FINAL DAY! El Araj (Bethsaida-Julias) Excavation Project Season 6 (2022) - Week 3 Day 5 (Thursday) - Today was the final day of the summer session excavation. Stay tuned later this week for the press release. I am restrained in what I can say about the results, but I will say that there will be a small earthquake in the Christian world. I could be mistaken, but I think the results will be seen as one of the most important discoveries for New Testament archaeology in this century. Yes, I realize I am biased, and only time will tell. So, we will wait and see. This summer we had a wonderful collection of volunteers from seven countries, working hard together side by side to uncover the history of Bethsaida's past. We were not disappointed. Our morning started, as usual, before sunrise, and ended with a concluding summation by Motti Aviam and taking pictures together with old friends and new. Our work in the squares continued to uncover the areas north and east of the basilica. Those working in the Byzantine bath house east of the basilica made significant progress. The squares encompassing the south east corner of the basilica help to clarify the development of this area. In the squares along the north wall more decorative Byzantine mosaics were uncovered. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the most significant point of interest on the final day was removing the lime accretions from the Byzantine medallion inscription. This was needed in order to read what was written almost 1500 years ago and help us understand the history of the church. Our friends from the Hong Kong team were tasked with this meticulous responsibility. On a personal note, one of my absolute favorite memories from this season was watching Zak Wong working on hands and knees on the mosaic with a glass scraper and emery paper. Sometimes these were not enough to remove the lime. To pulverize the hardened deposits, he would gently tap on the lime layers with a small pick. On Thursday it was fitting that the Hong Kong team happened to be using Tom Blackwell's small pick with the distinctive yellow handle - the one pictured on the back of all our shirts. At one point, like a hospital surgeon asking for his surgical tools, Zak called out "Give me the Tom." I was unsure what he meant until someone handed him Tom Blackwell's small yellow-handled pick. This season was dedicated to the memory of Tom Blackwell, our dear friend we lost to Covid in November 2020. Tom had developed a special friendship with the Hong Kong volunteers in 2018 and 2019 and they called him "super Grandpa." Somewhere Tom was looking down with that large Oklahoma grin on his face as Zak used his small pick to remove the lime accretions and to reveal one of the most important discoveries from our six seasons. Tom, this one was for you! Again, stay tuned later this week for the press release and media coverage.
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