Religious Studies News

7 Jun

I’m still digging at Bethsaida after eight years. Some people think I’m a little “out there” to keep coming back to the desert heat, dirt, and dust year after year to volunteer on an archaeological dig. And in the hopes of finding what? More pottery (if that’s even possible!)? Fame and fortune (I doubt it)?

Here is a picture of me (way back in 2008) working on the engineering at the site.
Dr. Gale

Admittedly, part of the reason I come back year after year are my students. I enjoy watching the wondrous expressions on their faces as they discover new things in Israel each summer. But selfishly, there is more to it than that. Quite frankly, I don’t enjoy getting up at 4:30am in the morning, or feverishly gulping water all day in the hopes that I don’t pass out from heat stroke. On the other hand, I’m somehow drawn to Bethsaida each summer for many reasons. I feel like I’m part of a family (albeit a sometimes seemingly dysfunctional one), and that I’m part of a team that is on a mission to uncover history. And seeing the different volunteers (and some of the same ones) each year is, well, interesting unto itself.

I began eight seasons ago as a volunteer, and I spent much of the dig that year moving boulders. Eventually, I learned more about how a dig works until one summer Dr. Arav told me that I was now going to be an area supervisor in the A-East section of the dig. My first thought was, “How cool, a field promotion!” Then I began to ask myself, “What the heck does an area supervisor do anyway”?

Well, I soon learned that a supervisor does many things, including keeping daily logs, drawing maps, fixing broken equipment, taking elevations and doing other engineering work, instructing diggers, assisting other areas, etc. Interestingly, a 21st century archaeological dig is a fascinating mix of old-fashioned hand work integrated with an ever growing influx of technology. Let me give you an example:

Here is a picture of a daily sheet (or diary, as it is called), containing information about what each of my groups are doing every day. Alongside of it is a picture of a laptop computer data entry page. Both the hand sheets and the computer data are used side-by-side to help give the dig directors a clear picture of the entire archaeological site, including significant findings, roads, walls, gates, etc.
Bethsaida Daily Sheet Bethsaida Computer Entry

More probably goes on at an archaeological dig than people realize. Personally, even though I may now be considered “middle management,” I still love the raw nature of the work that goes on at an archaeological site. And Bethsaida, in some ways, has become a kind of summer home for me.

Alright, alright, I confess that there is a part of me that is dying to discover something earth-shattering like a snippet from one of the apostles’ diaries or an ancient stone monument dedicated to an Egyptian pharaoh who was passing through the region. I’m human, you know? But in the bigger puzzle that is Bethsaida, I’d like to think that I’m adding at least one tiny piece to it each summer.

Aaron Gale

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