Today, I am going to beg everyone's indulgence and end regular posting on the Ashkelon blog on a personal note.
My first season was in 1989. I spent the summer in Grid 38 digging open air sewers in Roman streets. I loved every minute of it. I returned the following year and spent another summer in Grid 38. By then there could be no doubt, the archaeology bug had bitten me and I was hooked.
In 1991 I joined the staff and moved from Grid 38 to Grid 50 which was just a short run down the dump from the Mediterranean and swimming during fruit break. There I dug robber trenches, dog burials (approximately 100) and meters and meters of the Persian period.
In 1997, I opened Grid 51 where I spent the summer excavating the Islamic and Byzantine periods.
It was back to Grid 50 for a year and then when I returned, Grids 23, 47, 44, 32, 25 and finally, the cemetery of Philistine Ashkelon. Each excavation area was another piece of the puzzle that told us about the history Ashkelon. There was the bedrock sand and the elusive cardo in Grid 25, the dogs in Grid 50, the dense Islamic and Crusader residential settlement in Grid 44, and so much more.
My Ashkelon story is one that lasted 20 excavation seasons over the course of 27 years. It is not a unique story. Co - Director Daniel Master also reached 20 excavation seasons this summer. Many of my fellow staff members passed the decade mark years ago (Adam and Kate to name two) and many others are hovering right around it (Josh). I am sure there are others as well. Some have participated only a year or two or three and at least two staff members, Lawrence Stager and Paula Wannish, were here in 1985 and again in 2016.
We all have similar stories, as do the countless specialists from zooarchaeologists, physical anthropologists, microarchaeologists and geologists to archaeobotanists, conservators, and surveyors who have helped to make sense of the material we found.
I believe many of us would tell you that most seasons, we were the least important people in our excavation areas. The people who really mattered? The ones who ensured we learned so much about the history and archaeology of Ashkelon? The volunteers: students, retirees, professors, nurses, computer scientists, artists, architects, engineers, theologians, historians, people from all walks of life. Everyone who got their hands in the dirt, who rode the bus at 5:00 in the morning, who dived into the containers on a compound day, who relished the challenge of sweeping the dirt clean, who collected EVERY sherd, bone, and piece of glass, played an important role in telling the stories of ancient Ashkelon.
With the help of more than 1,000 staff and volunteers, we uncovered the earliest occupation at Ashkelon (Chalcholithic/EB), excavated Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of the city in 604, explored daily life, and death, in Philistine Ashkelon, traced the development of orthogonal city planning in the Persian and Hellenistic cities, revisited the city's Roman period bouleuterion, excavated and restored the MB II Canaanite Gate, tracked urban developments in the Byzantine, Islamic and Crusader periods, and deciphered the sequence of the fortifications ringing the city.
We have learned a great deal about ancient Ashkelon in the 30 years of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon. There is more work to do but not for us. Now we return the archaeological site to the national park in which it is housed. Today Grid 51 is a field of dirt but nature works quickly and it won't be long before it is reclaimed just as has happened with previous excavation areas.
Our excavation is done but our publication work continues as does our commitment to leaving a lasting legacy for the park and the people of Ashkelon. The Philistine house in Grid 38 will be conserved in the future while work on the restoration of the bouleuterion is well under way. Stage 1, an IAA excavation preparing the surrounding landscape, is in process.
Good-byes are hard, especially after 30 years, but it's time. On behalf of the 2016 Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon staff, I'd like to thank everyone who helped us excavate Ashkelon, to everyone who ever helped us tell the story of this remarkable city, and to those who will help us finish the publication program. I'd like to thank the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
It was the vision and support of Leon Levy and then the continued and unwavering support of Shelby White and the Leon Levy Foundation that made it all possible and allowed us to excavate Ashkelon for 30 years. Thank you.
Finally, to the Ashkelon staff, more an extended family than a group of co-workers, thank you. It was a fantastic run and I loved each and every minute of it.