Curiosity #26: Digging For Nothing


The Archaeological site of Huquq sits on a set of olive-colored hills that overlook miles of healthy farmland. While the archaeology team seeks to excavate 3rd century synagogue remains, the team first faces many layers of modern occupation and rock collapse. Arabs occupied the land of Huqoq throughout the Ottoman Period until their forced evacuation in 1948, when the Israelis laid claim over the land. The Israeli army used the empty village as a training site until they bulldozed the area in the 1960s. Now, half a century later, the Huqoq archaeological team sifts patiently through multiple meters of heavy rubble and complicated history.

The past week, I and four other members of the Huqoq team—all young students of either Religion or Archaeology—dug into a 3m x 4m rock collapse that tumbled into a steep, reclining angle on the West end of the archaeological site. Jodi Magness, an archaeological genius and the administrator of this dig, judged this square a perfect excavation site due to the ancient-looking double doors resting just past the modern collapse. Specific dig instructions were led by Matt, a round-faced Mormon with a resilient smile, and Seth, a recent graduate in archaeology from Ohio State Graduate School.

For the first few days, we lifted rocks and hacked at dirt with excitement, sure that we would find remnants of an ancient synagogue beneath the meters of rubble. As we leveled out the reclining angle of the collapse, we found treasures of all sizes and natures; however, none of them dated before the 12th century. Among the items we found were

1) Two merging walls built at different times (marking the Northern and Eastern boundaries of our square)
2) Shards of green glaze (Arab Pottery)
3) Ceramic
4) Corroded red metal
5) Unidentifiable white glass
6) Chunks of a bright blue bottle

Perhaps my most startling find, on the outskirts of the square, was a piece of ammunition from the Israeli occupation after 1948. This artifact was confiscated immediately and put in a safe place, since these pieces of ammunition were known to be “live” and dangerous long after being discarded.

As the week pushed forward, our small team recognized that we were digging through endless rock collapse. Seth, who at first demonstrated great enjoyment in directing our square, grew increasingly discouraged as evidence pointed convincingly at the fact that if anything important had rested beneath the level of collapse, the valuables might have been robbed out centuries ago.

Next week, we’ll continue digging with the hope of at last finding a floor. I’ve learned now to ignore Seth’s fits of throwing down his hat, as well as his quiet, self-critical mumbling. I’ve grown content with filling up bucket after bucket of ancient soil because the action feels purposeful. The perks are small: glimmers of unidentifiable red pottery gleaming out from diminishing layers of dirt, mysterious shards of broken glass, the tiniest bone from a long-dead animal. Even if these items are not what the team is looking for, they’re treasures all the same, and, as silly as it seems, I relish my duty to rescue them.

2 thoughts on “Curiosity #26: Digging For Nothing

  1. After reading your blog about the dig, I have a suggestion: it’s not too late to take up golf!!
    Famed archeologist who discovered the bowl of Rice Krispies eaten by John The Baptist

  2. Were you there when they found the motherlode…the beautiful mosaic floor depicting Sampson and the fox tails? I know the work is tedious but this one was definately worth it…..what a find for all of you… the way, my son Matt is the round faced Mormon…..a great scholar and Professor at BYU… thrilling for all of you!

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