Students and Faculty Participate in Israeli Archaeological Dig

This summer CMC students Tessa Lamballe ’10 and Megan Morris ’12 accompanied Religious Studies Professor Gary Gilbert on an archaeological dig in Akko, Israel. Almost 50 students and faculty from CMC, Claremont Graduate University, Penn State University, Trinity College, and Pacific School of Religion spent four weeks digging at Tel Akko, the site of the ancient city of Akko. Also known as Acre, Akko was one of the most important maritime cities in the Eastern Mediterranean, and a center for merchants, religious pilgrims, Medieval Crusaders, and invading armies. About a mile to the west lies the Old City of Akko, a UNESCO World Heritage site and location of magnificent Crusader and Ottoman architecture (not to mention the best hummus in Israel).

A typical 14-hour day started at 5:30 am when the team traveled the short distance from their residence at the Israeli Navel Academy to the dig site. Digging, measuring, and analyzing continued until 9:00 am when the group took a brief break for breakfast. After three more hours of digging, sweeping, and collecting artifacts pulled from the ground, the group would return to base for a most welcome and needed shower.

Afternoons were often spent washing a vast number of pottery shards, recording the day’s findings, and listening to lectures on the history of Akko and its people, archaeological methods, and the process of archaeological conservation. As one of seven faculty who contributed to the educational program, Gilbert delivered two lectures on Jewish history of Akko and led a tour to the city of Jerusalem.

“Indiana Jones this was not,” stated Gilbert. “It was a grueling experience, waking up before dawn and working many hours in the heat and dirt. At times we wielded large picks and shovels to clear away brush, and at other times we gently brushed away dirt to uncover objects that have been buried for up to 3500 years. It was an incredibly fascinating and rewarding experience with a great group of people. Our time together on the Tel and in the classroom provided me and the students with deep appreciation for archaeology and the history of Akko.”

The Akko program also included several talks by members of the Israel Antiquities Authority on conservation of historical sites and the connection between archaeology, conservation, and economic development in this historically rich and diverse city.

Government major Megan Morris reflected that the highlights of the experience were the weekend trips into Jerusalem, the city of Caesarea, and the Galilee region. “I also liked visiting the Bahai gardens in Akko, where the Baha’ullah, the founder of the Bahai faith, is buried, and the beautiful Bahai gardens in Haifa,” cites Morris.

Tessa Lamballe, a psychology major, also received academic credit for a course offered through CGU. Lamballe explained, “Through faculty lectures and talks from local authorities I have learned a lot about the history of Akko, and the ways in which archaeology, history, politics, and the economy interact. It has been a wonderful experience.”

Over the course of the four-week excavation the team uncovered several stone walls, other architectural features such as drains and ovens, and almost a ton of pottery that included many special finds such as intact ceramic jars, oil lamps, loom weights, stamped handles, arrow heads, and one coin. Most of the artifacts date from the Bronze Age to the Hellenistic period, roughly 1500-100 BCE.

“One of the great things about this program is that the work we do is not just about digging up the past, but involves placing an archaeological excavation in its broader historical, political, and social context,” notes Gilbert. “As a result, this program would be of interest to students in history, Middle East studies, Arabic, Jewish studies, heritage conservation, city planning, and architecture.”

Gilbert plans to incorporate his experiences this summer into his courses on ancient Judaism and on Jerusalem. The excavation is expected to last 10 years and Gilbert hopes that more CMC students will join the Akko team in the future.