Without a doubt, the highlight of my year studying in the International MA program was the time spent digging in the field. My summer was split between two of the most important excavations in Israel: Tel Megiddo and Tel Azekah.
Megiddo (or Armaggedon) is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the region. Occupying one of the entrances to the fertile Jezreel Valley, its prime location allowed the rulers of Megiddo to exert control over the main breadbasket of the country and the strategic north-south road from Egypt to Mesopotamia. His victory at the Battle of Megiddo in the 15th century BCE allowed Thutmose III to establish the Egyptian empire in Canaan. Several centuries later, the Israelites expanded from the hill country into the Jezreel Valley and incorporated Megiddo into a territorial kingdom. At the end of the 6th century BCE, the reformist King Josiah was killed at Megiddo by Egypt. These events all highlight the importance of Megiddo through the ages. The site is also given as the setting for the end of days in the Book of Revelation.
I was able to work in the area of the Iron Age gate complex. This “Solomonic” gate has been at the epicenter of the major debates surrounding Iron Age chronology and Biblical history. During the excavation season, we dug into the layers below the gate, allowing us to clarify its date and stratigraphic relationship with the rest of the site, and to locate earlier structures. As the flood of tourists peered under the shades at us, I felt incredible knowing I was contributing to one of the major issues in Israeli archaeology.
The best part of the time spent at Megiddo however, was the chance to work so closely with Israel Finkelstein. Prof. Finkelstein is one of the best archaeologists working in the world today. He not only revolutionized the field with his new theories and methods, but is also a kind and enthusiastic man who loves to engage with the students.
With only a week of rest between, I then headed to Azekah for four more weeks of digging. Azekah is another major site situated alongside the Valley of Elah, known as the location for the battle between David and Goliath in the Bible. Azekah offers a great opportunity to study the “border” zone between the Judahites and the Philistines. This dig also provided quality time for us to spend with Oded Lipschits, the head of the international program. Prof. Lipschits is also one of the most important archaeologists and Biblical scholars working today, and working with him outside of the classroom allowed us the chance to get to know him personally.
I was placed in Area S1 under the supervision of Alex Wrathall. Alex is one of the best and brightest young archaeologists working in Israel. Her enthusiasm added an element of fun, as everyday it seemed like digging was accompanied by constant laughter. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had doing hard manual labor. It was also a great chance to spend quality time with my classmates. While we had spent lots of time together in the classroom, I felt like our time bonding in the field is what solidified our friendships for life.
One of the best parts of choosing to study at Tel Aviv was the ability to participate in multiple digs which are on cutting edge of archaeological research. Each season, the Tel Aviv University excavations are producing new materials from the field which change our understanding of the past. I was not only studying history, I was making it.