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It’s been more than two weeks since Dr. John Strong and four MSU students began excavating the ancient city of Tel Gezer in Israel. As KSMU’s Samuel Crowe tells us, the experience for them has been nothing short of a success.
Halfway around the world, five members of the MSU community are spending their days digging for artifacts at Tel Gezer, an ancient Assyrian administrative city in Israel. Covered in dirt, they are determined to keep finding pottery, oil vats and other relics that were common during the eighth century B.C.E., despite working under searing temperatures that reach up to 86 degrees. Dr. John Strong is a professor of religious studies at MSU and shared the thrill of working on this archaeological site. He joined KSMU by phone from the Middle East.
“Last Friday, I was very excited to take down the last few courses of the ancient city wall. This city wall dated to the eighth century, had course left in it, and we took those stones off and broke them off and moved them out, and started to explore underneath them,” he said.
Strong jokingly compared himself to ancient Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser as he described the event, saying he finished the job the king couldn’t during the siege of Gezer in 735 B.C.E. It’s these experiences that keep Strong coming back every summer.
“I personally learn so much. And it’s from touching the material in the ground and seeing it with your own eyes. And that kind of an experience is just so much richer than seeing a picture or hearing a lecture in Springfield. As good as those lectures are, ultimately you just have to get over here and touch it,” said Strong.
Strong mentioned that the directors of the site focus on using it as an educational tool for the students who travel long ways to learn.
"There are students from all over, really all over the world. We have students from Africa, Britain, from around the world who are a part of this, and it’s fun to work with the students. You see students who are moving dirt and seeing pottery for the first time, and that’s very exciting and very rewarding,” he said.
Heather Springer, a junior anthropology major at MSU, is one of those students. She described what daily life is like at Tel Gezer.
“I’ve been working in a square labeled A-3. We’re trying to find the entrance of a house, the largest house we’ve found in this area. We’ve been digging through what looks like a lot of Hellenistic debris and ash, finding almost complete vessels. And we’ve worked on taking out a dog skeleton before he disintegrated on us,” said Heather Springer.
Springer mentioned that she and the other students travel through Israel on the weekends to supplement their hard work. She said that studying abroad is a life changing experience that every student should pursue, and her days spent digging dirt at Tel Gezer has certainly changed hers.
“The field experience itself is just wonderful, being able to be out there and see how it’s done instead of just learning about it in a classroom. Because when you can actually look at a site and you can touch the stuff with your own hands, you understand it better than seeing pictures of it on a slide,” she said.
As the MSU dig team heads back to their guest house in the nearby village of Neve Shalom every evening, they do so with a sense that they are helping uncover what life was like thousands of years ago in ancient Israel. But as Strong points out, there is still a lot of dirt to be unearthed in the next two weeks – one meter deep, to be exact. For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.