Different, But the Same

No one could be oblivious to what is going on in Israel at the moment.  Hamas in Gaza shoots rockets at all the major cities it can reach in Israel – and now they are targeting the bedouin villages in the Negev.  Israel bombs Gaza and is now on the ground searching out tunnels dug under the border to invade Israel.  It isn’t a pretty state of affairs.

We sit here in Akko, a mixed city too far from the rockets to worry about them, but not immune from the situation.  The local Arab store owners participated in a strike objecting to Israel’s killing of civilians.  A strike means their stores are closed.

But otherwise, most things go on as usual in this city.  People go to work, shop and go about their lives.

For the past two weeks a group of 14-to-16-year-old Israelis, Arabs and Jews have been participating in an archaeological program run by SHARE (Society of Humanitarian Archaeological Research and Exploration).  They came up to the tel and joined the rest of the students in excavation and survey.  They learned about pottery and bones.  Then, the second week they joined our students in conservation work.

They eat breakfast together, they work together and they horse around together.  Some of them make lasting friendships.

I don’t know whether the subject of Gaza and the Israel Defense Force ever comes up in their conversation.  It doesn’t matter if it does or not.  They are teenagers, learning about archaeology in the summer.  They are different, but in many, many ways, they are the same.

Kid to Kid

Gifts From the Tel

Anthropological archaeology isn’t about art, architecture and artifacts. It’s about people, their culture and how they lived.  Ok, fine. But sometimes, even this anthropological archaeologist gets excited about things that get found on the tel.  Sometimes they are just so neat one can’t help it.

In the past two days we have uncovered some really cool things.  This after nearly three weeks of dirt, rocks, walls and iron slag.  Not that we aren’t completely happy about iron slag, we are.  It is really important in our attempts to understand the metalworking and metal manufacturing that occurred on Tel Akko.  And the walls, well they tell us where they lived and give us a glimpse into other technologies, like stone cutting and brick making.

But except for a possible Persian coin and literally tons of pottery, there haven’t been a lot of special finds.  Until the end of last week.

First, perhaps the most amazing find of all was a small female statue, intact.  She is beautiful.  Full breasts and curves.  One of the pottery specialists said she showed Egyptian and Persian influence.  She is really cool.  At the museum yesterday we saw some similar, but in my opinion not as beautiful, figurines and they were labeled as house goddesses.

Then, someone found the cup and saucer.  cupandsaucerWell, it isn’t really a cup and saucer because it is all one piece, but archaeologically, cup and saucer is what it is called. To me, it looks more like a chip and dip piece.  Put the dip in the center cup and the chips around on the plate.  Not sure what this was used for.  Another form of plate and container was apparently used as a fish plate with the fish around the sides and some kind of sauce in the center.  So who knows.

Then someone found a rather rough little animal carving.  Maybe it’s a cow, maybe a calf.  It was small and somewhat damaged. And then there was the head of a statuette.  No body found but it appears female.  Maybe next week we’ll find the body.

My favorite, although not for most people, is theboat simple ceramic boat piece that was found on Friday.  Not sure why it is my favorite.  Something about the straight lines and clean profile, or the fact that it looks just like the Phoenician ones from one of the tombs at Achziv.  It is terra cotta in color and unfinished in any way, but I can see in my head the complete boat and it is gorgeous. Simple, plain, but just beautiful.

While artifacts are not why we dig, sometimes they can bring us closer to the actual people who lived at a site than the tons of data on households, trade and ritual that we compile.  A simple statuette or a ceramic boat was made by someone and that person’s vision has traveled from the past to be seen, by me.

Oft Interred With Their Bones

Ever wonder what happens to all those chicken bones after you eat your chicken, or the ribs from barbecued ribs or rib eye steak?  Sure, they end up in the trash, but one man’s trash is another’s treasure.  Eventually, your garbage ends up in a landfill and is buried.

Archaeologists make it a habit of digging up ancient trash, and one of the things we dig up are animal bones. How did they get there? That’s usually easy.  If they are a small rodent, we usually know that it just died in its burrow and we found it.  But bones from sheep, goats and cattle, or deer are generally considered to have been supper.

Here at Tel Akko we find our share of bones.  Long bones, foot bones, cattle, sheep and goat bones.  They usually appear in the screen when we are sifting dirt.  Sometimes, especially with the larger pieces, they are seen in situ, in place and removed.

Occasionally, these bones will show signs of butchering.  Straight scratches or marks on the bones where meat was cut off.  That’s very cool.  Think, the last person before me who held this bone, used a knife and cut meat off to eat.  That’s quite a connection to the past and one that nearly everyone can understand.

BonesBones

Sometimes the bones are not of food animals, but predators or other, odd animals.  Perhaps a wild dog, wolf or jackal.  Occasionally, truly unusual bones are found.  A small piece of a pigmy hippopotamus or a bone from a bear’s paw.  How did these bones get into the city’s trash?  Who knows?  Did some child bring home a bear’s paw or was it killed because it was harassing the inhabitants? There isn’t any way we will ever know the answer to where odd bones come from, but it tells us that the animals were there, in the neighborhood.

Just like the skunk that lives somewhere near my house in State College, but takes refuge in my window wells during rain storms, it is impossible to understand why.  At Akko we are left with a small part of the animal – a bone.  At home, I’m just left with the aroma.

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