Every morning during this past week, the sun has risen between the hills east of the ancient tel of Shiloh, and we get to see the western hills capture this early light and see the shadows against those hills gradually fade. In this daily beauty, we have completed the third of four weeks of ABR's Shiloh excavation. We had some of our team depart after the second week to return to classes or other obligations and had new team members arrive to the site for the third week. All workers have remained strong and dedicated as we confronted the highest temperatures yet on this dig.
Some of the most common finds this past week have been sling stones, grinding stones, bone pieces, flint points/tools, and coins (we have 188 coins thus far from our section of the tel). Our metal detectorist, Ellen Jackson, continues to find an arsenal of weaponry from bullet shells and casings to the actual bullets. Some interesting jewelry has also been found including five beautiful and varied rings. After week three, we have over 500 registered objects.
One of the goals of this year’s excavation has been to locate the city wall between the previous Danish and Israeli excavations. The largest and deepest exposure of this Middle Bronze Age city wall is in Mark Hassler’s square. Mark’s team earned the distinct honor of being the first team of the first ABR excavation at Shiloh to reach bedrock. (They got an ice cream party out of that.) Most of us don’t see much of Mark’s team during the day because of the depth of their square—currently at about 3 meters below ground level. His team noted the very pleasant and cool temperature difference down in the trenches.
Moving south-east from Mark’s square is Suzanne Lattimer’s square. When asked what she had in her square, she adamantly replied “Nothing...Nothing!,” and then she proceeded to relay the complexities of her pristine square. Her team has excavated three definite walls and two possible doorways. Two of these walls are parallel and are a curious 1.9 m apart from each other, which is the same distance the Danish excavators previously noted for the distance between their storeroom walls. Gracing the side of one of these walls is a roughly 20 cm² layer of plaster. Progress has been difficult for the last three days, as her team has been clarifying any potential answers to their wall/doorway riddles. However, this challenging time has led to an immaculate square with marvelously clear stratification to enable a clear understanding of the relation of these levels to the rest of the site.
Continuing directly east is Phil Silvia’s square. If there has been a square for the jackpot of finds, Phil and his team have the place to be. Their square has been open for only six days, and they have registered forty objects already in less than a meter of excavation. They have found an interesting glass piece that may suggest glass production at Shiloh, and they have also found the first complete ring base/jar stand with what appears to be a potter’s mark—fascinatingly, we have seen this same mark on multiple objects here at Shiloh. Phil’s square appears to be set directly on a room with their north and west walls being definite and right on their square’s north and west boundary lines. The east wall is being clarified.
North of Phil’s is Gary Byer’s square. Gary had a probable Iron Age II pavement that was documented, drawn, photographed, and removed to continue digging further down in the square. Surrounding these stones is what appears to be a fairly consistent and brilliant mudbrick layer. Adjacent to this mudbrick layer is the exciting inner face of the Middle Bronze Age city wall with an additional perpendicular wall connecting to this large city wall and also paralleling six similar walls in other squares across the site.
North-east of Gary is David Graves and his team. In their square, the northern-most square of our ABR site, they have a clear, gorgeous, and bold front face of the Middle Bronze Age city wall crossing their entire square. The wall appears to be 5.3 meters wide and will await final confirmation on the south edge after the team attempts to reach bedrock on the north side this next week. Curiously, built inside this Middle Bronze wall is a Roman-era room with four large storage jars. In this context, the Romans efficiently repurposed what was already there.
Moving south-east, we have Abigail Leavitt’s two squares, both being the furthest east of our ABR site this year. Declared by our Excavation Director as “the labyrinth that comprises [square] AH29,” Abigail and her team are blessed by having a confusing number of walls: five, with possibly two other angled walls. Resting on the top of a section of one of these walls is about a 40 cm² section of plaster. To add to the confusion, two coins have been found in their square that were not really what they were expecting to fine, as these coins have added to the puzzle of Abigail’s squares.
As being the only excavation in Israel outside of Jerusalem that is using wet-sifting in the field, this week has yielded some fascinating finds. Greg Gulbransen, head of the wet-sifting of ABR’s Shiloh team, said that we have “definite evidence of having at least an Iron Age habitation and possibly earlier.” Among other finds this past week, Greg’s team found a beautiful four-layered glass eye bead clarifying this probable Iron Age status of the square.
It is one thing to excavate and clarify the ground at the dig site. It is an essential and huge additional responsibility to prepare all of the objects and pottery that we find for publication. Our entire team knows the amazing work that two other teams do with ABR: those who register the objects (this is done by cataloguing, measuring, weighing, and drawing each of the over 500 objects found thus far), and those who register the pottery (this includes cataloguing, organizing, sawing, drawing, and labeling all of the pottery designated for publication). Those who do this admit that it takes everyone doing their part to make sure this all gets done accurately and professionally. The level of pottery handled this year at Shiloh is about four times that of last year’s excavation at Khirbet el-Maqatir, which makes for a very busy operations room at our home base at the Ritz Hotel in Jerusalem. The pottery team stays at the hotel during the day in order to process the large amount of pottery found on the previous excavation day.
As one of the biggest and most practical finds this past week at Shiloh, we have purchased a clothes-washing machine. Unless the team member decides to relive the joy of washing clothes in the sink or bathtub, we can now use our time-saving washing machine. How wonderfully nice!
Additional advances in technology at Shiloh this year include the use of ipads in all squares at the dig site to enable almost entirely electronic recording of all data at the site as well as the ability to take photos and videos and immediately connect them to the proper documentation. Daily electronic transfer of site information also enables all square supervisors to see particular items, data, and top plans in their colleagues’ squares while at the site. Weekly, the team gets to hear the buzz of one of the ABR drones which we’ve used to photograph the site to clarify the big picture and to see where walls may be traversing across all of our squares. The ABR team is developing the process of doing archaeology in the field for a new generation of computer-users.
Other new and very helpful processes include a sifting contraption developed by Steve Rudd so there is less bending over, greater ease of transferring sifted soil away from the sifting area, and a chute able to collect all of the material for wet-sifting. Additional archaeologists have been able to come to the site or convene back in Jerusalem for daily pottery reading, thus giving more clarity and professional discussion on our pottery dating.
It is a very exciting new chapter in the archaeological life of ABR as we approach the fourth and final week of our 2017 excavation at Shiloh. Thank you for keeping up to date with our activities here, and please consider joining Director Scott Stripling and all of the volunteers in person for our 2018 season at one of the very intriguing and uniquely special dig sites in Israel. If you wish to support the dig financially, simply follow this link, and specify in the “Instructions” section that you desire to fund the Shiloh Excavations.
View Photos of the Shiloh Excavation on the ABR FaceBook Page: Shiloh Excavations Photo Album 2017