Shaun Short – BAS Scholarship Winner Goes Digging

Shaun ShortThe Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) offers scholarships to students to gain fieldwork experience at biblically relevant archaeological excavation sites. Current Portland Seminary student Shaun Short was the recipient of the scholarship. Hear about his experience in Israel in his own words:

As this was my first trip to Israel, I was very excited to merely step foot in the country, breathe in the culture and of course get my hands dirty in that ancient soil. I must say that my entire trip was made all the more memorable by the excellent staff at Tel Burna. Dr. Shai and his team exude professionalism and scholarly passion and their hospitality is unrivaled.

Upon my arrival at Kibbutz Gal’on I was immediately set to the task of pottery washing. This, as I was soon to realize, constitutes an integral part of the dig experience. And to be sure many a conversation was had and multiple friendships were forged over the scrubbing clean of those ancient ceramics. The routine of our week day had us awaking at 5 am to cookies and coffee and then embarking on our way to the site at around 5:40. From 6 to 9 we enjoyed the easy morning air and cool westerly breezes while setting about our respective tasks. At 9 breakfast was served, sandwiches from the kibbutz, and then more digging and excavating commenced until the heat of the noon hour. After a hearty lunch the bulk of our afternoons were usually comprised of a lengthy pottery washing session followed by the occasional site tour or lecture. Despite the World Cup matches airing nightly it was nevertheless a challenge to stay up much past 10 o’clock, morning would always come quickly.

The first couple of days certainly took some getting used to, but once a rhythm was found I can sincerely say that I doubt much will ever top the charm of that my first dig experience. There truly is something magical about digging an ancient story out of the dirt and exhuming those priceless artifacts that have been buried for 3,000-plus years. My first week on the Tel I spent a good deal of my time excavating in the most south western square of area A2 at a clear Iron Age II level of the seventh and eighth centuries. We discovered an area of collapse, and consequently evidence of some destruction, within a pit seemingly set in what would soon be recognized as a large four room house. I managed to dig up some nice definitive pieces of pottery and hopefully these will undergo some form of reconstruction. Most exciting was an area of obvious conflagration which we unearthed in the north eastern section of this square. This discovery however was made closer to the end of the dig cycle so we will only be able to get back at it next year to unravel more of the mystery, (and yes I say ‘we’ because I do truly plan to return!).

In the other squares of A2 some wonderful discoveries were made. Two complete vessels, one a jug the other a bowl, were found in situ within a very revealing section of the four room house. Further work was done on unearthing a large stone floor which seems to bridge the four room house with an apparent tripartite building to the north. These are all clear signs that some prestigious occupant resided here. On the whole a more definitive picture of the site’s prominence and construction during the Iron II Age was exposed this year and I was certainly delighted to be a part of the experience. For me, though, one of the highlights of this dig season was the discovery of a tomb upon a section of rolling gradient away to the north of the Tel. I should actually say ‘rediscovery’ as this tomb was evidently looted by grave robbers some 40 odd years ago. We set about digging through some of the debris that the robbers left behind and through some very loose soil at the tomb entrance but aside from a 1970’s cigarette lighter and an angry scorpion we didn’t find anything too incredible. The prospect is truly exciting however and begs further investigation. Evidently to dig out a tomb some very careful and necessary steps need to be taken. One doesn’t simply start burrowing in and hope for the best. I heard many a horror story about whole excavation teams succumbing to the deadly bacteria that reside in the dark dank of ancient resting places. So aside from perhaps getting kitted with the proper dry suits and masks there is the option to rip off the top layer of rock encasing the tomb and go about excavating down as one would any other site. It seems like this is the option Dr. Shai may take. Such talk is all very exciting but will have to wait until next year of course.

Shaun Short

My second week on the site was the final week of the dig and so we set about cleaning everything up as best we could and washing loads of pottery. It was truly great to see it all come together at the end. I was able to witness Tel Burna exposed for the first time via some fascinating technological achievement; our final day a team came out with a helicopter drone and shot a series of aerial photos while doing a 360 degree circuit of the site, cool stuff! We also were able to travel to Dr. Shai’s university in Ariel and see the prized collection of special finds from each respective season. This was a wonderful treat to be sure; I especially fell in love with the enormous, imported jugs from Cyprus that date to the Late Bronze Age. I didn’t get to dig in Area B, the clearly Late Bronze area, but some of the cultic artifacts discovered there are truly fascinating and have opened up a great deal of questions.

 It seems that the crew at Tel Burna have some big plans for expansion next year and I hope to join them in the mysteries awaiting discovery. My experience on the whole was just amazing and there is so much more to tell that I cannot give justice to in this brief description. I will say, though, that I learnt a great deal from merely being around the staff. I was very thankful for the lectures and some truly fascinating site tours and of course the gourmet food we were served at every meal. Tel Burna 2014 was for me an unforgettable experience and one I hope to relive. I am forever indebted to BAS for making the entire trip possible, without their generous scholarship this would only ever have amounted to a pipe dream. One thing is certain I will never cease promoting such an irreplaceable opportunity and what it meant to spend a sliver of time in a land that bears some of the oldest of the human imprint.

BAS is a nondenominational nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about archaeology and the Bible through its bi-monthly magazine, Biblical Archaeology Review, an award-winning website, books and multimedia products, and tours and seminars.