#MyWheaton

Uncovering History in the Middle East

Posted April 7, 2017 by Abby VanderHart '17

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Whenever people ask me what I like best about Wheaton, I usually say it is all the opportunities made available, including the opportunity to study abroad. This summer I’ll be returning to Israel for the third time with a team from Wheaton, including Dr. Daniel Master and Dr. Adam Miglio, to participate in Wheaton’s archaeological excavation at Tel Shimron

A typical day includes getting up before the sun to beat the heat and get a few hours of work in before breakfast break around eight. The #1 tool on a dig is the trowel, used to find ancient floors, “cut the sections” of a trench (making sure the trench walls are tidy, so we can see the stratigraphic sequence), and to free artifacts from the surrounding soil. About midday we stop digging and return to the compound to wash the hundreds of pot sherds collected throughout the day. At Wheaton’s excavations, the professors give lectures in the evening about the site, relevant history, and geology. 

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In spite of these commonalities, I think it’s safe to say no two seasons of excavation are quite the same. In 2014, I was digging a Crusader period tower in Ashkelon, only several miles from Gaza. Due to the high tension that year, we moved north to work in the Jezreel Valley at Tel Megiddo. There I was working in Area K, a Bronze Age residential area where we excavated houses, whole vessels, several burials, and multiple silos. As strange as it may sound, probably my favorite discovery personally was a dirt floor in Area K, which was associated with the transition from the Middle to Early Bronze Period. As you can imagine, digging through dirt to find a dirt floor can sometimes be tricky, but it is really satisfying once you discover it, and can “trace” it to reveal a beaten earth surface created by the feet of people living thousands of years ago! My work at Tel Shimron two years later was even more of a different experience, as I was part of a survey team, doing geophysical work more than excavating. 

While these aspects of location, time period, and type of work can add endless diversity to an excavation season, the biggest contributor to this diversity is the team you are working with. One of my favorite aspects of excavating is the variety of people who participate. Volunteers usually represent an array of nationalities, a wide age range, and multiple religions. Moreover, the early mornings, Mediterranean heat, and long hours of physical labor allows for opportunities to see people at their best and sometimes their worst. While I love the work, the history, and the overseas experience, I equally anticipate meeting the staff members and volunteers on-site, learning to work with them and hearing about their lives and perspectives. I am particularly excited to be on staff at Tel Shimron this summer, and hope to help my team work well together. 

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Abby VanderHart '17 is a biblical archaeology major and serves as the co-captain of the Taekwondo club at Wheaton. Photo captions (top to bottom): Area K team at Megiddo (2014); Abby teaching local school children about the Ground Penetrating Radar work at Tel Shimron (2016); students working at Ashkelon uncovering a crusader “Snake Tower” (2014).

To read more about Wheaton’s biblical archaeology program, read Sarah Ostertag’s Wheaton magazine article and an interview with Dr. Daniel Master. To learn more about Wheaton, connect with Wheaton College Undergraduate Admissions. Set up a visit, or apply now.

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