dinsdag 25 juni 2013

A weekend to mill it over

After one full week of excavations, the weekend was finally upon us. No getting up at four in the morning, no instant coffee and no scorpions for two whole days! The event was promptly celebrated in style by watching the sun set on the lakeshore with good company, some nice music and a cold drink. As a flock of snow white herons streaked low over the cobalt blue water, a great feeling of peace came over me: life was good and we were living it. As it was Midsummer Night, the Finns took us on a traditional celebration of Juhannus, where we got a taste of the beautiful melancholy that is the Finnish soul…with perhaps a bit of cynical humor thrown is, as illustrated perfectly by the game ‘bus stop’. The game is played in a circle and the main objective is to not look someone directly in the eye, or else you freak out and are out. Naturally, we had a great time, but since Finnish people are usually too cynical to really enjoy themselves, you could argue that we just had a time.
She`s aged beatifully...

Come Saturday we went on an extensive excursion to Sepphoris and Caesarea Maritima. The ruins in Tzippori National park contain one of the most exquisite mosaics in the Levant: a roman portrait of a woman dubbed ‘The Mona Lisa of the Galilee’. It also contains a street discovered by one of our directors, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Zangenberg. We made sure to pay homage to this significant feature by taking a group photo here.

On the Jürgenstrasse
After lunch, we traveled to Caesarea Maritima, an administrative center commissioned by Herod THE Great. Walking through the gate towards the remains of his palace and the hippodrome, it`s easy to see how he got the name: the man sure had an eye for location. We enjoyed a walk along his beachfront party complex with the smell of silt in our nose. After a thorough tour of the site, we went to a nearby beach for a swim in the Mediterranean. There is something captivating about this body of water: it is a thing mysterious and alluring beauty, yet also comforting and playful. She is the desirable mistress of every man, woman and child that lays eyes upon her and falls under her spell. She has been the lifeblood of countless societies that laid themselves to rest beside her and she still invigorates the people that live their lives by her side. She will always have a special place in my heart. At the end of the day, we were forced to say goodbye and return to the no less beautiful Sea of Galilee.
I`d build here too

But we could do one better. After dinner, a small group of us drove over to the Tabgha Pilgerhaus where that heavenly treasure of the Holy Land awaited us: a large glass of Taybeh. By now, readers will be aware of its near-sacred status for us digging folk. Watching the moon tuck the lake in with a blanket of silver while the hills were dancing with what seem to be giant candles, we had both hilarious jokes and wonderful conversations. Truly we lived the weekend for what it was under the protective blue and silver Eye of God.

Enchanting as this all may sound, it`s not all fun and games. One of the volunteers cracked a tooth by accident on Friday, in the severe catastrophe of biting down too hard on a cherry stone. Fortunately a staff member was able to take him to the dentist, who stabilized the situation quickly and professionally.
Beyond that, some people are also suffering from cold symptoms, courtesy of the Israeli love for excessive air-conditioning. Something as simple as a cherry stone or sitting in the foyer can take you out of the game, and those are by far the least of the things that can be unfavorable to your health: cisterns off the trodden path, our dear arachnid friends from the site, and someone recently spotting a snake on a nearby beach are a constant reminder of the fact that we have to be careful and look after both ourselves and each other.

All in all this has been a weekend to mill over, with so many experiences to take away from. It has taught me that good times are not to be taken for granted and bad experiences should not be set aside lightly or forgotten. Remember your mistakes and hardships so you can learn from them and move forward as a stronger person. But also do not forget that life is about the good times and memories you create with the people who are meaningful to you. Look after yourself, expand your knowledge and understanding of the world around you, do something crazy and have a metric ton of fun while you do it. Because sometimes in life, you`ve just gotta drink the Taybeh.

Sometimes, you`ve just gotta..

Signing off for now,

The Lost Dutchman

donderdag 20 juni 2013

Context is everything!

We are all well underway with the first week of digging and as newcomers start to grasp the scale and purpose of the work they do, they come to interesting realizations. One of the most heard so far is the joy people experience at finding ‘special objects’. Special objects are not so much things like rich treasures, but rather items that can tell us more specific things about what we are excavating. A good example of this is nails. The purpose of a 1500 year old, severely corroded nail is evident to no one save archaeologists.  


If you were to find a piece of severely worn flint while gardening, you might raise an eyebrow at it. More likely, you`d probably toss it somewhere far away from you. In the field, even a heavily worn piece of flint is significant as long as it was visibly worked. Where an annoyed jab to throw something as far away as possible is what most people would consider the best solution, out on an excavation site it literally has people dancing.

Then again: it doesn`t look like your average garden...

It is all evidence of the archaeological adage that context is everything. Without it, all our effort: the fuel burnt, the people brought over, the sweating in the sun, the cramps, scratches, bruises and hangovers…are for nothing. Any and all finds need to be relatable to the environment in which they were found. A collector might be pleased with having an object that is beautiful, but it is the exact layer, the pottery that surrounded the object, and other such apparently trivial things that can help us date an object and give us a better understanding of how people in history perceived and used said object.

This is exactly why archaeologists despise looters and treasure hunters. A good example is the TV-show “Diggers”, which depicts people trying to find antiques to sell for a profit. No self-respecting archaeologist could support a show that teaches people to take evidence of historical events out of their context for a reason so banal as to make money off it. You could argue that this is reflected in the relatively low average pay of archaeologists: these are people to whom a specific chunk of rock is more important than their own personal health; to whom financial means only serve to prolong and expand excavations, rather to enrich themselves. As the 19th century Egyptologist Jean François Champollion noted: “Archaeology is a beautiful mistress, but she brings a poor dowry.” As we at Horvat Kur know all too well: true love isn`t about gold digging…


Signing off for now,


The Lost Dutchman

dinsdag 18 juni 2013

Here we go!

It is my great pleasure to report we are finally in-country. After quite a long trip everyone has safely arrived at their new temporary home. Several team members arrived several days ahead of the main group and have gone ahead and cleared the site of thistles, which meant that day one of the excavation was devoted solely to setting up the tents. With everything moving ahead so rapidly, we can get stuck in with the good stuff straight away: proper excavation.


Day two already saw us scraping the soil, with people from all corners of the world working on virtually every corner of the building. For some, work consisted of nothing more than preparing new ground for excavation by carrying a lot of stones to a new dump area. Others have already been able to start working their way through topsoil. We`ve turned up a surprising amount of roof tiles so far, which will further help to give us an understanding of the general size of the building itself. Everyone has also acquainted themselves with the scorching heat (38 Celsius) and the powerful west wind that blows into the valley from about 11 o`clock in the morning.


There is a surprising amount of scorpions this year, with at least five getting flying lessons on day two already. We`ve also spotted the first snake, but he was quite happy to slither along to the next patch of tall grass. The resident mouse has also returned to hide out under staff tent when it is down at night.

The newest member of our 'flying circus'

The Karei Deshe guest house itself hasn`t changed much in the meantime. There is a new cook, but his skills in preparing chicken are about equal to the one he succeeded. The beds are the same, the swallows racing around the courtyard don`t seem to have changed. The only significant difference is the water level in the lake. The past winter has been exceptionally wet, resulting in a water level which hasn`t been seen for nearly a decade. In previous years, the beach would start where the trees would stop. This year, the lake starts where the trees stop. Any flooded reeds are also quite far away which should make swimming much more enjoyable.


See, excavation is funness!
Both the volunteers and the staff have already settled into their ‘digging life’. Everyone knows where the drinking water can be tapped, where snacks and beer can be bought and which cake they prefer for the early morning sugar breakfast. Personally, I`ve grown tired of the food already, but I also feel that it should be so. Being stuck with chicken for four weeks, eating hummus which can best be described as ‘meh’ and drinking beer which does not rank much higher than that has become an intricate part of the Horvat Kur experience. There is something comfortably familiar about its taste. It tells you that you are on an adventure where personal comforts cannot always take pride of place and where luxuries become something you will well and truly enjoy. This is what makes the taste of Taybeh so fantastic, the dinner trip so special and the evenings out in the lake so magical.


Signing off for now,


The Lost Dutchman


zaterdag 15 juni 2013

Breaking Out

What? This blog is still alive?...yeah, sort of.

Seeing as I will be leaving for Israel again tomorrow, it was high time I finally wrote something for the blog. Unfortunately, life has been grabbing me by the ankles for the past few months, preventing me from making any headway with all the items I had planned for the blog. But with so many people asking me whether I will keep one again this season, there`s really no reason for me not to do so. I`ve had a few ideas that have fallen by the wayside and which I may attempt to resurrect during the coming excavation, but for now I want to focus – in fact I only seem able to focus – on my impending departure to Israel.

When reflecting on what I wrote a year ago, it`s striking how much the feeling is exactly the same: I am still going over the list in my head  for a seventh time just to make sure that I do indeed have everything. I also still can`t wait to start my trip by train to the airport, but much more than last year, this feeling is taking full control of my mind. I can`t plan any further ahead than unpacking my gear and setting up shop in the field lab. All the common concerns of the rest of the household just seem like static noise to me and I can`t help but feel like a caged animal, as if everyday life`s chains still pin me to everyday dullness as I have to sit and wait in the knowledge that many of my friends already have their boots on the ground at the shore of Lake Kinneret. Seeing photos of them at work isn`t doing much to soothe the feeling of being like a caged lion. But tonight, I can finally break the bars, tear those chains out of the ground and take off into a world of scholarly practice, sun, heat and good times. More so than ever during my preparations for the coming season am I looking forward to making new friends and revisiting old ones. There`s Taybeh, Maccabee, araq, chicken and wasp-infested tuna to help me get on with the days.

Packed up and ready to go!
Nevertheless, I`ll miss my family, the cats, the dog and friends that I have to leave at home or will not be seeing in Israel. But it is all part of the experience of traveling long and far abroad. You don`t just go somewhere to see some nice sights or do something interesting: you travel to experience the feeling of being transported from one ‘world’ into another. You travel to change your perspective on life, to become a more fully-rounded human being. Travel is just as much about finding hardship as it is about finding joy; it`s about finding differences and similarities so that you better understand and appreciate the world around you. In the case of archaeological fieldwork, you add a chronological dimension to it.

On one of the train stations in the Netherlands there`s an old piece of verse. Freely translated, it goes something like this: While traveling one experiences the stranger side of life: it`s so different and varied, yet everywhere it remains the same. As travelers, archaeologists, historians and religious studies scholars, our eventual goal is to gain a profound understanding of this wisdom.

On a less philosophical note, it`s time for me to go slow-roast in the scorching heat, take pictures of dirt and lug around stones from. I`m finally going to see all the Dear People of Horvat Kur again (Gods, how I`ve missed that sentence)…

Signing off,

The Lost Dutchman