Dig at Et-Tell and other Happenings

I’ve been intending to post some pictures from our dig in November… I know, that was a long time ago… seems like ages past. So here is brief update.

We uncovered several important structures from the Bronze Age at Et-Tell. Particularly noteworthy was a bronze age destruction level exposed during the last several days of digging. This was a nice reward for two weeks of digging through what was mostly sterile soil. We were well over 8′ down when we began to uncover pieces of burnt mud-brick and charcoal, and then the corner of a building constructed with large stones typical of the bronze age. In the last few days we encountered a definite destruction level comprised of compacted mud brick and charcoal. Unfortunately, we did not have time to dig into this level. It will have to wait for another season. It is never easy to find stratification on a site that has already been dug extensively, but we have it at Et-Tell.

Luke was able to come and join us for a week. He is officially the first student of the Jerusalem Field School. He was also the only student of JFS so we dubbed him “the student body.” If we can get more like him then it will be worth it. We packed a lot into the week, including a trip to the Dead Sea, a tour of Tel Balata (Shechem), Gerizim, Samaria, and major sites around Jerusalem.

I stayed in Israel several more weeks to lead a tour for some friends from Nantucket and East Virginia. We spent a day visiting sites in the Shephelah and spent the rest of the time in the Galilee. It was a privilege to tour with them. I fully expect them to reciprocate when I make my pilgrimage to the birthplace of Melville’s Moby Dick.

I’ve done a fair amount of travelling since then, in Jordan, Greece and Egypt. I made it back back to Canada for a few months at Christmas. One of the fellows I met on the dig joined me in Jordan. I was grateful for his company for that leg of the trip.

I am envious of the explorers who explored Syria and Palestine on horseback. They got to experience the land in a way that we never will. Gone are the days when you could ride a horse through the Galilee, cross the mountains into Lebanon, survey the great city of Damascus, and then continue on to Baalbek! What a ride that must have been! The travel diaries of those early explorers makes for interesting reading.

You can still find a decent horse in Egypt although it is hit and miss. I found a guide at Giza who had horses and also knew how to get us into the site after closing hours. Unfortunately a dust storm blew in that afternoon. I told the guide that there was no point in making the journey since I was there to get pictures of the pyramids. He insisted that the storm would pass and the air would clear! Yeah right! But it turned out to be the perfect photo-op.

I met Titus in Cairo. We caught a ride to St. Catherine the next day. It began to rain, which is a rare occurrence in the Sinai, but what we experienced was something different. It rained for three days strait. The roof of our lodge began to leak. The power cycled on and off. Those were some dark, damp, cold days. But the cook made pretty good shish-kabab and rice. He reminded me of Wallace in Wallace and Grommet. He poured our drinks with all the flair of a Parisian waiter: heels together, slight bend at the waist, arm placed behind his back. That lodge had seen better days but tourism in the Sinai has fallen to barely a trickle.

Our lodge in St. Catherine. You can’t see it but the whole ceiling was dripping with moisture.

Although the rain forced us to spend several more days in the Sinai than originally planned, we were able to get some unique pictures of Jebel Musa and the monastery covered in clouds. Father Justin kindly gave us a tour of the monastery library and showed us the high tech cameras they are using to scan manuscripts. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The monastery also served real coffee.

Our next stop was Serabit El Kahdim. We traveled through some beautiful and wild country. The only signs of civilization were poppy fields… not joking! Apparently opium is a major export. We stayed at a bedouin camp for the night. I had forgotten how the stars look in the desert on a cool, clear night. It is something we miss in our cities.

The trip back from the Sinai turned out to be more expensive than anticipated since the main highway was washed out in several places and many of the smaller roads were washed away completely. Thankfully, we had a Land Cruiser and an expert Bedouin driver.

Road to Serabit el-Khadim

Titus and I were just about to board a flight for Aswan when a mutual friend of ours called from Jordan. “You have to get out of there!” In the mean time the gate attendant was pressing us to board. Sadly, we had to walk away from the ticket but it turned out to be the right decision. Almost immediately Egypt Air announced that they would suspend all domestic flights. This created a stampede for the exits as people tried to buy tickets out of Egypt. Not many days later all international flights were suspended.

I spent a month in quarantine in a small flat in downtown Calgary. It looked nice on Air BnB but after a month in a small flat decorated with IKEA accessories I was ready for a change. Thankfully I had plenty to keep me occupied. My main project these days has been an online history curriculum. I had hoped to have a first version up and running by Christmas but obviously that hasn’t happened. It’s proven to be a greater technical challenge than anticipated. These are the calculations sent to me the other day by the developer. The lunar landing is scheduled for the end of summer!

So what’s next? We plan to continue the excavation at Et-Tell in the Fall. I’ve updated the sign-up page to reflect the new dates. Unfortunately, we will not be able to confirm these dates until one month before the dig begins. Of course, I will not collect payment before then. If you are interested, sign up, and I will keep you posted.

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