What Lies Beneath


If you’re a student in USD’s Department of Anthropology these days, it’s almost impossible not to get wrapped up in the stories about the excavations going on in Bethsaida, Israel. I remember first hearing tales from students and staff a week into my first semester; their seemingly boundless enthusiasm convincing me that I needed to see firsthand what all the excitement was about.

And last summer, I, along with seven other anthropology students, got that amazing opportunity — thanks in no small part to our ever-intrepid professor, Jerome Hall.

With a long and storied history dating back to its founding in the 10th century, B.C., Bethsaida is known to yield archaeological finds ranging from Iron Age arrowheads, Greek and Roman coins, and Mamluk pottery, all the way to Syrian and Israeli military artifacts from more recent wartime conflicts.

With four open dig sites at Bethsaida, five of us from USD chose to call “Area T” home for the next two weeks, with Professor Hall at the helm. All this talk of treasures and grand discoveries sounds great, but truth be told, archaeology is dirty, sweaty and physically taxing work. Imagine helping move thousand-pound boulders, carrying hundreds of buckets full of dirt and sifting through countless amounts of excavated earth for artifacts and bone in the stifling heat of an Israeli summer. Needless to say, water and shade were at a premium.

Area T was uneventful the first week we began our dig, but things got interesting during the second week. After stripping away six feet of dirt, rocks and boulders, we began to see an ancient floor which Dr. Rami Avav, the director of excavations at Bethsaida, believed to be a Roman floor from the first century, A.D. Another section of our site yielded an even bigger surprise — a Syrian military bunker from the Six-Day War. Area T turned out to be a fascinating site, spanning 2,000 years of history, all within a few feet of dirt!

By far the most interesting finds were unearthed on our second to last day. Four of us were removing dirt with trowels and small picks when I discovered a small round object. I carefully removed it from the ground and began to eliminate the surface dirt. I had just found the first coin from Area T! Professor Hall was ecstatic and we began the time-honored tradition of the “coin dance,” letting the other sites know that we had finally found a coin. Then, not even 10 minutes later while sifting a bucket from another area, I found another coin … and then another! We were buzzing with excitement, as no one had ever found three coins in one day in the history of digs at Bethsaida.It was a great way to cap off a great trip, that’s for sure.

The field school at Bethsaida was a remarkable experience. I also had the privilege of working with zooarchaeologist, Dr. Toni Fisher, for the Bethsaida Excavation Project. After spending countless hours cleaning and cataloging bones, I found a new passion in the field of archaeology, and I’m looking forward to graduate school where I’ll pursue a career in Forensic Anthropology. — Seth Taylor ’15