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El Araj Season 4: Days Three and Four



Day 3

Archaeological work is slow, methodical work. You are intended to excavate the entire square down at the same time (i.e., not dig a hole), keeping records of the finds as you go. Later those artifacts are catalogued and become part of a composite picture of your site. Stratagraphic levels help to date the periods of settlement. Today we realized progress but in different degrees in different squares. Parts of the dig experienced evident progress, while others toiled onward with the knowledge that a good effort will produce good results. On the drive to el Araj this morning, I was greeted again with a beautiful sunrise over the plain of Gennesar [Matt 14:34]. The palm trees remind you that you are working on the lakeshore at 200 meters (650 feet) below sea level. The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake in the world. Summer months mean heat, humidity and only an occasional breeze. The new Area C uncovered some exciting finds today: a wall, a brick, pieces of marble, Kfar Hananya (Galilean) pottery, and the handle of a Roman cooking pot. All of these point to early settlement in the Roman period. A particularly remarkable find was a copper earring. The local Bedouin working with us continued to make significant headway in dismantling Crusader and Byzantine walls and floors. They are currently removing a large Byzantine pavement. Only then will we be able to excavate down to the Roman level. One of the stones that was in secondary usage was the base of a chancel screen with a square recession for the post of the screen on one end. This is yet another piece of evidence for the prominent Byzantine church of Peter and Andrew attested by a pilgrim in the 8th century CE. At the eastern end of the site a team of four are working at an upper level, working their way down to the Byzantine level. Finally, it was slow going today in our square next to where the Ottoman villa (the Bek's House) once stood. Swinging picks, we worked through a cement floor with tightly fitted plastered cobblestone underneath. Once these were removed we encountered hard-packed soil, which hardly gave way to our picks. Only at the end of the day did we begin to make real progress, so we return tomorrow in the expectation of good results.



Works begin in Area C.

Unearthing a wall in Area C.

A ceramic brick from Area C. We have found others like this associated with a Roman bath.

Marble pieces from Area C. These are indications of a public building.

Handle of Kfar Hananya pottery ware, indicative of Galilean pottery in the Roman period.

Copper Earring

Removing a large Byzantine pavement, so that we can continue to excavate down to the Roma level.

Chancel screen for a Byzantine church. Not the square indentation at this end, where the post for the screen would have been inserted.

Our square next to the Bek's house with two small walls.

Day 4


El Araj Excavations: Week One Day Four. Today the temperature rose, and there was little breeze. Still we marshal on. Thankfully we stay in a beautiful setting in Migdal overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It provides a reprieve from the heat of the work day. This year we have a newly acquired sifting station that allows us to examine the buckets of dirt that are removed from the squares. The process produces excitement when coins and artifacts emerge from the sifted soil. Everything of importance is cataloged by Ayelet Tacher. This year we have a team from ORU who are excavating in an area at the Byzantine level that frequently produces coins. Today they uncovered together 3 Byzantine minimas. Dr. Bill Lyons who leads the group also found a decorated ceramic rim from the early Roman period. Our new square next to the former Ottoman (Bek's) house was brushed and cleaned first thing in the morning, photographed, and given the go to begin digging more aggressively. In the process we uncovered a Byzantine wall that is part of a larger structure. Keri Shaffer from SC also found a Crusader "beehive" oil lamp. As we continued our work we found ornate pieces of a painted and glazed Islamic vessel. A few times this morning I went to check in on the new Area C that lies about 100 meters north of our main excavation. You should not assume that el Araj is all stones and dirt. As I walked to Area C I was greeted by palm trees, thistles, mustard seed, and capers, reminding us that there is life at el Araj (past and present), waiting to be discovered. The team in Area C is quickly finding themselves in the Roman period. Pottery, paving stones and coins give witness to life here in antiquity. Of particular significance is the fact that this square is so far from the main excavation site. It indicates that the settlement here was not small, and is further evidence that we are unearthing first-century Bethsaida-Julias.



The stones tell the story of how much progress has been made this week in removing the Byzantine pavement as we continue down to the Roman level

Ayelet Tacher from the Haaretz Museum catalogues the finds from el Araj.


Dr. Bill Lyons who leads the ORU team with an early Roman pottery rim.

Ornate early Roman vessel.

Our new square (A5) cleaned, brushed, and photographed. Note the Byzantine wall running horizontally along the bottom of the picture. Now the real work begins.

Keri Shaffer with her Crusader beehive oil lamp.

The Crusader beehive oil lamp.

Our lamp with a picture of what it would have looked like intact.

Islamic glazed and decorated ceramic pieces.

The ORU team excavating a Byzantine level square.

Mustard seed plants.

Even thistles have their own beauty.

El Araj is a national nature reserve with lots of flora and fauna.

Created by: The Center for the Study of Ancient Judaism & Christian Origins 

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