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El Araj Season 4: Day Five

A nail found in Area C.

We dig Sunday through Thursday, so today was the end of Week One. It has been a time of tremendous progress. It is hard to believe how much has changed on the site, particularly with the help of the local labor. I get excited when I consider where we will be at the end of Week Four. We arrived this morning to skies of dark overcast and even predictions of rain, something quite unheard of in late June. While we appreciated the shelter from the sun, we soon realized that the cloud cover meant high humidity. By mid-morning we were drenched in perspiration. Our excavation lies beside the house of an elderly gentleman, Ehud Schneider, who has lived here for almost 50 years. He keeps cattle in the surrounding fields and knows the area like the back of his hand. He took a few of us to see the remnants of the access road that ran north-south across the Bethsaida Valley from the low hills of the lower Golan to el Araj. This road was used from antiquity until the Ottoman period. There is even a bridge still standing, dated to the Ottoman period but with possible Roman foundations. Area C (north of the main excavation site) continues to make good progress and has unearthed walls in their square. Most of their coins and pottery are Roman, which may point to the date of the settlement. Today they even found a nail. The ORU group led by Dr. Bill and Trish Lyons continued in the area just below the Byzantine wall and near where the Roman bath was uncovered in 2017. Today they came upon small white tesserae, some of which were still plastered together. These likely belong to later fill, but it includes pieces of the mosaic from the earlier Roman bath. Most of the prominent Byzantine pavement has been removed and the local labor continues to excavate. Still remaining are a stone threshold and the pillar from a large Byzantine structure. Every bucket of earth excavated must be sifted by dedicated volunteers. From time to time one of the excavation supervisors, Achiya Cohen-Tavor, takes time to explain the significance of a particular piece. We have grown accustomed to his pulling out one of his books and helping us understand the identification of a particular piece. As for my new square (A5) next to the Bek's House, we continue. I am afraid that one of the consequences of being focused on digging in your own square is that you forget to photograph it. I can say that we have dug down about 18 inches in the 5 meter by 5 meter square and found pottery that spans from the Roman to Ottoman periods. More importantly we have begun to unearth small mosaic tesserae, not like the style of the Roman bath on the other side of the excavation. They belong to something different. Perhaps they are an indication of what awaits us next week. Shabbat shalom.

Ayelet Tatcher and Ehud Schneider.

Foundation stones to access road to el Araj.

Ottoman period bridge with possible Roman foundations.

Inside the bridge.

Area C, the new are 100 meters north of the main excavation at el Araj.

Steady progress in Area C.

One of the Roman coins found today in Area C.

The ORU group look on at the small white tesserae found below the Byzantine wall.

White tesserae not unlike those found in the Roman bath.

With the Byzantine pavement up the local workers continue to excavate down.

Byzantine threshold and pillar.

Sifting by hand.

Clif Payne sifting at el Araj.

Achiya Cohen-Tavor compares a fragment with those in his book.

Achiya is ever the teacher.

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