord;

    He turned to me and heard my cry.

2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

    out of the mud and mire;

He set my feet on a rock

    and gave me a firm place to stand.

3 He put a new song in my mouth,

    a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear the Lord

    and put their trust in Him.

By Gary D. Myers

As the underground digging team climbed out of the Gezer water system for lunch today, Psalm 40 came to mind. David’s imagery came to life in a new and special way. We had been in sinking in soupy mud all morning. The muck was so bad that it was easy to sink past your ankles and lose your shoes when you tried to move. The muck wore us out quickly. But when any of us found a rock to stand, the digging was much easier. In fact, finding a firm spot was the only way to keep from sinking. 

The parallels are so clear an explanation probably isn’t need. Once I was trapped and sinking when God reached down and lifted me out of the mess of my own making and set me on the Rock (Jesus). I know what that feels like spiritually … I know what that feels like physically. I’m glad to have a new source to draw from when I talk what God has done on my behalf. During this trip we’ve walked in the footsteps of David, Solomon, Paul and Jesus. We’ve talked about how God led the Israelites to this land after years of slavery in Egypt and we have talked about God deliverance after Hezekiah prayed. But for me, one of the most profound moments came during a real-life object lesson in a Canaanite water system when I was ankle deep in mud.

Check out U2’s song “40” where is about this chapter in Psalms. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z_LBNF_-xI
Seeking the bottom
Down in the water system we are desperately seeking that firm ground at the bottom of the pool/basin area. Last season, we kept experiencing step downs in that area. Each time we thought we had reached the bottom, the floor would drop again. It was frustrating and confusing. While we have just moved a meter and a half back into the system, we are now more than three meters below the “last step.” On the Southern wall of the basin we have removed what amounts to a 4 ft. X 4 ft. X 10 ft. rectangle of dirt plus countless tons of rock above Macalister’s causeway (the course of stones the original archaeologist laid on the soggy basin area to reach the cavern beyond the water system). It had been a slow process, but we really made progress the past two days.

Over at the Neighbor’s House
Things continue to go well at Eli’s house. The team has encountered it’s share of Macalister fill. The Irish archaeologist cut large trenches across the tel during his excavations in the early 1900s. His methods left dumped material all around the tel and complicated the work of future archaeologists. However, it seems that the team has broken through all the previously excavated material in at least one part of the area. There the team discovered what appears to be a burn layer, possibly from one of the many times Gezer was destroyed by invading armies. The investigation continues.

Sleeping In
Today, the directors gave us a break.  We didn’t leave Neve Shalom until 7 a.m. instead of the usually 6 a.m. The extra sleep was great. We are all getting a bit worn down. Living out of a suit case can be tough and we are really working hard at the tel. It was especially helpful for the crew that worked last Friday and Saturday to build the ramp (they’ve worked 10 straight, hard days). Back to the regular schedule tomorrow … we’ll be ready. I am so hopefully that tomorrow will be the day that we find the absolute bottom of the water system. If not tomorrow, maybe the next day.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Gezer 2015 – Day Six: And Then There were Bags

Start of the day.
Mighty diggers making progress.

By Gary D. Myers

Great day today! We’ll call it day six of work (for the ramp builders, it is day eight of work).

Last night’s estimate of “close to 20 bags” of rock and debris awaiting the diggers today was a gross under estimate. I was trying to be optimistic about the time it would take to clear all the rocks. We pulled out 50 bags today and we still have more to clear in the morning. Most of it was the rock fall that Dr. Parker removed yesterday. These boulders were blocking our progress last year and again this year. These large stones had to be removed. So, on the one hand, it seems like halting progress to do cleanup work which produces no material which is helpful for dating the system. However, it all has to come out eventually. Before noon tomorrow we’ll be into that material for the sifters. We are expecting large quantities of pottery.

The best news today is that the ramp worked like a charm. It certainly received a workout with 50 very heavy bags of rocks.

"Doing dishes."

Eli’s House
Work continues at “Eli’s House.” The team working there is producing quite a bit of pottery. Archaeologists use all these broken pieces of pottery to determine when a house or other building was in use. Scholars have devoted countless hours of research in ceramics and have extensive knowledge about the distinctive pottery of each period. At the end of each day we wash all the sherds collected during the day and place them in boxes to dry. Most afternoons Eli “reads” pottery to determine dates. I really enjoy the pottery washing and pottery reading sessions each day. Apparently, not all of the volunteers feel the same about pottery washing.

Game Time
For the past few evenings,  after showers, lectures and supper, a large group of the Gezer team has gathered to play games on the patio attached to the Neve Shalom lobby. The game of choice, “High Cotton,” is much like “Spoons,” but it includes a dedicated set of cards and tokens rather than spoons. It has been rowdy and fun. The winners and losers of these matches will remain confidential.