An unofficial blog on the archaeological excavation at Horbat Omrit, northern Israel. 22 May to 22 June 2010.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Friday, Jan. 22

A guest blog from Greg:

"I extended my stay in Israel so that I could do the aerial photography today. It was the first clear day that we've had since last Sunday.

WOW! I had an adrenaline rush for about 2 hours after the flight. Dan said my eyes were as big as dinner plates when I got off the ultralight, which was basically a go cart attached to a kite. In addition to the pictures for my project I got all sorts of great photos of the site and the general region, including one of my favorite Thai restaurant outside of Kiryat Shemona. Actually, I think it's the only Thai restaurant in Kiryat Shemona...

Was the flight archaeologically valuable? Well, the Xs in the middle of our control points are tough to make out. You can see the circle of rocks that we spray-painted around each X, so I'll have to aim at the middle of that when I'm rubber-sheeting onto my total station data. That data is sound, and will be usefull. Further, there were several features visible from the air that I don't think we've ever seen on the ground before, and it was great to see the overview of the route up to Banias and the contents of the minefield on Tel Azzaziyot.

In general, it was tough to be systematic about the photography while flying. At one point we were hit by some wind which made the Wizard roller-coaster at Great America feel like a tricycle ride. (Riding the Wizard when I was 6 years old is sort of my standard for excitement. I have no idea if I would find it scary at all today at the age of 34.)

I came off the ultralight with my face covered in dried tears and snot because it was really, really, cold. Heavy fog over the airfield made the pilot start to consider "alternate" landing places. We had to circle around for about 10 minutes until he felt he could see enough to make the landing. But when we were done with the 1 hour flight we still had about 3/4 of our fuel left, so we were doing okay.

If I had to do this again I would try to mount a video camera on the bottom of the plane and have him fly level transects across the site. Then I could pull out individual frames for my map, and be assured of both 100% coverage and significant overlap for the stereo effect. A balloon might also give me better control for framing the shots.

Dan and I will see what we can do with the photos that I took and then re-evaluate the process. The pilot also took some pictures (Hey Man! Keep your hand on the stick!) which are more scenic. My most useful pictures are the ones of grass and stones, not very exciting at all."

Greg ready to fly:

The temple at Omrit from the air:

The land between the wadis
Note the temple center right

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thursday, Jan. 21

Last post. Still raining! Though it quit around noon. The morning spent packing and lunch at Luizza, my new favorite restaurant. Then, with Greg driving, off to the coast and Akko where I caught a train directly to the airport. Swift indeed. Stopped off at Kedesh, across the Hula Valley from us. There is a later Roman temple there also that has never been dug.

Greg at Kedesh

Sarcophagi at Kedesh

Sunset over the Mediterranean

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wednesday, Jan 20

The heaviest rain yet! Greg is extending his stay to attempt the flight on Friday or Saturday. I'm leaving late tomorrow night and arriving Friday afternoon. I hope. I'll blog one last time from the Ben Gurion airport.

I'm reduced to meals and the Jordan River!

Breakfast laid out for us in the office

Having a coffee after running errands

"The River Jordan is muddy and wide"

Tuesday, January 19

Rain let up a little and we went out to the site with 2 visitors: Gaby Mazor, who has worked at (and written about) Omrit and a friend of his and Dan's from the Israel Antiquities Authority. After the tour we went to yet another kibbutz for lunch.

Inspecting some damage


Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday, Jan 18

Rain, rain, rain.

The forecast is all rain, all the time, until we leave early Friday. Sigh.

Last night we went, with Udo, to the Luizza Restaurant on the Barukh Kibbutz, sorry I didn't take my camera. It's run by a young couple (who spent 2 years in NYC running coffee shops) who clearly had the idea of a Paris cafe. They suceeded admirably with 4 tables and excellent food, all prepared by them.

My main task today is to read (and proof a little) a book-length manuscript about Omrit to be published soon.

Here's a picture of Dan, Greg and Udo at lunch today in the Lordan factory cafeteria:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday, Jan.17

Today, we pretty much finished marking and shooting points for the topo map. Below you'll see Dan weed-wacking out a small circle and then the finished product. When photographed from above the points, these (stereo) photos will produce a much better product. We hope. A big storm is brewing and arrives tomorrow.

The vegetation is much higher than we expected and hides many small and big rocks and boulders, which makes navigating through tough for me, though not for my jack-rabbit friends.

Above is my stock photo looking west over the Hula Valley towards Lebanon over the ridge. Two things to be noted here. Here in the far north, where Israel ends, from here to there is as wide as Israel is. Though the Golan Heights behind me were captured in the 1967 war to provide a buffer with Syria. In the early and mid-1940's many Kibbutzim were founded in anticipation of a future war to defend this territory, which happened in 1948. We stay at one of them: Kibbutz Kfar Szold. (See also below.)

The other thing to notice is that the Hula Valley is part of the Great Rift Valley which extends from northern Syria south through here, on to the Dead Sea, the Red Sea and deep into Africa. The Arabian plate, on which we sit, is moving north and pulling away from the African plate across the valley.

Tonight the 3 of us and Udo, a Kibbutz resident, are going out to dinner. (There's a picture of Udo somewhere in the 2008 blog. He's the one holding a Syrian artillery shell.) Our restaurant is a new one in the Kibbutz Ma'ayan Barukh, another kibbutz founded before the '48 war. Indeed it seems that, outside of the town of Kiryat Shmona, most people around here live on a kibbutz. And every one of those kibbutz is surrounded by a barbed-wire fence! Still.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saturday, Jan. 16

A full work day today, mainly doing the work I talked about yesterday: First marking the points that will be used for surveying with red tape (because rain is expected) and spray paint. Then setting up the laser surveying instrument and "shooting" the points. This involved an amazing amount of movement by Dan and Greg over the site. Mainly I worked the instrument. We managed to shoot well over half the points and hope to finish tomorrow. Rain is expected Monday and Tuesday and we hope our markings survive until the aerial photos on Wednesday. Here's a photo of Greg programming the instrument and an "architectural feature" across the wadi.

Below is a picture of the village of Ghajar taken from Omrit. The heading is northwest into Lebanon. In fact the village in white you see is right on the border. Actually the border, as determined by the UN, runs right through the village! The north half is in Lebanon and the south half is in Israel. To top it all off, the villagers consider themselves Syrian. Only in the Middle East. Here is an NPR story about this from last summer. (Update: Here are recent articles about Ghajar in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.)
(And yet another reporter who also visited from Foreign Policy magazine.)

Note the column drums in the right foreground.

To finish, a not very spectacular photo of the spectacular sunset over Lebanon this evening as we headed home. And yes we arrived to work at sunrise.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday, Jan 15

Shalom Shabbat from Israel! The sun is setting here.

Boy, we worked so hard today, I forgot to take pictures. So let me tell you what we've been doing on our 7 acre plot. Which may not seem like a lot but it's filled rocks and boulders hidden by vegetation with a couple of 40 foot slopes. Dan and Greg have no trouble walking it, but it slows me down.

We are surveying the area to make a topographic map. We'll do this by plotting about 100 points, some of which are clustered around "architectural features", and for each point we need to know the exact location, including altitude.

an "architectural feature"? Perhaps a wall

We do this with a laser surveying instrument and start with a number of points around the temple whose exact locations are known. (The exact location of these points was found using a pre-war British survey marker on a hill about a 1/2 mile away.)

Then, using those known points, we locate some exact points near our project. Then we move the instrument where it can see those points and the 100 points we will use for mapping. We find the exact location of the instrument and then "shoot" those 100 points and software will produce a topo map. Accuracy is less than a centimeter. Easy, what?

Well, first we have to climb all over these heights picking the 103 points, weed-wacking the vegetation away, marking the spot with a neon red X and with a flag (to help us find it again). THEN we climb all over these heights again with a survey rod to the 100 Xs so that the instrument can "shoot" the locations. Shooting will start tomorrow.

The big red X is because we are going to take some aerial photos too. More on that when it happens.

Here's a nice photo from yesterday morning, after an evening rain, of fog that filled the Hula Valley. Eventually the fog came up and covered the temple.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thursday, Jan. 14

I wanted to blog a little about a shopping trip we took to Kiryat Shmona yesterday. It's the closest big town around and we needed some supplies. Though K-Shmona has malls and a few big department stores, it also has "Industrial Districts". Here there are many small stores, workshops and factories that can supply one with anything, almost literally. So off we went with Johnny, who was acting more as a guide to the best places than a translator. (Every shop has someone who speaks a little English.) Below right is the lawn shop we went to for weed-wacker supplies:

Although well-stocked it seems most customers were getting blades sharpened or items machined. Then off to a hardware store and an electrical shop, all run by people who know what they're doing. Here's another typical street in the area.

On the other side of the ridge in the background is Lebanon. Every now and then, more so in the past, rockets get lobbed over onto the town.

A note here about the regular digging season and finding coins. It's always exciting but soon becomes anticlimactic. The coin is dirty, unreadable and quickly packaged to be sent later to a cleaner and coin-reader. But here's a coin gussied up from a few years ago:

This is a coin of Gallienus, a Roman emperor, and was minted in 267 C.E.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wednesday, Jan. 13

An interesting day today. We started out at 6:30am full of enthusiasm. As we approached the turn-off into the site of Omrit we met with a locked gate. It was a newish gate but it had never been closed before. The gate was where our kibbutz land starts (the site is also on kibbutz land) and its purpose, we found out, is to prevent poachers from stealing the kibbutz's cattle. And the gate was put up by "The Cowboy", as he's know by Omritians. The Cowboy supervises the cattle, and he locks the gate at night. We were just too early.

We later got a key but for now the morning was disrupted, so off we went on an alternate route. Let me briefly explain the geography. Omrit stands on a western foothill of the Golan Heights. As does the kibbutz which is 3 or 4 miles south. These foothills overlook the Hula Valley. The main road is in the valley but we went up to a back road from the kibbutz to Omrit in the foothills and it runs a little higher than the valley road. Here is a photo as we approach the site (in white stone, center left) on that road.

In the background you can see a higher and dominating foothill, Tel Azaziat. In 1967 there was a Syrian bunker (a fort really) on the top of that hill - where the trees are now. (Zoom your browser for a good view.) During the 1967 war, when the Israelis decided to attack the Golan, this bunker was one of the first places attacked by the Golani Brigade of the Israel Defence Forces.

As we approached the site we decided instead to go on the memorial on top, that, suprisingly, the Omrit veterans in the truck never had visited. The memorial is basically the ruins of the large bunker, which was captured in a matter of hours on June 9, 1967.

From the top there are magnificent views of Omrit and the Hula Valley and we had a good view of the geography of the area we had walked the previous day.

This back road that we took to the site and Tel Azaziat is an ancient road, dating back at least to the Romans.

Indeed, this quite elegant bridge, over which our road crosses, may be Hellenistic and predate the Romans, though it has been reinforced many times since.

Quite an adventure before breakfast and enough for the blog today.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tuesday, Jan. 12

We all woke early, still a little lagged. And we are just 3, all who made it. Dan, co-director of the Omrit dig, Greg, a professional archaeologist currently working on a Ph.D. and looking for material from this project, and me.

Here's Greg surveying.

Greta, who supervises the kibbutz's rental rooms, brought us a nice breakfast at 8:30 and then we were off to the site. The morning we spent walking the large area we are at looking at to find interesting places to dig in the future. Unfortuately the area has recovered from the fire in the spring. Fortunately the weeds are ankle high and not waist high.

A wall worth exploring?

At 1:00 we returned to the kibbutz's factory's cafeteria for lunch and then back. Dan weed-wacked in some interesting areas and Greg and I set up the new "Total Station", a laser surgveying instrument that we will use for mapping. We came back so that Dan and Greg could have a Hebrew lesson (bokra tov, dudes!) and then into town for a little schawarma. It was a bit better than the schawarma I had in Georgia last Saturday night.

We visited a short while with Johnny and Siona and family, who are friends with Dan and who live in a nearby kibbutz. Now we're ready for an early start tomorrow!

Monday, Jan 11

A short post here, we (me, Greg and Dan) left late Sunday night from Atlanta and arrived Monday evening after a 12 hour flight, having seen a sunrise and a sunset from the plane. We picked up a rental truck, fought rush hour traffic, and made the 3 hour trek north to Kibbutz Kfar Szold. We checked out our rooms (wi-fi works fine!), dropped off our luggage and then to a late supper. Finally to bed, fighting jet lag.