Gary Byers, Senior Archaeologist, Shiloh Excavation
“We exceeded all expectations, and I had pretty high ones!” was what Dig Director Scott Stripling said to the whole team at our final meeting on Friday evening. It was a wonderfully successful first season for the ABR Shiloh Excavation.
By the end of our fourth and final week, we had over 100 staff and volunteer diggers participate in the project. Collectively, we dug, washed, and analyzed about 2,000 pottery sherds daily. Each day on site, Scott and dig staff – including the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) staff working with us – analyzed (we call it “read”) every sherd. Out of all we look at, only about 5% are kept for further study.
We call this on-site reading of the pottery (each sherd was dug and “washed” the day before) our first reading. A second reading occurs back in Jerusalem with our two ceramic specialists – Perez Reuven (Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Early Islamic) and Bryant Wood (Iron and Bronze Ages). Finally, specific sherds are chosen for publication.
In addition, over 700 objects were registered from 10 squares over the 4 weeks of excavation – that includes assorted items of jewelry, tools, and weapons made from either stone or metal. For the season, we found 15 pieces of Jewish ritual stone vessels, two almost complete pottery vessels, and 100 coins for the season. An additional 150 coins were cataloged outside our work area.
All these objects were found either in the squares, in our dry sift of the excavated soil, or from our additional wet sift process of the already dry-sifted soil (supervised by Greg Gulbrandsen). Ellen Jackson, our metal detectorist, worked in conjunction with our dig team everywhere – in the squares, at the dry sift and with the IAA staff in some of their other excavation areas at Shiloh.
During this fourth week, we had three squares excavating along the outside (north) face of Shiloh’s massive 5.5m-wide Middle Bronze Age (MBA; Canaanite period) perimeter wall – with each square exposing as many as seven courses of the wall’s face. Mark Hassler’s team reached bedrock first – last week – and were the first to close out their square for the season this week. They also finished the season as the square with the most objects recorded. Matt Glassman’s team reached bedrock next, on Thursday, and David Graves’ group finally hit bedrock at 4.2 meters on Friday – at the 11th hour!
Inside the MB wall – 5.5 meters away – my team was tasked with finding and clarifying the wall’s inside face. We did so on Wednesday, ultimately exposing it across the full 5m-length of our square. Next to us, Suzanne Lattimer’s team identified two adjacent MB storerooms built against the wall’s inner face. Together, our squares found four of these storerooms, the eastern-most exposed as we were cleaning up for final photos at the end of the dig day on Friday!
But neither of our squares reached floor level in any of the storerooms, let alone bedrock. Yet, in identifying these additional rooms, Suzanne also connected us with the previously known storerooms to the west, found by the Danish excavation in the 1920s. That increased the total number of known consecutive MB storerooms to 12 – spanning a distance of about 50 meters along the inner face of the MB wall on the north side of the site.
Also excavating inside the city wall, Abigail Leavitt and Phil Silvia had three squares where they had already identified Roman era (New Testament period) structures. This week they both dug down to reach structures from the Iron Age (Israelite) period. Phil’s square had the second-most objects recorded for the season, and it appeared that cooking activity occurred in his square from Roman through Israelite times. Abigail supervised two squares and has exposed more walls than anyone else – ranging from Roman to early Iron Age.
As the third major excavation mounted at Shiloh in almost 100 years, ABR considers the opportunity to conduct this dig as a special privilege. We also recognize the critical role played by the IAA staff in making accommodations and providing daily support to this project. It was truly a joint effort.
As a member of the ABR Board of Directors and Senior Archaeologist on the Shiloh staff, I also want to commend Director Scott Stripling’s effective leadership. The culmination of three years of planning, he organized everything necessary and assembled a great team – resulting in the completion of a wonderful first season on the ground at Shiloh.
Of course, our successful season wouldn’t have been possible without your prayers and support – and while excavations are over for 2017, the work of Shiloh Season One is not. Pottery and objects will continue to be catalogued by our ABR team and analyzed by our specialists, including the Israeli team members. There’s much more data to be processed and reports to be written before Season One officially closes out.
So, we’ll keep on working and you keep on praying – and giving, as God leads. And we’ll continue to follow His admonition to “go to the place in Shiloh where I caused my name to dwell and see what I did to it” (Jeremiah 7:12).
View Photos of the Shiloh Excavation on the ABR FaceBook Page: Shiloh Excavations Photo Album 2017