A big part of any archaeological excavation is what archaeologists term “controlled destruction,” and that’s what I’ve been doing in section Z. Our area is set apart from the rest of the dig as a new locus. Last year, the top soil and first layers were removed, and now this year we are working hard to get down further, taking out bulkheads, and exposing tier after tier of time. We’re at the Persian layer right now, when the Assyrians conquered Akko and turned it into their new headquarters for conquering the rest of the Levant, and Egypt.
My project is a small, oblong pit, formed by ashlar-cut stones, originally lined with plaster. There is evidence this six or seven-foot long, two or three-foot wide installation held something valuable and was plundered in antiquity. Later, it seems to have become a convenient place to throw broken pottery.
My task has been to excavate the soil, inch by inch, pull out the pottery shards, work around the plaster that melted and fell long ago, and get down to the bottom of the pit to see if ashlar stones also line the floor of this stone structure.
As hard as the work is for someone reaching the end of her fifties, who has been leading a largely sedentary lifestyle for the past decade, the excitement of discovery, and the mystery of what this installation had originally been intended for, has kept me enthralled. Off I sent, bucket after bucket, samples to be sifted for tiny fragments of pottery, bone, shell, and whatnot. Internally, I’ve had a running monologue with myself, “Yep, another storage jar shard. Oh, here’s a nice lip remnant, hope they’re able to reconstruct from that. Ah yes, that is one big handle,” and so on. I knew my project was going to be about knowledge, not about an exciting “special find,” as they’re called (like yesterday’s scarab).
Then a shout went up from the sifting sector, near our square. “An arrowhead!” Ya mean I found something? Hurrah!
I can’t publish the actual arrowhead, but this picture from the Metropolitan Museum of Art [CC0] is a pretty close facsimile. Evidently, arrowhead technology remained pretty steady for a good twelve or thirteen hundred years in the middle east and Europe.
Imagine my delight when later Rachel (pottery expert and archaeologist) sent me her paper on bronze metallurgy. Boy, did I learn a lot! Then tonight’s lecture was on iron smithing, and the remarkable iron works being unearthed at Tel Akko. “Thank You, God,” I whispered in my heart. Thank You for all these things happening in one day to make this experience so very rich.
Here are two of the things I learned, by the way, about ancient metallurgy. The first is what high status metallurgists enjoyed in society. 1 Kings 7:16 explains they were considered to be full of skill, intelligence, and knowledge in working bronze. One can extrapolate that to silver and gold, and later iron. In fact, metallurgists were so esteemed that when Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem, he made a special point of taking all the artisans and smiths with him back to Babylon.
It goes even deeper, though. As it turns out, smitheries were often within the temple compound, because metallurgy was such holy work—and complicated work. It took great skill and technical ability to extract metals from ore, and to work the metals. Therefore, smiths would work in holy places, be prayed over and prayed for, and even made sacrifices before they began their process.
Knowing that now, adds greater meaning to the Exodus account of Bezalel, “See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft.”