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First Thoughts on Jezreel – Tim Smith

By Tim Smith


When I was getting ready to come to Jezreel I really did not know what to expect. I was a little worried about the 4:00am wake up time because thats usually when I go to bed. I arrived at Jezreel and got settled by unpacking and having lunch and dinner. The first dig day was not bad at all, waking up at 4:00am is not that bad when you go to bed earlier. We started our day with a tour of the Jezreel and the site and learned about some of the history of the area. We then started setting up our squares and getting them ready for excavation. I have so far spent my afternoons taking naps but sometime soon we will start going on field trips to other cities in the areas, which is something I am looking forward to.

The second dig day we actually started clearing the top soil and rocks. I found a fair amount of pottery sherds as well as some pieces of flint and a bone. My first impressions of this excavation are very positive. I have found that I enjoy excavating which is a good sigh that I am on the right career path. It was exciting to find the first pieces of pottery and flint and to learn about proper excavation and recoding techniques. I can’t wait to continue digging to discover more new and exciting things.

The Jezreel Expedition Experience

by Andrea Creel

Not all archaeological excavations are created equal. As a PhD candidate specializing in Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of California-Berkeley, I can tell you that, mostly, the dirt is the dirt is the dirt. All over the world the earth yields beautiful, wonderful, exciting, mundane artifacts – jewelry, figurines, sickle blades, broken pieces of pottery, you name it. And those artifacts tell all sort of stories about the people who made those fabulous and ordinary and marvelous things, stories that are both familiar and surprising, stories that link us to them and show how different we all are, yet how much we are also the same.

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So what really makes a dig, what sets one apart from another, are the people. From the director(s) to the supervisors to the excavators, who you’re digging with is the unspoken key to a successful archaeological excavation. This is why I loved my time with the Jezreel Expedition. First, there are the Directors, Jennie Ebeling and Norma Franklin. The director of an excavation sets the tone for the entire dig, and Jennie and Norma have cultivated an enriching and encouraging environment for students and scholars. Though not unheard of, it’s also still relatively rare for women to act as directors of excavations in Israel, so it’s also encouraging for a young female archaeologist like myself to have those sorts of role models and mentors in the field. Then there is Area Supervisor, Ian Cipin, whose skill and demeanor in the field made him an absolute delight to work with, as well as a great teacher to learn from – the kind of teacher that makes you feel like you’re learning from each other. Finally, there is the excellent staff and volunteers, a mixture of students, professors and interested lay people, who are just as immersed and entertained by the craft of archaeology as the things we excavated.


And that’s the best part of being at Jezreel. It’s the craft that counts. Everyone is learning. Everyone is teaching. It’s the kind of excavation that is truly set apart.

Why Come to Tel Jezreel?

by Martha Hellander

The team at Jezreel includes several volunteers in our 50s and above who have no obvious staff or academic role. We are here as amateurs in the original sense – we study archaeology for love.


(Mordechai Abraham and Martha Hellander visit the community garden in the German Colony, Jerusalem. – Photo by Martha Hellander)

Our backgrounds and reasons for joining the dig vary. We may be recently retired, our children grown or gone. Perhaps our work or family lives took us away from an early fascination with digging or playing on the land and at last we are free to indulge. We detach from our usual surroundings hoping to gain new perspectives on Israel, on the stories of the Bible, and especially on ourselves.


(Golden sunrise strikes the entrance of a cliff-dug cistern where Sheila Bishop (L) and Annette Mangus are working. – Photo by Martha Hellander)

Eager to challenge or renew our physical strength and endurance, we rise before dawn, lift heavy buckets and wield pickaxes and tourias alongside students who could be our grandchildren. We share meals with scholars whose learning we hope to absorb, and listen to kibbuz members eager to reflect on how they ended up here—stories that invariably include trauma from the deaths of beloved parents, siblings or grandparents in the Holocaust. Some of us may find it healing to provide witness when there is little else to offer.


(Mordechai Abraham of Jerusalem excavating a cistern above the wine-press. – Photo by Martha Hellander)

Before actual digging begins, we must clear wild oats, uproot caper bushes, topple clumps of giant fennel that waft the scent of licorice, and trample stalks of wild carrot and purple globe-thistles. You may hear the lifelong gardeners among us whispering apologies to plants we would cherish elsewhere. We scoop soil and scrape eroded rock with our hands, trowels and brushes to uncover what lies below while sharing ribald jokes and easy banter. We collect and tag the oxidized coins and dirt-encased basalt grinding stones, the animal bones and dusty glass, the pottery rims and handles, rusted horse shoes, the pointy flints, the nails, barbed wire, shrapnel and shell casings. We learn to measure and survey, and to build lightweight shade tents that billow and float like black sails on a sea of wild wheat. We handle ungainly tools with increasing precision and speed. We draw upon our life experiences and studies—in farming and landscaping, in stonemasonry and horsemanship, in software design and journalism, Biblical literature, organizational management, mathematics and the law—to predict the line of a wall, trace chisel marks along a waterway carved into a bedrock scarp, or interview old-timers about their lives. We come willing to be surprised by beauty—a glance up from our digging may connect with the gaze of a lean, long-horned heifer peering over some rocks, a regal white bird perched on her back. If we look down while walking, one might discover, as I did, the long wing-bones and feathers of a black stork that died, most likely by collision with the power lines, during migration from Africa to Europe. Any day we might unearth an iridescent beetle, a scorpion who raises tail and claws when startled, a wriggling knot of pink worms in a baulk, or the lime-green belly of a spider. We feel a keen gratitude for these gifts enhanced by our awareness of life’s caprice and berevity. Some of us come here because we feel more alive, or serene, or closer to the Divine at Tel Jezreel in the so-called Holy Land.

Traveling with The Jezreel Expedition

by Michael Sullivan

One of my favorite things about participating in the Jezreel Expedition is all the various opportunities I have for traveling around the surrounding area during field trips. While we spend a lot of time digging, we also get the chance to visit and tour historical sites as well as other places of interest.


At these sites, the informative tours that we receive really help to provide interesting background information and historical knowledge. I also love the fact that we often receive a little bit of time to explore the location on our own and look at things that specifically interest us. Another great thing is the opportunity to visit entire different countries on these field trips, like we did in Jordan just a few days ago.

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All in all, being able to learn more about the local history and culture of the area, as well as doing it in a fun and engaging manner is what sets field trips as my favorite thing about Jezreel.

Returning to The Jezreel Expedition

by Ashley Motes

After my first experience with the Jezreel Expedition in 2013, I was really excited to return. It was such a great experience to work in the field and travel throughout Israel. I was only able to return for the last two weeks of the Jezreel Expedition 2014 and it’s already been a few days since I got into the country.


It was not hard to adjust to being here and I was glad to work alongside people like Ian, Julie, Dr. Ebeling, and Shelia. I just started excavating this year so there is not too much I can say about the experience so far. However, excavating has been a lot smoother than last year with less rocks in the way and I’ve been discovering more artifacts which is really exciting.


I also finally got to use a metal detector for the first time and it was a lot of fun. I am looking forward to seeing what the next days bring.

Nazareth Village

by Kelli Duggan

Field trips are an exciting aspect of our expedition in Israel. One of our weekly Wednesday field trips was to Nazareth. To me, the most exciting part of this trip was a tour of the First Century Nazareth Village. The reconstructed village actually functioned as a terraced field during Jesus’ life and now continues to grow olive trees and produce olive oil, wool, and woven textiles for tourists.


We were given a walking tour of the site and saw many aspects of life and activities in the first century. I found it fascinating to learn about first century technology and architecture that was reconstructed and is still used in the village today.


The “villagers” gave the tour a lively atmosphere, while the guide was knowledgeable and catered to our archaeological questions. It was an incredible experience that I will never forget.


by Morgan Davidson

This year I spent my birthday in the city of Caesarea. The festivities began with a trip to the beach. Caesarea beach rests against the backdrop of an incredible Roman aqueduct. It is the perfect place to wade into the Mediterranean. Technically, swimming isn’t allowed, but that doesn’t stop locals (or crazy Frenchmen) from taking a dip.


After the beach we went to Caesarea Harbor. The artificial harbor silted up centuries ago and the site and the nearby ruins of King Herod’s Palace are now a national park. Not only is the park an ideal place to watch a gorgeous Mediterranean sunset, you can also get great pizza there!


All in all, it was probably the most incredible birthday I’ve ever had.

Learning a Different Way

by Yolanda Norton

I am a third year doctoral student at Vanderbilt in the Graduate Department of Religion studying Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel. In addition, I am ordained clergy and I spend a great deal of time dedicated to ministry. My interest in archaeology is relevant to both my work as a burgeoning scholar and as someone squarely situated in the church. During the school year I spend my days and nights in the library, in class, teaching and learning both in an academic setting and in the church. I enjoy what I do; I find great purpose in it.

However, my time digging at Jezreel brings new meaning to the work that I do. While participating in the dig, I get to see history unfold before my eyes. It is a new way of learning and being; to peel back the layers and try to piece together the world of people that existed long ago.


I was reluctant to participate in any form of archaeology when the opportunity presented itself last year. However, after being a part of the Jezreel team last year and this year, I can’t imagine any of my work moving forward without this experience. In each moment I find myself trying to cultivate a larger picture that fuses together biblical literature, historical data, and the tangible material world that surrounds me each day on the tel.

Exciting Excavation

by Catie Witt

I am really enjoying my time here. The area is just beautiful and I am so excited to travel and explore the country. Excavating is tiring, but very rewarding and I am finding that once getting into “the zone” I can just keep going and completely lose track of time!


It’s exciting when you find nice pottery and artifacts, and very gratifying when you’re able to spot the difference between dirt-encrusted, man-made objects and the seemingly endless supply of rocks on the site.


Already, we have been here almost a week and I cannot believe how fast the time has flown. I am so excited to see our site develop over the remaining three weeks of excavation and also to see what other adventures are in store for our time in Israel and Jordan. I can hardly wait!

A New Adventure

by Stephanie Marcotte

Israel is an amazing place! Surprisingly, it is not too hot. Actually it is quite cool in the mornings and when the wind picks up. Being able to watch the sunrise everyday has been a magical experience.


The flowers surrounding our trenches are beautiful.


It is the most exciting feeling to find artifacts; digging is a new adventure everyday.