El Araj Archaeological Excavation Season 7 – Week 1 Day 5 – Today was the last day of our first week of the excavation. By now the heat and hard work are starting to take their toll on our bodies. Still, we strangely wake up at 4:00 in the morning without an alarm clock. After a quick, light breakfast we are on the road to el Araj by 5:00AM. We sort out our tools and begin work before sunrise. This morning it was a bit cooler than earlier in the week. The team in Area D encountered water in their deepest square – not an unusual phenomenon because of the high water-table these days. They will leave this square and allow others to come back to it in October during the autumn excavation season, when the water is at its lowest - level. For now, the team is turning its attention to the newest square in Area D. They continue to dig down through the Roman layer, which today produced mostly pottery and coins. The Hong Kong team is beginning to uncover Roman period walls in their squares and even found a collection of pieces of frescoed plaster. Since the beginning of the season, I have sensed that their squares present the most promise because of their location. They are digging adjacent to where the Roman baths were found in 2017. We will see what next week brings. The squares along the northern wall of the basilica get curiouser and curiouser. Each day uncovers more of the remnants of a large Byzantine wall that (mostly) parallels the northern wall of the church. As of yet, we are unsure what it belonged to. Hopefully in the next week we will gain a better understanding of its purpose. In the apse I continue to work with Kaitlyn Hawn and we cleaned the layers below the mosaic floor. This work is slow and meticulous. Brushing the stones highlights their relationship and presents some idea of what existed in this small dense area. Finally, today we said goodbye to a surprise group of young volunteers who have excavated every day this week. They belong to the Bruderhof, a Christian community centered in the US but with communities spread around the world. The young people who worked with us were from a residential school in the UK. I have rarely seen a group move so many large stones and dirt, smiling all the time. They were a great contribution to our efforts. This morning they were given the task to remove the last remaining pile of dirt from the northwest corner of the basilica. After hours of hard labor, they reached the church floor. It almost seemed like a reward for their efforts when they uncovered beautiful mosaic floors for the first time in 1400 years. These mosaics presented the familiar floral motif we have seen elsewhere in the basilica. Their delicate beauty was a fitting punctuation mark on good first week.
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