Can You Dig It?

Gezer 2015 – Update Three

By Gary D. Myers

Working Out the Kinks

Every year of the Gezer Water System Expedition has required a bit of innovation. As the conditions have changed and the digging has gone deeper in the system we have been forced to tweak our system.

This year’s dig presented the biggest challenge to date: With the ancient steps exposed, how would we drag the bags to the top without destroying the steps? The dig directors came to the site with several ideas to address this problem. Some were complicated, others require less prep time. They settled on an idea to place the filled bags in half of a plastic tank (think sled). The sled, it was hoped, would slide across steps leaving only minimal damage, if any. The first run today left the directors looking at the other the solutions. Unfortunately, the idea they have chosen will take some time to implement. So, it will probably be two additional days before diggers are back in the water system. Look for photos of the solution to the problem in later blog posts.

We started the morning with what we thought would be the last of the set-up work. The team finished lining the steps of the water system with a row of sand bags from top to bottom. That’s nearly 200 small sand bags folks. The sand bags make a safer surface for us to walk on and they protect the ancient stone steps. Our crane operator, Asi, lowered large bags filled with the small sand bags into the mouth of the water system. Then our team moved the bags down the system bucket brigade style. Because the water system is so deep, we had to stage the bags two different times to work our way down the steps. The bags look great and are functioning well. We were thrilled to have our set-up tasks complete, then we discovered that the sled would not work and more set-up would be required.

As the directors planned a solution to the problem, work focused around the other excavation spot where Eli Yannai is investigating how the Bronze Age gate and wall related to the water system. While a few people dug and cleaned the area, others sifted the dirt they collected. Set-up is an essential part of the dig, but excavating and sifting just felt more purposeful. Tomorrow, this aspect of the dig should be in full swing. The whole dig team is excited about the possibilities this unexcavated area could hold. Most of all, we are hoping for clues to explain the water system.

Better Tools than a Trowel

Archaeologists are known for carrying trowels and small picks to carefully expose evidence of ancient cultures. No, they do not carry pistols and whips like Indiana Jones. But the most common tools, the trowel and pick, may not be the most important tools of the trade. Analytical skill and creative thinking are at least in this discussion of most important tools. Problems like we are facing with bag removal this year require both. Analytical skill and creative thinking spur archaeologists to consider new possibilities. Yannai sees many possibilities in area he is excavating. You can see and hear his excitement. This type of thinking has the Gezer Water System leaders considering a shocking possibility: what if it isn’t a water system? It has been generally accepted as a water system since R.A.S. Macalister first dug there in the early 1900s. No conclusions yet, in fact, water system is still the leading theory and for now, this blog will continue to refer to the big hole in the ground as a water system. However, it is interesting to hear these creative and analytical thinks wrestle with and interpret many layers of data.

Strange Weather

Today was extremely hot. In order to beat the afternoon heat, the team left Neve Shalom at 5 a.m.  We only worked until 10:45 a.m. At that point, the heat had simply become unbearable well over 104. In fact, at 9 p.m. as I am putting the finishing touches on this blog post, it is still 100 degrees. A strong, hot wind is blowing strong. We are all hoping for a cooler day tomorrow.


For a more personal blog post about our visit to Jerusalem earlier in the week, visit