A 4,000-year-old farm may not sound as exciting to excavate as a palace, but I found that exploring ancient agriculture was just as rewarding as digging up royal treasures.
With volunteers from all over the world, my archaeological target was three ancient farms in a valley near Jerusalem. These farms were buried under silt, surrounded by grass and, originally, separated by centuries. Officially we were part of the Department of Antiquities Ein Yael project with Gershon Edelstein as director. (See “Ancient Jerusalem’s Rural Food Basket,” BAR 08:04.) We were literally digging at the grass roots of an agricultural system extending from the era of the Canaanites, through the Iron Age monarchies of Israel, into Roman and Byzantine times and continuing until today. We labored to produce evidence of rural expertise in the land of abundant agricultural metaphors.
The Ein Yael project, an ambitious undertaking, nestles in limestone hills four miles southwest of Jerusalem. The new apartment blocks of modern Gilo perch on summits east of the site while the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv railroad tracks bisect the site. The ubiquitous stone terraces threading their way around the valley give mute testimony to the people who, long ago, struggled here to provide food for family and trade.