It was our very own Indiana Jones moment--a chance to play archaeologist at an Israeli dig! El Jefe had been very excited about this stop since he heard we would be making it.
The bus took us from the IDF base to Beit Guvrin and a nearby national archaeological site where the ruins of the ancient Judean city of Maresha are being excavated. Maresha was originally settled by Edomites, who are traditionally said to be the descendants of Esau. Maresha is mentioned in Joshua and later in Chronicles as a fortification. Later the Edomites migrated to the area and became a major city.
Our guide, Lee Glassman, told us that because of budgetary cuts the project didn't have enough people to work on the excavation so they welcomed amateurs like us. Our assignment was to climb down into this cave, which was more than a little bit scary:
And begin filling buckets with the debris on the ground. The story of this area was that the Edomites abandoned this site when the Jews in the area told them to convert or leave. The caves were made by the Edomites and used like basements for storage. Therefore we could expect to find lots of pottery shards, and if we were lucky, maybe we would find some large pieces. Here are our buckets after a couple of hours' work:
When the project organizers called a halt to filling the buckets, the next step was to get those buckets out of the underground cave and up onto the surface. So we formed a bucket brigade and hoisted the debris up the rickety ladder.
I got to be on the ground floor:
But El Jefe bravely took his position near the top of the ladder:
It was a relief to get out of the dusty cave--made more dusty by all that scooping of earth--and outside where we sifted the dirt and collected several buckets of pottery shards. The staff took the shards and they actually work on trying to put the pieces back together again like the world's most impossible jigsaw puzzle.
The biggest thrill of the day was finding this:
It is the top of a large amphora used for storing wine and even though it is just the top we were told it was "museum quality."
What became of the Edomites? Our guide told us that they eventually became Christians. I did a little internet research and while I cannot confirm that story, I like it.