Tel Beth Shemesh

This post has been promised to lawrenceonline for some time. Finally eh Larry! 

Waaaaaaaaaaaay back in 1993, I was just finishing up work on another Leisure Centre opening … if you’re ever in Stoney Creek and visit the Valley Park Community Centre (that was one of my babies). Same town, down off the escarpment you’ll find another, a retrofit on Brewster Pool. And if you travel out to Milton and visit the Milton Leisure Centre (that was me again … that place still rocks; we did a good job there … good marriage of architect, contractor, and municipal team).

1) the leisure pool at Milton Leisure Centre; 2) the competitive pool

Seems after graduating I kept falling into this vein of getting hired by municipalities to oversee the start-up and opening of leisure centres. Keeping contractors in line; arguing with architects about change orders; spending lots of municipal dollars on equipment, signage and the like (it was the late 80s and early 90s and municipalities had money back then); hiring, training and orienting staff; coordinating the Grand Opening; building the programming; etc, etc, etc …

This line of work for me was made all the more strange since my university degree was in History … go figure!

It was exciting work, but stressful and with far too many long-houred days, especially in the crunch before the official openings. As the Stoney Creek project came to a close, I realized I couldn’t do another as I was burned out. On a whim, I decided to apply to Harvard University to join their archaeological excavation team digging, in collaboration with Tel Aviv University, at Tel-Beth Shemesh, about 30 minutes outside of Jerusalem for the summer of 1993. I had always  harbored a secret fantasy to be an archaeologist and thought I would give it whirl.

After filling out umpteen thousand papers and an interview,  I was accepted to the team … to my utter surprise. Proves Harvard will accept anyone! he he The professor sent me:

  • a huge list of books and articles I was supposed to read before arriving;
  • a shorter list of what to expect (long, intensely educational days);
  • a long list of what to bring (including a trowel … imagine trying to get that on a plane these days!); and ,
  • a tiny list of what not to do whilst in Israel: Two of these points I still remember: i) do not to kick empty pop cans as they can be booby-trapped bombs, and, ii) do not pick up discarded casings or weapons you see in the fields as they could still be live.

pottery sherd horde in pit A27, where I spent the summer of 1993

And so I flew to Tel Aviv and spent 2 months digging in a 2nd century BCE canaanite village. It was – hands-down – the most intense educational experience I’ve ever had, period. Our days went like this:

  • 4:30am — wake-up, shower, coffee and get to bus
  • 5:00-5:15 — bus to worksite
  • 5:15-5:30 — move work equipment to sites (I was in square A27)
  • 5:30-8:00 — dig, dig, dig
  • 8:00-8:30 — breakfast on site (tomatoes and cucumber and yogurt and bagels);
  • 8:30-12:30pm — dig, dig, dig
  • 12:30-12:45 — bus back to the kibbutz
  • 1:00-1:45 — lunch
  • 2:00-4:30 — free time (we most often went for a swim then slept)
  • 4:30-5:30 — pottery washing
  • 5:30-6:00 — pottery reading (this was fascinating watching the profs tell you about what you had dug up that day in detail just by looking at it)
  • 6:00-6:45 — dinner
  • 7:00-9:00 — lecture and classroom work
  • 9:00-10:00 — homework (cataloguing; articles to read; etc)
  • 10:00 – 11:00 — visit the “bomb shelter” (which was – literally – a bomb shelter on the kibbutz that doubled as a pub)
  • somewhere between 11 and midnight — sleep only to start it all over again!

We followed this routine religiously for 2 months from Sunday morning till Thursday night. Weekends – Fri and Sat in Israel – we:

  • visited Jerusalem many times;
  • headed down to Tel Aviv, where the nightclub scene was a little more happening;
  • bused right up to Lebanon, Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee and Acre;
  • visited Gamala (famous as the “Masada of the North” … Josephus Flavius writes a lot about Gamala Larry, and I’m sure you’ve read his stuff);
  • visited Masada (of course) and swam in the Dead Sea;
  • visited the ancient Negev city of Avdat, founded by the Nabateans in the 4th century BCE,  and stayed in the modern desert city of Arad;
  • toured Qumran (where the dead sea scrolls were discovered in 1947), home of the Essenes;
  • or just hung out at our home, Kibbutz Harel.

The field school is now under the administration of Indiana University. The site is interesting in that following
the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines in
the battle of Ebenezer, the Ark was returned to the people of Beth
Shemesh from Philistia. It was neat to think I was digging in the same
place where the Ark had rested. The summer I was there was also the
summer the cistern was discovered. Belaying down into that massive
space was definitely another highlight.

the Western Wall (with Dome of the Rock [left] and Al Aqsa Mosque [right]

I loved Jerusalem and visited often. I visited the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque once during my trip (you can see a bit of the Dome on the left of this picture I took, and the dome of the mosque on the right). The Dome of the Rock  is the location in jewish tradition where the world began; in Islam it is where Mohammed accended to heaven after his night journey and where christians and jews believe Abraham bound Isaac for sacrifice. Whether or not these things are true, I can say this: I cried when I entered the Dome of the Rock; it was the most beautiful site I’ve ever seen on earth. It literally took my breath away.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Of course, another must stop in Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The photo above is the entrance. Immediately on entering the church is the unction stone that Jesus was laid on when he was removed from the cross and washed. To the right of the unction stone and up a flight of stairs is Golgotha (where Jesus was crucified) and if you walk back down to the unction stone then to the left about 100 metres and turn right you’ll find Jesus’ tomb. A line forms naturally as you wait to see Jesus’ tomb. It is contained within a very ornate edicule. You enter the edicule and must wait to – more or less – duck under a crawl space into Jesus’ tomb proper. The tomb has room for 3 people maximum and is simply a small 5 x 5 foot square with a stone bed on one side. There is a Greek Orthodox priest that stands outside the tomb entrance and his sole job is to say “next” to advise you can enter. I don’t know, I found it so strange, like standing in a bank teller line, waiting for the teller to call you up.

My ‘Finds’

I was lucky to find two neat artifacts while on the dig. The first you see below. It is in my right hand and is a priestess’ rattle. It is now in the Israel Museum but damn, is it ever cool to think I was the first person to dig it up after 3 centuries buried in the dust and sand of the Sorek Valley.

brent rattle
Me with the priestess rattle

My other find was the corner of a game border (sort of like chess on one side) which had a lemelck on it. The professors got all excited about that … pottery from 3000 years ago with writing on it is quite rare so everyone was all way keen to see it. Here it is on the day I dug it out of pit A27.

the chess board piece

You can get a better view of the piece at the Tel Aviv University website on Tel Beth Shemesh located here.

me with my pit buddies, Haley and Bob

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Tel Beth Shemesh

  1. mattfifer says:

    mazel tov!ryc: have you seen the skit on 22 minutes? (It was broadcast on Jan. 27/06)

  2. willariah says:

    thanks for sharing these pictures and story :)  .. and the rec centres are so futuristique.  loves it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    that centre looks so cool!!
    Maybe one day, i’ll go and visit Jerusalem. Love places with long history.

  4. MrJCHEN says:

    oh wow.. what a neat and educating adventure you had. i wanna come along..
    – jimmy

  5. Fatcat723 says:

    Very interesting. Good photos. I think I may have enjoyed the trip too.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Indiana Jones! Very nice entry… thanks for sharing!

  7. bennykan says:

    Nice entry! Jerusalem intrigued me a lot. I hope I can visit there once before I die! It’s full of history after some glory and depressing times. So what were you doing with these finds? Were they displayed at the museum or what?

Comments are closed.