Moravians visited the Herodium fortress palace of King Herod the Great while in Israel July 20-Aug. 15.

Digging Israel

Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary formed what could be called a "groundbreaking partnership" this summer, when twenty-one participants of all ages and backgrounds took part in the Ramat Rahel Archaeological Project in Israel. (Read their first-hand reports at houndsintheground.wordpress.com.)

Co-led by Jason Radine, assistant professor of religion at the College, and Deborah Appler, associate professor of Old Testament at the Seminary, the Moravian contingent of students, professors (including English professor John Black), and interested friends explored Ramat Rahel, an archaeologically rich site located on a hilltop above modern Jerusalem, near Bethlehem. The site was inhabited from the seventh century B.C. to the tenth century A.D., and was one of the most important administrative centers in ancient Judah.

Julia Damiani '12 discovers a pottery sherd.

The five-year-old Ramat Rahel Archaeological Project in Israel, directed by Oded Lipschits of Tel-Aviv University and Manfred Oeming of Heidelberg University, is far more than a travel experience. Student participants rise at 4:30 a.m. to work in the field, attend classes, and write papers during their two- to four-week stay. For the "Archaeology of Judah and Jerusalem" course, students visited nearby Old Jerusalem to see excavations that shed new light on the ancient city's role and power. "Students experience the intensity of scholarly debate first-hand," said Professor Radine. "They become part of the process, digging up information with their own hands to discover the ancient past of this area."

Discoveries and Discussions

Working alongside participants from Tel-Aviv University, Heidelberg University, and many other schools, Moravians unearthed pottery fragments, jewelry, ritual baths, and hidden tunnels. Perhaps most significant was the discovery of an ancient reservoir system found on the last day of the dig. "Ramat Rahel was well known for its incredible palaces and architecture, but no one knew where it got its water. Now we know it was a reservoir system," said Professor Appler.

"When students open that dirt and pull out something thousands of years old ... they are really experiencing history," said Professor Appler.

Appler co-supervised a  group that studied terraced gardens where grapes were grown millennia ago, most likely in soil transported from other areas. Radine co-supervised a group that excavated an area filled with jug fragments bearing royal seal impressions dated to four different periods, as early as the Iron Age. The jugs were used to collect taxes.

Israeli President Shimon Peres visited the Ramat Rahel site, and was intrigued to learn of the Moravians' Bethlehem connection. He chatted with many members of the Moravian group, including seminarians Alfred Jones III and Comfort Fordjour.

"Digs like these give students an opportunity to be in a different culture—literally in the land," said Professor Appler. "When they open that dirt and pull out something thousands of years old, they are the first to touch and taste it in all that time. They are really experiencing history."

Professors Radine and Appler are already planning future collaborations that could include other excavations. The cross-institutional, international experience "is a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved," said Radine. "It provides students with a different and broader perspective."

"On an international dig, you get a chance to meet people who think differently," agreed Appler. "You discuss everything from the economy to health care—digging gives you a lot of time to talk."