• Excavations at Hazor Comments Off on Reflections on the 2009 Season at Hazor

    By Gordon Franz

    This year the Hazor archaeological excavation was conducted from June 21-July 31, 2009 under the able leadership of the co-directors: Professor Amnon Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman.  Most of our efforts for this season were concentrated in Area M on the northern slopes of the Upper City overlooking the Lower City.  In charge of this area were the co-area supervisors: Sharon Zuckerman and Shlomit Becher.
    There were about 35 volunteers from 14 countries (Israel, USA, Canada, Russia, Spain, England, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, and Ireland).  Some participated for the three week session, but a number of volunteers were there for the entire six weeks.  We also had local Israelis join us for a day or two here and there.

    Our accommodations this year were at the holiday village of Kibbutz Kfar Ha’Nassi.  We were the only group in the holiday village for the entire six weeks so it created a nice community atmosphere.  This was unlike previous seasons at Kibbutz Mahanaim and the Etap Galil Hotel where there were other groups as well and they made all kinds of noise at all hours of the night!  Kfar Ha’Nassi had a pleasant and quiet atmosphere and the kibbutzniks were very friendly.

    The meals at the holiday village were excellent and there was plenty of food.  The evening cook, Zohar, would make us fresh, tasty pizza (it wasn’t NY style thin crust pizza but it was close enough for any connoisseur of fine pizza)!  He also made a variety of ravioli dishes and cooked eggs anyway you wanted them.  Normally one’s weight drops on a dig, but that was not the case this summer.  There were a lot of happy campers this season.

    Weekends were free to do whatever you wanted.  Those who were in Israel for the first time wanted to see as much as they could so they took off by bus or car to see and experience as much as possible.  Usually they came back Sunday night exhausted, but satisfied because they accomplished their goals.  The veterans usually lounged around the kibbutz, read a good book, did laundry the old fashion way, went swimming in the kibbutz swimming pool, visited the kibbutz pub, or enjoyed a spectacular view of the Golan Heights from an overview at the eastern end of the kibbutz.  On some weekends, I had the opportunity to travel in the vicinity of Hazor and the Sea of Galilee in order to explore and take pictures of various sites for an article that I am working on entitled “Jesus at Hazor.”  My thanks to Curtis, Steve, Jay and Brian for driving, I appreciate it.

    The only downside of staying at Kfar Ha’Nassi was that it was 7 km east of the junction on the main road and Rosh Pinna, and there was no bus service to or from the kibbutz.  In order to get out of the kibbutz, one had to ask somebody for a ride to the junction.  Fortunately some of the volunteers rented cars for the season, or at least on weekends.  In previous years we could walk to the main road and catch a bus to wherever, or walk to Hazor Ha-Gelilit in order to shop for things.  Kfar Ha’Nassi, however, did have a well stocked supermarket for basic needs and food to supplement ones eating and drinking habits!

    So, what happened this season at the excavations?  The bottom line is that we moved a lot of dirt and rocks out of Area M.  I was the Dump Master again this year, but was delighted to have the Dump King, Robin from Canada, back again so he could advise me from his vast storehouse of knowledge on dumps.  In previous seasons he taught me everything I needed to know about building a great dump!  An executive decision was made by the powers that be to begin and refill Area A-5.  So this season that is where all our dirt was deposited.  At the beginning of the season it was a bit depressing for Robin and me to dump dirt into A-5 because we had spent at least three summers of our lives hauling dirt out of that area.  I nicknamed the dump, Mizpeh David (the overlook of David) in honor of my friend and the area supervisor of A-5, David Ziegler.
    Our goal for the season in Area M was to get through the 8th century level and into the 9th century, the time of King Ahab (I Kings 16:28-22:39).  We were almost successful, but there are still a few walls and floors that remain from the 8th century.  These, I am sure, will disappear at the beginning of next season.

    The current thinking among the staff is that since Area M is outside the Solomonic city of Hazor there should be no 10th century remains in the area.  Thus, after the 9th century level is removed, it should be smooth sailing to the Late Bronze age level and hopefully the LB archive.
    This season we were approaching floor levels, or were on floor levels, so there were lots of small finds.  The square in the southwest corner of the area was known as the “magic square” because of all the goodies that were found there.  Shaul the Younger (14 years old) found an intact cooking pot.  Fortunately, his square mate, Big John from California, had loosened up the dirt in the area with a pickax but did not break the vessel before Shaul found it!  After Shaul carefully excavated around it, the vessel was finally removed and stored in the office until the end of the season.  Then I sifted and floated the content of the dirt inside the cooking pot to see what the last meal was.  The only bone I recognized was a single fish bone.  We await the lab analysis.  When Shaul the Younger left, he was replaced by James from Michigan who found an intact juglet in the square.  Big John also found a stand for the cooking pot and an intact bowl in the magic square.  There is even a picture on the Facebook site of him eating cereal from the bowl! 🙂

    This was Dr. Curtis from Florida’s fourth season digging at Hazor.  In previous seasons he had not discovered anything of real importance.  This summer was different; he found a beautiful small three legged basalt incense burner and also a bird figurine in the sewer he was working in.  Like they say, “One persons junk is another person’s treasure!”

    Terra from Hawaii found a zoomorphic figurine as well as a basalt roller for the grass on the roof of the house.  During the Iron Age, houses had thatched roofs covered with mud / dirt and grass growing on top (Ps. 129:6; Isa. 37:27).  The rollers were used to pack down the dirt.
    Wolfgang, a colonel in the German army, found a beautiful Egyptian pendant in the room he was working in.  Two others of the same type were found in an alley by Dr. Sharon and Ryan from Georgia.

    Dan from Upstate NY had very keen eye-sight and spotted a small gold ear-ring, most likely worn by a child.  Other exciting finds include three scarabs.  Two were made of semi-precious stone and one had an inscription on it.  Other finds by different volunteers can be seen on the “Hazor 2009” Facebook page.

    So what did I do and what did I find this season?  Besides taking care of the dump, I was promoted (at least I think it was a promotion) to doing dry sifting, preparation for wet sifting and floatation.  I would like to think it was because of my experience sifting at Ketef Hinnom and the Temple Mount Sifting Project and I knew what to look for.  This summer I found 3 or 4 arrowheads, a circular lead object which is probably a pendant, and a lead weight that could be attached to a fishing net that was used to catch fish in nearby Lake Huleh.  Interestingly, in the excavations and in the sifting there were a lot of fish bones discovered indicating that fish were part of the Hazor diet.

    Floatation is a process whereby dirt is put into water and the organic matter floats to the surface and is caught.  Later the organic matter is analyzed in the labs by archaeo-botanists to see what things were present on the floor of a house in antiquity.  The excavation had a fancy machine that did the floatation process but it took 25-30 minutes per bucket to float the organic matter.  Once I understood the process, I developed a technique with everyday kitchen objects so we could cut down the floatation time to 10 minutes or less.  That was my main contribution for this year.

    Shlomit’s MA thesis at Hebrew University is on analyzing the content of the floor of one of the Iron Age houses in Area M.  She and some of the volunteers did a meticulous job of excavating the floor.  I had the opportunity and privilege to do some of the sifting and all of the floatation for her project.  I hope she gets good results from the labs because this thesis will be an important contribution to our understanding of daily life at Hazor during the 8th century BC.

    One day I worked with Robin and Ido from Jerusalem and helped them clean out an “installation” (bathtub?) in the floor in the corner of an Iron Age house.  There were lots of large body shards that could be restored to make complete vessels.  Robin also found a lead weight in the installation.

    Several nights a week we had very informative lectures after dinner by Amnon, Sharon, and Shlomit on various aspects of the Hazor excavations.  We even had a guest lecture by Nimrod from Haifa University on bones and what they can tell an archaeologist about how people lived in the past.  One evening, Tommy, the 82 year old kibbutznik who dug with us, gave a fascinating talk on the history of the Kibbutz Kfar Ha’Nassi and the surrounding region.  He was basically telling his life story because he lived the history of the modern State of Israel!

    I promised Sharon I would be at Hazor until the Late Bronze Age (that’s like “Back to the Future”).  Join us next year as we move more dirt and rocks and work our way down to the that period.  Check out the Hazor website for the details on the dates and cost of the excavation.  It’s a great experience.


  • Jerusalem Comments Off on The Pleasure of Dust!

    By Stephanie Hernandez

    Nineteen people, most of them strangers to each other, descended on Jerusalem in the last weeks of June. Most met at Newark Airport in New Jersey, others joined the group in the coming days. There were the usual questions: “Where are you from?”; “Is this your first trip to Israel?”; “What do you do for a living?” and the occasional “What was your name again?” But by the end of our two-week journey, friendships were forged that are sure to last a lifetime, with the common bond of Israel and the Lord at there center.

    The Associates for Biblical Research’s Temple Mount Sifting Project group participants came from all over America, and even all over the world. But we all shared one common desire: to know the city of Jerusalem where the Lord chose to set as His capital, a place where the grace, wrath, love, hope, and faithfulness of the Lord was revealed to mankind in the past and will continue well into the future. It was the chance to hold Biblically-related history in our hands that interested many in the program. With the exception of a few people, most of the group members had no experience in archaeology or even sifting. Yet by the time they left, each person had a firm grasp of the immense importance of the very soil of the Temple Mount and the land of Israel. “My personal discovery about archaeology,” participant Scott Astbury remarks, “was that it first and foremost provides you with undeniable evidence of existence.”

    Our typical day would begin around 7AM with a great breakfast prepared by the kitchen staff at the comfortable and welcoming Gloria Hotel, situated just inside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. Gathered around the table, we would talk about the previous day’s events and speak with excitement of what was to take place that day. Most days we toured the city of Jerusalem in the morning and then proceeded to the Temple Mount Sifting Site in the eastern part of Jerusalem, but there were a few days when we went first to the sifting site, and then explored the city in the afternoon. Although the option of a taxi was available to anyone who needed it, almost all of the participants chose to walk to the sifting site every day, through the winding, and sometimes confusing, streets of the Old City. Once outside the gates, we walked along the walls of the Old City, passed people who live in the midst of this multi-religious center, those who have made their homes in the most contentious city in the world. The last stretch of the walk to the site was a difficult one, with a steep climb to the Zurim Valley National Park, where the Temple Mount Sifting Project is established.

    No doubt a few were surprised when we were greeted by the sight of an armed guard standing watch over the Palestinian section of eastern Jerusalem, himself responsible for guarding the contended soil from the Temple Mount, which was at the center of an intense legal battle beginning in 1999. On our arrival, we were greeted by Zachi Zweig, who in 1999 called a press conference to bring to light the illegal removal of soil from the Temple Mount by the Islamic Waqf and the subsequent dumping of the soil in the Kidron Valley and elsewhere. We were given an introductory presentation in which the history of the project and some interesting finds were revealed. On another day, Assaf Avraham who is the day-to-day supervisor, gave us a brief lecture on one of the most interesting finds, various-size stone fragments that were used as pavement on the Temple Mount called opus sectile, mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus in the his epic work The Jewish Wars. Afterwards, we delved into the archaeological matrix that hid millennia-old history in its dust with the help of the Temple Mount Sifting staff.

    Sifting the dirt involved dumping a bucket of water-soaked dirt onto a screen, then spraying the dirt with water in order to remove the dirt from the materials, which is often referred to as wet-sifting.  Others helped with the dry screening, or the sifting of dry dirt through mesh screens, while others worked the “T-4” pile, a large pile of oversized rocks and debris taken from the Temple Mount. It is in this pile that the pieces of opus sectile were found. After we were finished sifting a bucket, a staff member would check the screen to make sure nothing was missed. By the second week, the staff felt we had a firm grasp of sifting and no longer checked our screens for overlooked artifacts. On several occasions the members would find more uncommon artifacts, such as coins, Roman jewelry, and even a die. These special finds were then given to Tali, one of the staff members, who would tag and register the artifact. Materials such as mosaic tiles, small pieces of ceramics and bone, and pieces of glass were found on a regular basis. Yet although the common site of broken pottery was not an extraordinary find, it reminded us of the words of Isaiah the Prophet, who, in Isaiah 30:14, spoke of a time when Israel’s sin would “break into pieces like pottery, shattered so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be found for taking coals from a hearth or scooping water out of a cistern.”

    I believe that it was during the sifting that we all got to know each other a little better.  Bent over dripping screens, the group members began to get to know each other.  Be it religion, politics, music, movies, or personal experiences, there was no topic that did not help us to become better acquainted with those whom we shared this amazing experience. Participant Sandy Souza observes, “I agree heartily with [archaeologist] Gabriel Barkay that the best discovery is the people, the ABR team in particular, and also the old and new friends we met in Jerusalem”. Our talks would continue outside the sifting site, usually on the strenuous walk back to our hotel, up the ancient hills of Jerusalem, back through the winding corridors of the Old City. We often stopped along the way, with Gordon pointing out a historical part of Jerusalem and discussing the always important relation to the Bible. Participant Paula Owen agrees, stating, “Gordon successfully created both picturesque and cherished lessons and memories that ultimately left an unforgettable impact on us all!”

    Weekends were a little more relaxed than the weekdays. On Shabbat, a bus would be chartered that took us around to the different sites outside Jerusalem, to Lachish, the Elah Valley, Masada and the Dead Sea. Taking in the passing Israeli countryside was met with awe and wonder. The mixture of beauty and peace and glimpses of the wall separating Jerusalem from the West Bank reminded us all that the time has not yet come for Divine peace in this region. But with this realization came the excitement and assurance of knowing the final outcome, where there will be no more tears, no more death or mourning or crying or pain. With that, we sat back and enjoyed the ride.

    But there was always time to sit and reflect. Whether it was walking silently through the Muslim Quarter, staring off into the distance on the shore of the Dead Sea, taking in the bustling of Ben Yehuda Street, or listening to the bells from the churches in the Christian Quarter, we came to see the rarity of the city of Jerusalem and the frustration of an imperfect world were the City of Peace does not yet exist. The true Jerusalem, the true Israel, is something that must be experienced for oneself. Words cannot do it justice, and pictures do even less. Through this project we agreed with the Psalmist that “her stones are dear to your servants; her very dust moves them to pity” (Ps 102:14).  The Temple Mount Sifting Project and touring of the land of Israel made every single participant come away from the experience with a new, profound understanding and appreciation for the words of the prophets, the kings, and the Lord Himself concerning Jerusalem and Israel, as well as the very stones of Israel itself. It almost leaves me, well, speechless.

    Stephanie Hernandez graduated with a BA in archaeology and anthropology from Biola University. She has done field archaeology in California and was the ABR hostess for the 2009 Temple Mount Sifting Project. She has also participated in the Hazor excavations.  She will be the ABR hostess for the January 2010 Temple Mount Sifting Project.  For more information, see the ABR website.



    1978    Jewish Wars.  Books 4-7.  Vol. 3.  Trans. by H. Thackeray.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 210.

    This article first appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Bible and Spade, Vol. 22, no. 1, pages 9-11.


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