Ashkelon's Timeline

Have you been one of the followers who has been reading our blog for a while? I know lots of you are! Something you may not have noticed about our posts of what we find in Grid 51 is that as we get deeper, things are getting older. In science, the Law of Superposition tells us that older layers are at the bottom, while newer things are built on top (think of it like your laundry basket-what you wear on Monday is at the bottom, and what you wear on Friday is at the top). Right now in Grid 51, we are just starting to hit the Philistine period, but volunteers had to go through other layers first. Check out this timeline to see how periods in Ashkelon are built on each other, and you can even do this lesson to help you better understand how this vertical timeline was created.

What are some of the things we are finding?

In Grid 51, we are digging up some really cool things! We are coming up on a layer that was destroyed in a fire, so we are finding a lot of objects that were left behind when homes were destroyed. Many have pots and other household objects that fell over, so everyday we are uncovering more and more clues to how people in the Philistine period lived.

Below is a picture of something that I have been excavating for the past couple of days. Can you figure out what it is? I will post the answer in the comments so you can learn about it!

Want to see how big it is? It is about the length from your shoulder to your wrist, and about as wide as your elbow to your wrist. 

Want to see how big it is? It is about the length from your shoulder to your wrist, and about as wide as your elbow to your wrist. 

How do archaeologists determine where to dig?

One of the questions that my students ask most is-"How do the archaeologists know where to dig?" That's a great question, and one I had myself. I asked one of the grid supervisors, Dr. Tracy Hoffman, to tell me how this is done. She let me know that archaeologists use the scientific method to not only find where their next dig site will be, but also what to uncover in the grid once they start digging. Listen to her tell more about it below.

Meet volunteers 1

Over the next three weeks, I will be introducing you to some of the volunteers who are here in Ashkelon. Most of them come from Wheaton College, Harvard, Troy, and Wesleyan-but some are here just because they love archaeology! Click below to meet a couple of the people who are here and hear why they decided to come on the dig.

Sheep/Goat bones

We found a pretty cool thing this week in Grid 51 - a big pile of bones! The volunteer who was digging in that area was pretty surprised when they came up, especially since there were so many of them together. When we find animal bones in the field, we call our zooarchaeologists to come out and tell us why they think they are there. Listen as one of our specialists, Paula, tells you about the sheep/goat bone pile (click this link to see why these are called sheep/goat bones).

Compound Day

Rather than digging in the grid today, volunteers stayed in our pottery compound to help clean, label, and organize pottery into different time periods. Since we had to leave early last year, there was lots of pottery that needed to be sorted in addition to what we have found so far this year. Watch below as some volunteers tell you about the pieces they are working with.

How is Archaeology in Ashkelon like Archaeology in America?

How is archaeology in Ashkelon different from archaeology in America? I was curious, so I decided to ask one of the volunteers who works in our grid, Gordy (check out Gordy talking about his job here). He digs in places where people want to build things to see if there are any artifacts in that areas-they want to preserve America's history! It was pretty interesting to hear how our dig site compares to where he works...

Community Day at Ashkelon

Once a year, students from Ashkelon are invited to come dig with us at the different grid sites. There are two main reasons for this.

1. Our dig wants the community to know what we are studying and finding in the sights so they are more connected with their history. It's important to know what happened in the past, especially when it is so close to where you live!

2. We want students to see the importance of archaeology when making decisions later on in life. Archaeologists can't explore if they do not have support of the community that surrounds the site!

Grid 51 had nine students come in to use patiches, sweep, practice pick axe-ing, and move rock walls. (If you want to see how all of these tools are used, watch this video!)

Check out these pictures of students washing pottery and a clip of two students talking about their time with us today.

How are objects recorded?

I've done work with the Field Museum in Chicago to teach Boy Scouts about archaeology for their Archaeology Merit Badge, and one thing we do is practice labeling objects that we find. I always tell them that this is one of the most important parts when you are on a dig so that archaeologists can go back and tell where something was found-because after you move it, you can never put it back in the exact same place. In Ashkelon, we record the location of four major things-pottery, bones, material cultures, and soil samples (so they can check for plants/seeds/food remains). I asked one of our square supervisors, Rebecca, to explain what actually goes on the tag when something is found. After the tag is made, they go through with our Geographic Information System (GIS) team to record the exact location it was found in the grid and mark it on the map of our grid.

First day back in Grid 51

Today is the first day I've been back in the field and it is so interesting to see how the grid has changed in the two weeks since the season started! At the end of last year, we were just beginning to reach the 604 BC destruction layer when the city was burned down by a Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. There are parts of the grid that have different time periods exposed, so I asked Maddie, one of our senior volunteers, to explain one of the cross sections of a floor. You will see different markers on the wall that tell the supervisors which time periods they are looking at so they can correctly log what they find, and in this section, you will see a layer from 604 BC up to the early Persian period between 538-332 BC.

The 2015 season is underway!

I am so excited to be back for my second year in Ashkelon! I'm getting a late start because of the school I teach at ending late due to snow days, but I am hitting the ground running and will be posting frequently about what is going on at the dig site. Make sure you check back here throughout the summer for new blog posts, pictures, and junior archaeologist assignments. If you have any questions or would like any of the archaeologist here to explain something to you, email me at!

What did the people in ancient Ashkelon eat?

Dr. Deirdre Fulton, one of Ashkelon's zooarchaeologists, is here to tell you about what people in ancient Ashkelon used to eat. 

Question of the day: 

Does where you live determine what foods you eat? In America we are very lucky because food is shipped from all over the world when it is not in season, but do all countries have this same option?

Junior Archaeologist Assignment:

Look in your fridge and research where your fruits, vegetables, and meats came from. Many of them have where they are from on their stickers and are grown in warmer climates. Compare these fruits, vegetables, and livestock to what is grown in your area-how do they compare?

Teaming up with Biblical Archaeology Review

Both Dr. Tracy Hoffman and I have been speaking with Biblical Archaeology Review throughout our time on the dig to give updates to their readers. We let them know how we were preparing for the trip, what we were finding, and the outcome of our dig season. Click here to see my most recent article!  You can also go through the rest of the field notes to see Dr. Hoffman's updates and how I prepared for my trip before leaving to Israel.

Who is who on the dig?

On the Ashkelon dig, we have many different people who come to help. Specialists, volunteers, supervisors, and I all work together to excavate and answer questions we have about Ashkelon in the past.  Watch the video here that explains what all the jobs are!  

One of the dig specialists, Dr. Sherry Fox, recently took the time to Skype in with me from Greece to talk about what she studies-human bones! Watch the video below to see her explain how she is able to tell the gender, diet, and age of the person while they were alive.

Question of the day:

What else do you think scientists look at around where they find human bones? What other clues that are near the person may give scientists a hint of what was important to that culture?

Junior Archaeologist Assignment:

Look at the different types of meats you may have in the freezer at your house (or at the grocery store) and compare the bones that you see. Can the bones give you hints of what part of the animal that the meat cut comes from? What do the different bones have in common, and how are they different? Do you think that you would be able to identify what type of animal it came from by just looking at the bone?

Last stop of the learning tour - Megiddo

It is very fitting that the last stop of our learning tour was Megiddo, a word that means Armageddon in Greek (Armageddon is the battle in the Bible during the end times).

Megiddo is an extremely large tel where 26 layers have been unearthed. It was an extremely important city-state that guarded the narrow strip of land that was the trade route between Assyria and Egypt. People lived in Megiddo from 7000 BCE until 586 BCE, and excavators found a temple here used in the Early Bronze Age that was the biggest and most monumental edifice (system of religious beliefs) of its time in all of the middle east. 

The site started to excavated by the University of Chicago (along with the Oriental Institute in Chicago) in 1925 and was funded by John D. Rockefeller (have you heard of Rockefeller center in New York? That was named after his family) until World War II. The site began to be excavated again during the 1960s and ever since 1994. We even have some of our volunteers stay here to help dig for their last week since we were not able to return to Ashkelon!

Junior Archaeologist Assignment:

Go through your logbook and look at all of the notes you have made during the summer. What was the most interesting thing you learned? Do you still have any questions about archaeology that aren't answered on our site? What job might you want to do on a dig site? Email your answers to me at and I will post some of the responses I get!

Question of the Day:

Why do you think that the Greek name for this site means "Armageddon"? What about the site might have led them to call them that?

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The Bet Alpha Zodiac

Bet Alpha is a synagogue with a beautiful mosaic floor built in the 6th century (500-599 CE). In the 1920's, members of a local community were digging an irrigation system and found the floor. It was excavated until the mid-1960s and was soon after turned into a national park.

In the middle of the floor is a zodiac (you can see a better picture of it here). Have you ever seen a zodiac before? You can see another picture of one here that shows a constellation zodiac. Zodiacs show different times during the year and are based on how Earth moves around the sun. The zodiac at Bet Alpha represents the different seasons of agriculture (growing crops) during the year.

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Junior Archaeologist Assignment: 

 Next, take colored pieces of construction paper and cut them into tiny squares. Can you make a picture on a white piece of paper using these squares like the mosaic you see above? See some examples here:




Question of the day:

When you have seen a zodiac before? Have you seen it in places like a Chinese restaurant or when people talk about their horoscope? Are all of the zodiacs are the same or different? Why do you think they put the zodiac on the floor instead of the wall, and why did they just not paint it?


An early morning hike at Arbel Cliffs

Our last day of touring started at the Arbel Cliffs. As we were overlooking the Galilee region, two of our volunteers got engaged! They had been dating at home, and this was a fabulous way to end our trip. We then set off on a long hike down the cliff side to the excitement of some-and through sheer terror of others. (I was part of the sheer terror group-there's a long period of time on this hike with no pictures because you had to hold onto ropes as you climbed down a narrow path on the cliff)

Arbel is a really cool place because fortresses have been built into the actual face of the cliff so it was harder to attack. These natural caves were used by rebels against King Herod and fortified during the Roman period. Below, we were able to see the Roman, Byzantine, and Hellenistic period village ruins-there was a lot of history there!

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Throw Back Thursday - Ashkelon style

Taking a break from our trip, I thought I would post some pictures from back in Ashkelon.

The week before I left, I had the chance to go with Ben, a geoarchaeologist to the beach of the Mediterranean Sea (our dig site was only about 50 yards from the beach, it was pretty great). While there, he explained how the sea has caused erosion over time to the beach front. To prevent this, jetties were put in to stop some of the fast moving water (click here to see a picture of a jetty)-but in doing this, the deposition levels of different areas has changed.

Question of the day:

I know my 6th grade class has looked at how this happens and have designed ways to slow erosion on beaches. Think about a time that you have been to a beach-is the level of sand and rocks the same all across it? What other ways can you think of to stop the erosion of sand and rocks from beaches besides just putting a wall up?

Junior Archaeologist Assignment:

Watch this video as Ben explains erosion, then check out the pictures below. One man made way of slowing rock erosion is to reuse ancient Roman columns and lay them down under walls. This stops the water from washing away rock layers because the columns break the waves! Draw in your log book other ways you can think of to stop water from eroding the seashore. What positive and negatives might your addition change on the beach? What do you think the beach front will look like after you add your addition?


Day 2 of the learning tour ended at Belvoir, a Crusader fortress. It was used from 1168-1189 when it was lost in battle to Saladin and his Muslim forces. The ruler of Damascus destroyed the fortress in 1220 so that the Crusaders could not come back to it and use it for fortification again. It wasn't until the 1700s that an Arab village, Kaukab el-Hawa was built on top of the ruins, but it lasted until 1948 before being destroyed again in the War of Independence.

Check out the awesome moat around the fortress. You could walk around in it!

Check out the awesome moat around the fortress. You could walk around in it!

View of Jordan from the highest part of the fortress.

View of Jordan from the highest part of the fortress.

Bet She'an

Alright, so let me start this post by saying that Bet She'an was probably one of the coolest archaeological sites I've ever been to. I love learning about Roman history, and this ancient city has left tons of Roman artifacts behind-largely in tact. I know many volunteers and I agreed that this was one of the favorite sites we visited, even in the 112 degree heat. 

Bet She'an was built in the fifth millennium BCE. During the Late Canaanite period, the city was ruled by the Egyptians. After a battle, King David took the city (along with Migiddo, which you will read about later on) and it became a major center during King Soloman's reign until it was destroyed in 732 BCE. After, the city of Nysa-Scythopolis was built on top. This happened very often in history, and is what the word "tel" refers to-cities built upon cities.

During the second century BCE, the city was mostly populated by a Jewish population until 63 BCE when the Romans conquered it. It was one of the ten cities of the Decapolis, and it became one of the most important cities in Northern Israel.

In the Byzantine period, Bet She'an became mostly Christian, and the population reached as high as 30,000 to 40,000. A major earthquake hit the city in 749 CE and ruined most of buildings. The city was largely forgotten about and a small city, Beisan, was built on top. Bet She'an started to be excavated in the 1920's with most of the major renovations being carried out in the mid 1980's.

You will also note a famous tree pictured below that was featured in the last scene of Jesus Christ, Superstar.

Junior Archaeologist Assignment:

Take your logbook with you to any shopping area in your town. Create a map showing all of the businesses that are there-what do you see? In Bet She'an, there was a theater, market, and places to worship. Do you see any of these things? What do these places tell you about how people in the area live?

Question of the Day:

Do you think that all of the cities that we have seen in Israel have had this same layout? Why or why not? Why do you think that cities like this show us in more detail the way that people lived during this time period than others?