Friday morning we woke on the early side as we had to pack, get breakfast and check out of the hotel. Other than having to wait about 10 minutes while a couple in front of me checked in, check-out went smoothly and we were able to use the one credit card left to our name.
Did I mention that? On Wednesday, I lost my wallet. It had less than 100 shekels ($25) in it but still having to contact the states and cancel credit cards was a pain the ass. Luckily Chris had the one credit card with him, I didn’t bring so we’re able to use that. In the future, we’ll each carry one card and leave some in the safe of the hotel or something. I’ll also leave the cards of the hotel in which I’m staying in the wallet in case someone finds it. Yes, I believe I lost it and it was not pilfered.
Anyway, all went smoothly and Moshe was there with the van, waiting. We loaded up and headed out to the archeological site (Tel Maresha) where we would do “Dig for the Day.” Along the way though, we made a quick pit stop at a gas station/diner where the owner has quite an Elvis Presley fetish.
Elvis Presley Diner
The site wasn’t far from Jerusalem, less than an hour and we met at another gas station outside the national park that houses the tel. After using the restroom and grabbing a quick espresso, our guide Missy, hopped in the van with us and directed us to the parking lot and our starting point. We hopped out of the van, met two other families doing the dig and waited for another. As they drove up, we recognized them as the Australian family we had met on Tuesday at Abraham’s tent. Small Country.
The concept of Dig for a Day is to not only get free labor for these archeological sites but to get the labor to pay them (thus funding their real archeological work) for the privilege. A bit Tom Sawyerish if you ask me. Anyway, before I go any further, we currently have one more day on this trip, and I have to say this was by far the coolest thing we did on this trip so far. Anyway, once our group was gathered (there were at least two other groups with their own archeological guides but at different dig sites near the Tel), we learned exactly what a Tel is and a bit of history of Tel Maresha.
Tel Maresha is mentioned four times in the Bible and the houses (actually basements) we were excavating hadn’t been occupied in over 2000 years. During the second temple period, after the Macabees came to power they came to this area (then filled with Edomites) and gave them three choices, convert, leave or die (I won’t even get into the entire issue of forced conversion here – something historically I didn’t think Jews ever did). Anyway, many of the Edomites living here chose to leave but before they did so, they basically destroyed their home, pushing entire contents into their basements.
Oh, let me talk a bit about the basements, the city/town of Maresha was built with limestone quarried from the surrounding hillside. Once this limestone was dug out from the earth, the inhabitants built their houses atop these, basically using these quarries as their basements. Over 5000 of these caves/quarries have been identified in the area around the Tel over the last 80+ years. Anyway, they pushed their homes into these holes and now we were going down into one to excavate it.
Our hole (as I said there are about 5000 and the other groups we saw were in different ones), had three separate rooms to use, Cistern (the highest one), Cultic and Buffy (after the Vampire Slayer – because they once saw a bat in there). After learning how to dig, and what to look for (mostly shards of pottery and animal bones) we split up into the different rooms to get to work.
The other families scrambled to Cistern and Cultic as these were the least cleared out, so we stayed in Cultic which had been pretty well cleaned out but we were clearing dirt away to finally reach the floor, which as Missy said, “We were the first people to step on in 2000 years.” I thought that was pretty cool but Becky was getting frustrated with not finding anything so we moved down to Buffy. Buffy brought us luck as we found some pretty big shards of pottery, a tooth, and Becky hit the jackpot, finding a piece of an ancient candelabra.
After digging for a while, it was time to clear all the dirt we dug up out of the caves. This is not an easy task. You see as we dug, we each had two buckets, one we filled with dirt (which hopefully contained no artifacts) and one that contained anything of interest we found. We formed a chain of people (some of which were quite small, like nine years old) from the middle room (where I loaded up all the buckets from Buffy, the lower room), all the way out of our cave/hole and proceeded to chain them up and out of the hole. We must have loaded up about 60 buckets of dirt.
When the dirt was hauled out of the cave, and separated by the room in which it was found, it was time to sift through the dirt in search of small items that may have escaped our attention – and it was unbelievable what we found, more pottery, bones and even a coin, which is a huge jackpot.
Once that was done, so was our “work” for the day. Now Shai took over because it was time to go spelunking in some of the other caves that had been found but not yet dug out. He warned us ahead of time against joining him for the 20 minute or so trek through the caves if you have claustrophobia. My fear lent more towards, “Would I be able to fit through the holes,” but I decided to join the group anyway, bringing up the rear.
I have to say, this was way cool and I am so glad I did it! The pathway was lit by candles, and not much more but it never felt overbearingly dark down there though it did get tight in some areas. I’m just going to let these pictures do the talking.
Glad I'm Short
Becky & Chris Spelunking
This was an incredible experience, and all I have to say is if you have the opportunity to do it, go!
You have to picture us at this moment, as we climbed back in the van, covered with cave dust. Do you remember pigpen from the Peanuts? Every time he moved, a cloud of dust arose? Well, that was us. Still we persevered.
On we went to Tel Aviv and right to the HaCarmel market in search of some gifts and chotchkeys to bring home. We spent about 90 minutes walking around (purchased a ring, some gold earrings, other things but so far no tallit clips) before things started close down for Shabbat and we headed toward our hotel.
Becky at the Market
A group of nematodes arrived at the hotel just before us and swarmed the check-in desk. Luckily Chris spied the Hilton Honors check-in, off to the side and strode over there. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the ugly Americans got out of the other check-in line and tried to cut in while we waited for the check-in person to get off the phone. But Chris wouldn’t have any of that, giving up no ground, the nematode gave up and went back to the main desk.
And, lucky for us, we got to the room just in time to catch the sunset from our balcony.
Finally, after some rest and relaxation, we went in search of dinner. The restaurant we had intended to try was closed for Shabbat, so we walked along the water a ways, until we came to a beachfront restaurant/cafe, where all the other Americans dined on cheeseburgers. This, along with a good German Weiss beer made Chris very happy. So it was lamb kebabs for Kim, cheeseburgers for Chris and Becky and I have no recollection what Sammi had, but after some worry about what we would do for dinner, it all worked out fine.
We walked back to the hotel, content and exhausted from our day.