Student digs up ancient remains in Israel

Alyse Nelson
Assistant Features Editor

Traveling across the world to spend half of the summer in a subtropical climate and taking day trips to snorkel and explore local cities sounds more like a vacation than an academic trip.
A select group of students have been enjoying these benefits every year as they travel to Ashkelon, where a decades-old archeological site has been the source of education and entertainment for Troy students during the past five summers.
Working alongside other schools such as Harvard University and Boston College, Trojans have spent long days digging up clues to the past.
Joel Jackson, a senior anthropology major from Millbrook, discussed the amazing opportunities he had during three summers at the archeological dig site in Ashkelon.
“Usually, I arrive a week before or stay a week after,” Jackson said of the six-week trip that takes place in June and July. “This past year we got to go down to the Red Sea and a few of us went snorkeling. I’ve basically seen every part of Israel in the three years.”
Working his way up in the ranks, last summer Jackson participated at the site as an assistant staff member.
“Our main objective last year was digging toward the Philistine period,” Jackson said. “My job was to make sure all the artifacts were mapped out and make sure it got plugged into our database; as well as keeping up with the volunteers.”
But before that mental image of a good time vanishes, it isn’t all sweating in the hot sun, taking orders from your supervisor and typing away at a computer for nothing.
Grantham, a social sciences professor over the Troy trips to Israel, spent a ten-year period excavating Ashkelon and other sites around Israel. Sharing his favorite part of the digs, the professor said, “always finding new things every day.”
Ashkelon is a vast site that organizations have been exploring for many years. Still, uncovering thousands of years of human history, one layer at a time, has proved to be a daunting task.
Though not as common as remains of farm animals and other artifacts, human skeletons have been found by the Troy team.
“We find a number of things,” Jackson said. “Anything that came out of the field it was our job to make sure those bones were properly processed, labeled and boxed up.”
However, special measures are taken in the case of the discovery of a human.
“If we find a human body it’s going to come out instantly, because, well, they’re valuable,” he said. “If we find a pig, we’re just going to slowly uncover it and check out everything around it.”
The research certainly doesn’t stop when the findings are uncovered.
“We don’t just dig things out the ground,” Jackson said. “We apply it to the culture. The little clues they leave behind, we thoroughly analyze it to come to a theory as to how they lived. It’s a lot of fun. And even the paperwork we have to go through—I’ve spent 13-hour days sitting at a computer—it’s worth it.”
A diverse range of information can be deduced about the culture being studied by examining the bones that are left behind. An inspection of the bones can shed light on everything from the obvious, such as their burial rituals, to the more obscure, like the culture’s dietary habits.
One example, Jackson shares, involves pigs with marks denoting butchering in areas where only Jewish inhabitants were known to live. This could indicate that not all Jewish communities followed a strict kosher diet throughout history.
In contrast to the carefully marked grids, exhaustive planning and coordinating that characterizes the Ashkelon site and others, Jackson did not precisely plan his involvement with the programs.
“Actually, I took a class that I didn’t need to take and happened to enjoy it,” he said about uncovering his passion for archeology and anthropology in general. “Jason Mann was the one that invited me originally to start digging. He led a field excavation in Salem, and I went there for two months.”
“When I came in, I knew nothing about archaeology,” Jackson said. “Troy has given me such a great opportunity in this department. They really took me in and gave me experience. From what I can see, other universities don’t do that. I’m not worried at all about being able to get a job after this.”
Hoping to advance far from his beginnings, Jackson has plans of entering graduate school and focusing on bones as his subject of study.
If other students wish to explore their interest in archeology and anthropology, Jackson said that there are many opportunities to do so, and hopes that students will take advantage of them.
“We do a lot of volunteer digs—we take anyone who wants to go out and dig.”
This gives a lot of students with no experience the ability to easily gain some knowledge.
Grantham confirms Jackson’s efforts in drumming up enthusiasm for archeology. “Joel plays a very important part in recruiting students,” he said.
In the meantime, the social science department is looking forward to next summer’s expedition to Israel.

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