Study Leave—Week Twelve

This week marks the official end of my study leave, although I will be in Israel for another three weeks and then returning to Australia via St Andrews in Scotland.

Much of this past week has been spent of the dig at Bethsaida, or else processing the finds in our daily ‘pottery reading’ sessions. We have had about 35 people on site for the two week session that is just ending, and work has been progressing in three areas: A South, A West and T.

Area T is of particular interest to me as I am serving as the supervisor for that area, and it was first opened by the Australian team in 2012. This year we have opened a new 5m x 5m square immediately to the north of the square we opened last year to see whether the wall we exposed last year connects with anything near by. After two weeks of digging we have uncovered  at least one substantial wall running parallel to the wall found in 2012, and perhaps another wall perpendicular between the other two walls. These structures appear to be from the Mamluk period (shortly after the crusades collapsed), but it seems they may have been built on the remains of earlier walls from the Roman period. In the next two weeks we will dig deeper to try and clarify the lower structures as we are especially interested in finding evidence of the lives of the ordinary people who lived in this site as most of the remains higher up the mound are monumental structures reflecting the aspirations of the rich and powerful.

The coin project has dominated the time when I have not been on the dig at Bethsaida. Work continues to finalise the coin database for the period 2001 to 2012, so that I have everything ready to report at the Bethsaida session of the SBL international meeting in St Andrews next month. The last few days I have begun to explore—and hopefully master—the mysteries of VBA for Excel, so that I can make the information more easily accessible to people (and maybe also simplify the data entry process).

Last weekend I had an opportunity to visit some places that I had not seen before, including the fortress at Yehiam (Jidiin) and the ocean caves at Rosh Hanikra. The land here is as beautiful and complex as the people for whom it is home. Sadly, both places also reflect the history of conflict that is so much a part of the story of this land.

Yehiam was a crusader fortress and then a Bediouin castle and more recently the scene of fighting between Jewish and Arab forces in 1948. The pristine cliffs at Rosh Hanikra were dynamited by British forces to build railway tunnels during WW2, only to have the bridges blown up by Jewish underground forces after the war to prevent Arab reinforcements coming south from Lebanon. In the longer term none of this will matter as the Earth will reclaim the cliffs and obliterate the scars of human violence, but in the short term both nature and humans suffer unnecessary violence—much of it generated by misplaced religious certainty. In the meantime, how best to live with compassion and generosity?

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