Biblical Archaeology Review 20:1, January/February 1994
1994 Excavation Opportunities

Diggers—From Paid Peasants to Eager Volunteers

By Kenneth Atkinson

“The best age for diggers is about 15 to 20 years. After that many turn stupid, and only a small proportion are worth having between 20 and 40. After 40 very few are of any use,” advised Sir William Flinders Petrie in 1904.1 Fifteen years earlier, Petriea had ushered in the era of scientific archaeological excavation at Tell el-Hesi, 15 miles northeast of Gaza in modern Israel.2 Petrie’s experiences in the field led him to offer his fellow archaeologists hints on what to look for in laborers:

“The best workers are the scraggly under-sized youths, with wizened wiry faces. … Beside the mere physical strength of the fellow, the face has to be studied for the character. The only safe guide in selecting workers is the expression. …The qualities to be considered are, first, the honesty, shown mostly by the eyes, and by a frank and open bearing; next, the sense and ability; and lastly the sturdiness, and freedom from nervous weakness and hysterical tendency to squabble.”3

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