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Digging at Azekah – Summer of 2015

Posted by on Aug 18, 2015

Digging at Azekah – Summer of 2015

So the day had come for me to set out to the Valley of Ellah where legend held that the shepherd boy David fought against the giant Goliath. Although Goliat is long since gone and there are no more giants to fight, the site itself presents a “gigantic” mystery.

According to ancient sources, the Assyrians had captured and destroyed the fortified city in 701 BCE. Enigmatically, so far no real evidence of the Assyrian had been found in Azekah. The set out goal for the 2015 expeditions was to try and identify what had been suggested to be a siege ramp, similar to the one that had been exposed at Lachish. Maybe here the secrets of the Assyrians at Azekah lay buried.

From Danes to Judah-Dan

Although being an experienced underwater excavator, excavating the ancient harbor of Pireus with Danes for three months, this was my second land excavation and I had my own giants to defeat. I had previously participated in excavating the Viking settlement of Konghalle in Sweden, where the Danes, Swedes and Norwegian Vikings had made peace in 1066 C.E. Conditions had been good with mild and temperate weather. On such a dig, it was more likely to get wet from a cooling rain then from sweat running from your forehead.

Now an excavation in the Holy Land stood at my door. This meant working sometimes at 40 degrees and with humid and dusty conditions. But as compensation this also meant a rich soil that would yield hundreds of finds as well as a promise of an exciting excavation.

Area S2

I had been stationed in Area S2, a previously excavated area with open squares that reached down below to the layers of Late Bronze Age. An interesting area that had material from Bronze Age to Persian Period.

 

 

Week 1 – Going deeper

After cleaning and removing accumulated winter topsoil, actual excavating in archeological context could begin. Needles to say pottery findings were rich and the excavation was early on rewarding. Not only did I learn to better swing a pickaxe, I also gained better understanding of pottery types and archaeological layers such as compressed earth, floors and accumulation, and soon I found myself supervising my own square.

Week 2 – Sledgehammers and giant rocks

After reaching new levels and depths during the first week we now encountered new obstacles. Three gigantic boulders stood in our way to gain knowledge of our area. Times like this Thor with his thundering hammer would have come in handy. Instead we had to satisfy with muscle men equipped with sledgehammers to smash the rocks into oblivion, this did not help and the need for Thor grew ever stronger until Martin, the handy man, brought us a jackhammer and we could drill them away.

 

As far as my square was concerned I was happy to have uncovered a hewn stone, the first of its kind in Azekah. The next week would reveal what kind of installation this feature belonged to.

Week 3 – Royal architecture and hidden stairways

Digging in my square continued and along with it several broken storage jars were found. More interestingly was the discovery of two other cut stones that rested in levels below the first one that was discovered the previous week. This was clearly a staircase, but we had still no clue to where it lead. Undoubtedly these perfectly cut stones were part of a royal construction program.

More than an excavation

Although the name Azekah comes from a root that means dig up or hoe, the expedition encompassed so much more. During my three weeks I participated in exciting field trips, visited the excavation at Gath and participated in lectures. I also forged new friendships and connections and in a religious and politically divided land it is nice to see how an Arab, an Israeli and a Swede can live alongside together and have a good time.

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