Thursday, May 12, 2011

5/12 Sepphoris

Greetings from the Galilee.
Today I sifted dirt; shoveled dirt; scooped dirt; pushed dirt; dug holes in dirt, and cleaned up the dirt from the surface of the dirt.
If I can figure out how to do it I will attach photos of the sifting and the cleaning (sweeping) of the dirt. As you can see I was accompanied in today’s adventure by Big Nate himself, who is preparing for his Hebrew debut and so I thought to provide him with some local exposure.
Today we had some visiting scholars, one was Stuart Miller from the University of Connecticut who has been here in Israel on a Sabbatical for a few months. He is an expert in ritual pools, called “mikvot” (singular “mikvah”) in ancient times. The excavations at Sepphoris over the past 25 years have been unique in many respects, but one aspect is that very large numbers of ritual pools, step pools, and/or mikvot have been revealed…..more than any other site in Israel. Some are probably public ritual baths, but here in Sepphoris there were also many that seem to be from single dwellings. Back in 1985 when Ben, Sarah, Jeannie, and I excavated here, Ben excavated many mikvot because he was usually the only person small enough to enter them through the initial excavation holes.
Ben, Sarah, and Jeannie will be especially interested that I spent part of today with several people studying the various mikvot, and most of that time was spent in the very pits that we dug originally in 1985. As Ben noted last January they were rather in disrepair from a lot of rain wash, but we cleaned up, measured and photographed some of them for the ongoing studies.
We are preparing to open a new large probe area tomorrow, and today the area around it needed to be “cleaned up.” So, you may ask, why do we need to “clean up” the dirt? A scientific archaeological excavation is like a sterile laboratory procedure. One must not allow contamination of a fresh “locus” or area of study with extraneous material. Thus before a new locus is opened, the entire area around it must be cleaned of shards, earth, etc. that might contaminate our understanding of it.
Today during the removal of earth from around this area, one of the students discovered a coin of Claudius II Gothicus, 268-270 CE, which I was able to clean enough in the field to identify. It has the emperor’s face on one side and on the other side it shows Neptune standing holding a trident and a dolphin.  This was a Roman coin brought to Sepphoris at a time when there was a large Roman population here.
We had a lovely vegetarian dinner at a nearby small café which has a small company that manufactures superb quality olive oil from local olives. Nice place, nice people, interesting conversations.
More soon……

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