Saturday, January 11, 2014

From the "City Upon a Hill" to the campus of many, many hills

Happy 2014, everyone!

I hope that you've enjoyed the new year as much as I have. Hopefully you've been able to reevaluate yourself, establish new goals, and develop strategies to achieve those goals. Perhaps you've spent time in reflection, or reconnected with long-lost friends; maybe you've focused your attention on those who are closest at home. I've done my best to attempt all of these, and while the reality of the new year hasn't yet sunk in--and likely won't for the foreseeable future--I hope to reflect on 2013 both academically and personally. With that as my introduction, I'd like to spill a little ink and discuss what has weighed most heavily on my mind since I swapped my 2013 "Cats in Hats" calendar for a more generic "Kittens" 2014 calendar.

In short, I'd like to tell you about spending a summer in Jerusalem, the famous "city upon a hill." I plan to talk about archaeology. I'd like to tell you about how I fell into it, and ultimately, I hope to explain why it matters. I'll try my hand at brevity, I promise, and I plan to proceed in no particular order.

While I may try to be brief, if I begin to write about the first century (such as this 1st century tomb), I'm liable not to stop. 
This past summer, I spent ten weeks in Israel working on two archaeological excavations. The first excavation lasted four weeks and was located in the Jezreel Valley, which is about a stone's throw from Nazareth. During these four weeks, I learned the basic process of archaeology--we broke thru the soil, removed layers of fill (debris) and came upon layers of pottery buried in soil that had not been disturbed for thousands of years. In unearthing these remains, I was shown how variations in soil texture can tell volumes about a site's history; I saw how influential even the tiniest piece of pottery can be--even the smallest evidence can disprove an entire archaeological theory. Jezreel introduced me to a field of study that I had no prior exposure to. In retrospect, I acknowledge the absurdity of commiting ten weeks--my entire summer--to digging in the Middle East which I admittedly knew nothing about. I took a risk and was duly rewarded--I learned (literally) from the ground up, and it felt great.

Although nothing feels as great as a nice, cold drink when it's 90 degrees outside. In the Jezreel Valley.
Immediately after four weeks digging at Jezreel, I began my second excavation--the Mt. Zion project in Jerusalem. This excavation is sponsored by UNC Charlotte and--fun fact--is the only American-run archaeological excavation in all of Jerusalem. (I'm very, very proud of this.) I participated in the full four week excavation at Mt. Zion and was thus shown another aspect of archaeology: through Jezreel, I was familiar with the process of digging, but now became immersed in the meticulous process of archaeological recording. Because an excavation is predicated upon the destruction of an archaeological site, archaeologists keep detailed records for future generations of scholars. (Perhaps "detailed" is an understatement.) This became my job.

Recording elevation data in Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem, I was an assistant supervisor tasked with a greater administrative role. I recorded elevation points in detailed site maps, and assisted in keeping daily records for each area of excavation. I was excited to experience this aspect of the excavation and gained a greater understanding of archaeological process, but was not prepared for how mentally exhausting this would be. I quickly discovered that every basket of pottery we unearthed represented hours of analysis, all of which must be dealt with in the post-excavation period. I learned that the excavation didn't end after four weeks of digging; in fact, that's when the real work began. 

While Hollywood imagines archaeology to be action-packed, in reality, most of archaeology is rather monotonous. Here I am recording data in my first excavation in the Jezreel Valley. 
I was fortunate to stay two weeks after digging concluded, where I assisted with post-excavation activities. Again, I was shown the massive scope of an archaeological undertaking. I saw that for every elevation I recorded, for every scale drawing I completed, for every accomplishment tat I was proud of, there would soon be hundreds of other tasks that time would prohibit me from completing. These tasks would be worked on throughout the year and, unless instant teleportation becomes a real thing, I was unable to assist the remaining eleven months of the year. This project became much bigger than myself, which living in Jerusalem reaffirmed.

At least once a day I think of Jerusalem. I think of the basics--how it looked, how it smelled, how it tasted. I remember the contours of the city streets, the path I would walk to dig on Mt. Zion. I remember the joy of sipping a cup of tea at 7:00 am, watching the sun rise over the Mount of Olives, and listening to the Muslim call to prayer. I miss the dirt in my boots, I miss the excitement of a new day of discovery. The energy of an archaeological dig is like no other--it truly is indescribable.

Reason #373 to participate in an archaeological dig: finding a 1st century bathtub in the former mansion of Jerusalem's priestly elite.
Archaeology to me is something more than a fascination with the past. It is first and foremost a fascination with the present--with the people who come to volunteer at a site from Russia, Brazil, Germany, Florida, Utah, Charlotte. The diversity of our dig mirrors the diversity of Jerusalem, of the world, and engaging in such a community provides an intangible benefit difficult to describe. Through our interactions, these wayward archaeologists helped teach me more about myself than any amount of self-reflection could have and to them I am eternally grateful. They provided the context for a detailed examination of our collective past, one which I am privileged to excavate and uncover.

This is why I dig.
I write these words with a smile, knowing that I plan to return to Mt. Zion in the summer of 2014. I have been asked by Shimon Gibson and James Tabor--our site directors--to take on a supervisory capacity. In 2014, I will have my own area--I plan to excavate from the surface down and am honored at the chance to do so. I'll keep in touch, I promise, and look for another blog circa-July. I'll post then and fill you in on the excavation.

Stay well, my friends. Just don't ask how I got the next picture.

Atop the city wall of Jerusalem, looking down at the Mt. Zion excavation.

Caldwell out.

Kevin Caldwell
Class of 2015

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