A Dramatic Archeology Find in Israel
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Jul. 30, 2012
A Dramatic Archeology Find in Israel
Trinity University professor and students help uncover Jewish history in village synagogue
By Andrea Davis '12
SAN ANTONIO - After many false starts, pressure from Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel and long days under a burning sun, Trinity University professor Chad Spigel, Joshua Pedrick '13, and other archaeologists uncovered a magnificent mosaic tile in the synagogue within Huqoq, an ancient Jewish village dating to the Late Roman/Byzantine period (4th to 6th centuries.)
Spigel, an assistant professor of religion, expressed surprise at the inscription on the mosaic tile, which depicts the biblical story of Samson burning the tails of foxes with a torch (Judges 15:4).
"Although we know that mosaic floors existed in ancient synagogues, it is always exciting when you are there when one is excavated," he explained. "The fact that there was also an inscription and a clearly identifiable biblical scene made the find even more meaningful."
Coupled with another Samson mosaic discovery in a nearby synagogue, the two suggest that stories about Samson might have been a popular motif in ancient Jewish communities of the region. As such, they hint toward answers about Jewish interpretations and artistic culture.
The goal of the dig is to learn about Huqoq, mentioned in the Bible and Talmud. According to Spigel, the discovery of the mosaic floor exceeded expectations this year.
"While we expected to find a floor for the synagogue building, we had no idea that we were going to find such a beautiful mosaic floor," he said. "So in many ways our goals for the season were both reached and exceeded."
Yet, this excavation has met with challenges. One dealt with some sites yielding nothing, which is common for digs. Another, more serious hurdle involved the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel. They believed archaeologists might disturb the graves of ancient Jewish people. They protested, and in extreme cases, vandalized the sites to discourage archaeologists from continuing. The former occurred at Huqoq.
"This year we had a couple of people from one of these Ultra-Orthodox communities visit our site to see if we were excavating graves," Spigel said. "While we convinced them that we weren't - because we aren't - it is a constant concern that they might attempt to either shut our excavations down, or that our finds might be vandalized."
Despite this concern, the excavation has provided undergraduate students from Trinity with the chance to gain archaeological experience. Pedrick, a religion major from Houston and a member of the Trinitones, an all-male a cappella singing group, was thrilled to be part of the team
that unearthed the mosaic tile.
"The discovery of the synagogue mosaic was exciting," he said. "Not many people get to experience the discovery of such a significant archaeological find, let alone as an undergraduate."
During the excavation, Pedrick learned humility and the life of a professor, which now appeals to him as a future career.
"Working in the village with Dr. Spigel was more fun than a barrel of monkeys coated in Silly Putty," he said. "It was incredible to watch the staff discuss the finds and instruct us in how to excavate. Being taught by highly trained and experienced archaeologists was the best imaginable way to learn field research."
Spigel remarked that this field school provides students interested in archaeology with experiences that cannot be taught in a classroom.
"As professors, one of our jobs is to teach, and bringing students on the excavation is a very unique and effective way to teach students about archaeology and history," he commented. "Not only do they learn, but they also participate in the research process."
Excavations will continue in summer 2013.
Text provided by Andrea Davis of Farmington, N.M., who graduated from Trinity University in May 2012 with a degree in history and English.