Biblical Archaeology Review 35:1, January/February 2009

Megiddo, Israel

Armageddon: Even better the second time around!

I had wished for this summer to come ever since the last day of the 2006 season at Tel Megiddo, when I fell in love with archaeology and decided that I had found a path for my future. Everything about my experience two years ago—the expert training, the enthusiastic team, the fantastic location and the chance to work with some of the most famous, interesting and controversial materials in the Levant—encouraged me to work tirelessly on my study of archaeology at Barnard College so that I would be able to take on a supervisory role when I returned.

The day I had longed for finally arrived this June, when I went back to the tell as a square supervisor in a new area, the Assyrian-period Area Q (Chicago Stratum III), excavated previously by the University of Chicago during the first half of the 20th century and also used as a battleground during Israel’s War of Independence. The square I oversaw, under the direction of Dr. Eric Cline (George Washington University) and Dr. Norma Franklin (Tel Aviv University), began as a dry, grassy, overgrown field. It took just 48 hours of tarp pitching, weeding, scraping, measuring and cleaning for our fantastic team to transform it into an active site.

Starting over from scratch in Area Q after another team had already worked there was both challenging and interesting: a challenge because we didn’t always know for sure where the Chicago team had worked, and interesting because, among other things, I learned a lot from the aerial photographs and drawings I was able to examine before we started. The Chicago team’s physical work, planning and record keeping made this a unique experience for those of us who had excavated elsewhere before; it’s not every day that an archaeologist gets to continue and improve upon someone else’s project.

My square had been a 4-by-4-meter mess of walls the last time I saw it. It probably could not have been more confusing, but it certainly kept me busy. In one corner was a large stone that had fallen on its side but was too large to lift out (and also partially in the balk). Diagonally across from this was a “room” with a 4-inch deposit of fine pottery, shells and other small finds. And finally, next to that, there were two adjoined walls with mysterious “empty courses” of dirt between phases.

Thankfully, I was blessed with a marvelous team: a biological anthropology student who was able to tell me everything about each bone we uncovered, a detail-oriented student who knew nothing about archaeology at first, and two “big strong men” who were there whenever we needed a tough job done or a wall taken out. All of these students were first-time excavators, a fact that made my job multifaceted: I was a teacher, a supervisor and a digger. I was determined to give these new visitors to the tell what the tell had given me: solid academic training, an introduction to field work, and a group of unforgettable friends and colleagues. I was challenged with balancing my own note taking and drawing, checking objects in with the registrar, physical excavation work, taking levels, deciding what to work on throughout the day and teaching my square-mates everything they needed to know about archaeology—from field methods to theoretical approaches to the discipline. I often found myself having to explain what I was doing while doing it and why. This made me more critical of my own methods and also taught me how to adequately convey the information archaeologists draw from a deposit and the reasons for employing particular excavation methods. I also had to show my team how to employ these methods—I actually taught people how to brush dirt! I know that sounds silly—laugh if you must—but it’s a necessary skill.

Supervising a square has changed my perspective regarding dig practices and decision making. I saw the behind-the-scenes organizational work of the expedition, and I got to make my own choices when it came to how to proceed with a given task. I kept my own set of notes and compared levels with our registrar, assigned jobs and learned from my superiors more and more every day about how to manage an excavation, as well as how to hone my own skills.

During the course of the first session, we collected dozens of rounds and casings from British guns. Some of our more ancient finds included beads, animal bones, stone relief fragments and loom weights. We also uncovered pieces of faience and slag, and even clay stoppers with the gypsum still attached. I found myself both baffled and excited every morning when I stepped into our square, with trowel in one hand and beef jerky (for our morale-boosting 11 a.m. break) in the other.

The relationship I now have with the directors and supervisors at Megiddo has certainly changed since 2006. When I arrived at pottery reading every evening, I felt a sense of encouragement and appreciation that I had yearned for during my past three seasons in the field. People were taking me seriously—world-renowned archaeologists were taking me seriously.

This season also witnessed two now infamous food-related instances in Area Q: the day when all of the British students tried Oreos for the first time, and the day when I introduced them to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The PB&J was a big hit, but not as big as the Oreos.

As I understand, this year’s Megiddo Expedition was the most popular ever. More than a hundred people—of all ages, backgrounds and fields of study—joined the team in the Jezreel Valley for the first session of the dig season. My first time working in Assyrian-period strata, my first try at keeping a supervisor’s log and my first opportunity to lead a team all took place in a country where I hope one day to work as a professional. Going back to Megiddo this summer was exhilarating. I value greatly the experience afforded me by the Biblical Archaeology Society, and will look back on my second summer at Megiddo with gratitude and fondness.