Everyone knows the name Indiana Jones, but before he could become a famous adventurer, he had to become an archeologist first.
Students got that very chance this summer, at a dig in Ashkelon, Israel.
“It was a student-run archeological dig,” said Bill Grantham, a professor of archeology at Troy University. “It was a program called Summer Field School, where the students attended classes while they worked.”
“Troy offers independent study classes to get credits that way,” said Clayton Johnson, a junior anthropology major from Enterprise. “The whole class is through Harvard’s summer school, so you can sign up through them.”
The trip became more than just working and learning, as political tensions heightened.
“Ashkelon was ten miles from Gaza,” Johnson said. “We often saw and heard rockets shot off by Gaza so that the sirens would go off.”
The ongoing situation between Gaza and Israel escalated with the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers, found in the West Bank.
Israel placed blame on Hamas, a militant group that controls the Gaza Strip.
Then, Israel arrested and raided the homes of Palestinians, killing at least ten. In response, Gaza began to send a higher volume of rockets into Israel.
All of these events took place after students arrived and began working at the dig sites.
“Things progressively got worse from there, and there were more rockets and more sirens,” Johnson said. “The fourth weekend, there was a group of people planning on going to Jerusalem, and the bus driver refused to go because of the danger.”
When asked how the political situation between Gaza and Israel affected their trip, Alanna Cook, junior psychology and criminal justice major from Grove Hill said, “We still got to dig, but there were certain activities that we could and could not do.”
“We got sent home early,” Cook said. “Doors opened and closed because of the tensions rising.”
Because of the proximity of the dig to Gaza, the students were moved from their location in Ashkelon to Tiberius, Israel, as Israel enacted Operation Pillar of Defense against Gaza and Hamas.
Tiberius is one of the northernmost cities in Israel, and it is out of range of the rockets being shot from the south.
From the new location, the students were able to see sights that they would not have been able to visit, had the trip gone as planned.
The Sea of Galilee, as well as other archeological sites, was among the sights the students got to see during their three-day tour of Northern Israel. Meanwhile, the directors waited to see if the political issues would calm enough to return to work.
In the end, it was too dangerous to return to finish the digging season and close the sites.
While some schools allowed their students to stay and work at another site in a safer location in the country, Troy University stated that their students needed to be pulled and return to the United States.
New flights were booked and Troy students returned home after spending five weeks in Israel, one week short of their initial return.
Despite the apprehensive situation, there was still time for fun.
“We walked through King Hezekiah’s Tunnel, located in the city of David in Jerusalem,” Cook said. “We also climbed down the cliffs of Arbel with nothing but large metal staples to keep us from falling.”
“We had every weekend off,” Johnson said. “They took us to Jerusalem and took us to the museums, then dropped us off and we had to find our own way back.”
When asked to speak on the cultural differences, there were mixed opinions.
“It was different, but not as different as some people would think,” Johnson said. “I had the best hamburger of my life there.”
“I couldn’t eat a cheeseburger because it wasn’t kosher,” Cook said, taking the opposite side. “The diet was obviously something we had to get used to.”
Despite the cultural differences, both Cook and Johnson expressed an interest in going back.
“After the first week there, I knew I wanted to go back. As an anthropology major, it’s something I’m interested in,” Johnson said.
Johnson also expressed an interest in seeing more people signing up to go on next year’s trip.
“Most people there were just there for the experience,” he said. “Anyone is welcome.”