Can You Dig It?

Gezer Dig 2012 – Update Eleven

By Gary D. Myers

Let the real archaeology begin. Brute force has given way to a more scientific approach. Gone are the day of removing 70, 80 or 90 bags of debris per day. A few days ago the work revolved around picks, shovels and strong backs. Now screens, water hoses and keen eyes are the most important tools on the tel.

Layer on Layer on Layer

The dirt inside the cave deposited in three easily distinguished layers. Archaeologists love layers. On June 6, Dr. Warner decided to begin collecting the three different layers separately for screening (when you see the word “screening,” think washing mud on a screen). The team is screening random samples from the bags of dirt taken from the top two layers. These top two layers make up approximately half of the height of the cave and are probably contaminated with material from Macalister’s dig.

The team is screening the whole bags of debris taken from the bottom layer, which makes up the other half of the cave height (maybe three feet thick). This work is very time consuming considering each bag contains about 300 pounds of dirt. This area is especially thick and muddy making it difficult to sift.

What is it? Part Three

On June 6, three team members focused on two areas near the mouth of the cave in the presumed water source location. They first attempted the find the northern edge of the soft limestone surface discovered earlier in the week. The surface is still a mystery, but they did find the northern edge – it stops about five-six feet from the north side of the cave. While working in that area, they found what must be Macalister’s “causeway” of stones. After these finds, the team focused on the area between the “causeway” and the tunnel wall. They dug a test probe down until they hit rock (or a rock) about four feet below the “causeway” and the surface. At this point, the dig team believes that the water source must be/have been in this area. In his reports, Macalister recorded that he drew 200 gallons of water from the tunnel in the early 1900s. The NOBTS team has not encountered water. Muddy, mucky slop, but no water.

Slow and steady

The work has slowed considerably in effort to carefully obtain samples of the pottery found in the cave. This slower pace came at the right time. Four of our volunteers worked their last day on June 6. We lose another team member tonight. The new tasks are better suited for a smaller team than the earlier work.

Washing, Washing, Washing

On the morning of June 7 the team split into two groups. One group washed and washed and washed and washed and washed large quantities of dirt looking for pottery shards. Most of this dirt was from the thick layer in the bottom of the cave. There must have been five full bags of the stuff. We sifted through it inch by inch. The group was muddy and soaked to the bone by lunch time. The other group careful dug and bags dirt from the individual layers in the cave and set the bags aside to be pulled up with the winch and crane in the afternoon.

So far the screenings have turned up a limited amount of diagnostic pottery (pottery that can be identified and dated). The samples have been fairly consistent at this point – Middle and Late Bronze Age – well within Macalister’s proposed date for the tunnel’s construction. However, much more of the cave will need to be excavated to make any definite conclusions. According to Warner, the team needs to collect samples from other parts of the cave, especially the center.

So the work continues. Questions often lead to more questions. But this group believes that the answers are out there. Tomorrow, they will head out to Tel Gezer again to continue the quest.