Troy archaeology students make history

Franchesca Perez

Features Editor

Five Troy University students embarked on the final archaeological expedition of a three-decade excavation to uncover the remains of the Philistines in Ashkelon, Israel, in summer 2016.

Troy University joined the Leon Levy Expedition’s efforts in 2012, partnering with several universities across the nation, such as Harvard University, Boston College and Wheaton College, by sending student volunteers each summer.

According to, the Leon Levy Foundation was founded in 2004 as a private, not-for-profit foundation created from his estate. The foundation is intended “to continue Levy’s philanthropic legacy” by “encouraging and supporting excellence in six broad areas: understanding the ancient world, arts and humanities, preservation of nature and gardens, brain research and science, human rights, and Jewish culture,” according to the website.

The foundation announced in 2013 the discovery of what is believed to be the first Philistine cemetery in existence about 35 miles south of Tel Aviv.

For centuries, there were no human remains of the Philistines. Scientists and historians based the bulk of their knowledge of the Philistines from descriptions in the Bible.

Since the discovery, professional archaeologists and volunteers of all ages travel during excavation season (May-July) to help unearth the artifacts.

Most recently, Ashleigh Williams, a senior anthropology major from Enterprise; Rebekah Ramirez, a junior anthropology major from Montgomery; Clayton Johnson, a Troy alum from Enterprise; Savanna Moore, a senior liberal studies major from Montgomery; and Whitney Spakes, a senior history major form Chattanooga, Tennessee, embarked on a fully funded, six-week expedition to Ashkelon to aid in the efforts for the expedition’s final year.

From June 3 to July 15, 2016, these students worked from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, digging at their assigned sites and washing the artifacts found from the previous day.

At night, the students would attend lectures from various Harvard faculty about the history of the city of Ashkelon.

Williams said she was grateful to have been able to take part in the Leon Levy Expedition.

“It was a life-changing experience to be around people that have the same interests and passions as you,” said Williams. “Going into this trip, I was at a crossroads between wanting to do forensic anthropology or not, but after working with human remains, it solidified my decision to work as a forensic anthropologist.”

Through careful excavations, this expedition has served as a historical lesson on the Philistines, providing an abundance of new information about Philistine culture.

Whitney Spakes said she developed a deeper appreciation for archaeology after participating in the expedition.

“Watching archaeology movies such as Indiana Jones, one thinks it is easy, but it is not,” Spakes said. “So much goes into archaeology from studying the stratigraphy and finding former walls and floors, to carrying heavy Gouffas full of dirt out of the grid and pick-axing almost every day.”

According to Williams, the archaeology department plans on going overseas next summer to participate in another dig, but definite plans have not finalized.

Williams and Spake both said they look forward to participating in trips in the near future.

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