“The answers lie below,” said the voice over my shoulder.
It was my first season digging on a “tell” mound—back in 1960—and I was puzzling over a crude concentration of rocks poking up through the first surface my team had reached. What kind of installation could it be?
“If you dig deeper, you may figure it out.” The voice was Lawrence Toombs, senior archaeologist on the Shechem excavations. Following Larry’s advice, I put down a small probe alongside the rock formation and quickly had my answer: Later settlers had dug a deep pit from some building phase above that had been lost through erosion. They subsequently filled it in with rocks, and the muddy soil that then washed in among those stones was all that now held them together. That ancient pit fill was not very important, but the lesson I learned stayed with me through decades of digging.
Unfortunately, the successive layers of human use that make up a tell are sometimes confusingly intermixed. For the archaeologist, however, the initial feelings of frustration soon give way to the excitement of the quest and the satisfactions of sorting out those intrusive pits or successive wall phases.