ALHS grad puts love of history to work on archeological dig

Published 9:08 am Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dan Schindler really digs history. So much so, the Albert Lea High School graduate traveled halfway around the world to participate in an archeological dig.

Schindler, who will be a senior at the University of Minnesota this fall, needed a field research trip to earn his bachelor’s degree, so he got involved with a dig in which the university is taking part at Tel Kedesh in the Upper Galilee of Israel from May 28 to July 18.

The word “tel” means site. “When people live in an area for a long time, debris in the occupation area gets reused and recycled and the mound grows,” Schindler explained.

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From the top of the site, the members involved in the dig could see Lebanon.

According to a Web site devoted to the dig, Kedesh is the largest unexcavated tel site in Upper Galilee, occupying 20 to 25 acres. It is located on the land of Kibbutz Malkia some 450 meters above sea level. Situated in one of the richest agricultural zones of modern Israel, the area of Kedesh and the Upper Galilee has been home since antiquity to a tapestry of different cultural and ethnic groups from the Israelite tribe of Naphthali to Phoenicians from the nearby city of Tyre. In more recent times it was the site of a Palestinian farming village until 1948.

The ancient site is mentioned a number of times in the Bible, most importantly as one of the “cities of refuge” for those guilty of unintentional homicide (Joshua 20: 1-9). It also appears in several of the histories from the period of Graeco-Roman occupation.

Also according to the Web site, Zenon, a traveling merchant from Egypt, whose account of his travels is preserved on papyri in a Michigan library, Kedesh was a flourishing farming village in his time, providing him with food supplies and the luxury of a bath. From the book of Maccabees, it was learned that a battle between Jonathan and the Seleucid king Demetrias took place at Kedesh and that the site was abandoned after the Jewish victory. According to the historian Josephus, Kedesh was again a Tyrian outpost and stronghold in the first centuries and it served as an encampment for the Roman general Titus at the beginning of the First Jewish Revolt.

Schindler said two trenches are being excavated. The first is a big architectural rubble pit with a crude rubble wall and paving stones. He said the biggest find in that pit during the time he was there was a statue of Eros.

The second trench revealed a better-preserved wall with gigantic stones, possibly dating to the Bronze Age. They also found a bread oven, or tabun, as well as a jar (hermon) with the top cut off. “The ovens probably date to a squatter phase,” Schindler said.

The trench yielded 80 kilos of pottery fragments. The group also uncovered a mosaic floor from the Hellenistic period.

The group stayed at Ramot Naftali, an Israeli resort. They’d typically get up at 4 a.m. and take a van to the site and trek up the hill. “The first day, we had to clear thorny plants out of the way,” he said.

The group would excavate until 7 a.m., when they’d take a Turkish coffee break, courtesy of their workmen. At 9 a.m., they’d bring the pottery they’d found down the hill and have a second breakfast. They’d work again from 9:30 a.m. to noon, then head back to where they were staying. After lunch at about 2 p.m., they’d wash pottery, sometimes until 7 p.m.

“Two thousand years of grime doesn’t come off too easily,” Schindler said.

Then they’d sort and weigh the pottery and record it on sheets. The pottery was assigned a date and put into a trench report, with the goal of trying to come up with a thesis on what was going on at the site at the time.

They worked six days a week, with Saturdays off. They’d visit different sites on their days off. On a break, they took a trip to Jerusalem, and another time went to the Golan Heights and some of the sites there.

Schindler said he didn’t want to leave the site when the group’s time was done.

“It was a good experience for me,” Schindler said. “It solidified that this is what I want to do.”

It was exciting, he said. “To hold a terra cotta statute that belonged to someone and try to figure out why it was important to them.”

Schindler is majoring in archeology and Latin with the hopes of attending graduate school and eventually becoming a college professor. He hopes many more expeditions are in his future.

“What I want to concentrate on is the ancient Near East — the period between the independent kingdoms and when they were absorbed into the Roman Empire. It’s kind of a 50-year soap opera.”

Schindler said his love of archeology was sparked by his love of history. “With archeology, you get a chance to piece together history. You get to write it and not just study it,” he said.

And the area he’s studying is fascinating. “All the major figures were here,” he said. “There’s a great assemblage of people buried under your feet.”