Friday, January 13, 2017

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Tel

One weekend in Israel I got to do some archaeology. I got to work on a site on the ridge North of Jerusalem. It was a very old Iron Age settlement abandoned about 2500 years ago. The Iron Age started in the Mideast about 1000 BCE.

The site was on no major route. No highway. No strategic or valuable location. No army or conquering force would pass this way. It was just in the middle of nowhere, on top of a hill (or 'Tel.') There was little water, no great soil, and no reason why anyone would want to live there. Probably why it was abandoned. But it did offer some benefits, for the archaeologist. It hadn't been disturbed in two and a half millennia. No pesky later ruins on top to pollute the dig.

So I dug. The lead archaeologist brought me to a spot to work on. I had my trowel. I had my brush. I had my whip, just in case.

I was to gently dust off 2500 years of crumble looking for some sign of humans. Not actual humans. But anything that looked artificial and therefore representing human activity. You can tell it when you see it. There's a geometry to Man that Nature lacks. Or abhors.

I had a wheel barrow to carry off the non human dust and send it off the edge of a cliff. Hopefully not on any other archaeological remains they might like to excavate some time in the future.

So I worked, separating thousand year old stone dust from the layers below. Given enough time it would all turn back into stone. So would we. And I loaded up the wheel barrow. And trudged it to the cliff edge and dumped it down the Iron Age hill.

I found something. I came to a ring of stones, 2500 years down and about 40 cm. in diameter. I cleaned up as much as I could then got the boss.

I had no idea what I had found. Maybe an altar? A place for household gods and protection talismans? A family shrine? Maybe people ripped out other peoples' hearts here! Wouldn't that be cool!?

Indy, that's what I decided to call him, came and looked at what I had found. It was an oven, he said. The stones were a foundation. Clay would have been formed over it and built up into a dome with a front opening into the house. I was in someone's home. Someone's kitchen. Or maybe their whole house.

I was happy. I liked this better. Better than the penny dreadful, temple of doom, god room I had envisioned. After all, someone has to clean up after sacrifices. This was better.

This was a human place. Not a place of gods. A place where a family gathered 2500 years ago and cooked food. A mother cooked. A father brought in hard won provisions. Children played. There was laughter. There was hardship. There was joy.

I like this archaeology. I like this family.

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