It's true that most college students don't dream about getting up at 5 a.m. to go digging in the dirt, as we do - five days a week - when we're living in Israel as archaeologists. But why not? Especially considering that we spend our afternoons around the pool and our evenings at the pub or diner, and that in the morning you might just happen to discover the oldest Hebrew inscription in the entire world (about 3000 years old), as one student did in the summer of 2005. Not a bad day. And did I mention the beautiful scenery, the scenic hills of rural Judea, all seemingly far from crazy international politics and danger? Tel Zeitah, aka Tel Zayit, is that place. And it rocks.
Each year, Dr. James Bowley, chair of Millsaps' Religious Studies Department, and a few adventurous Millsaps students travel to this somewhat remote location in Israel in order to excavate layers of civilizations long past: Egyptian, Assyrian, Israelite, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and even British. In 2004, Millsaps junior Lindsey Topp was working in an Israelite period square with professor Bowley and discovered an unusual cylinder seal, while down below at the bottom of the hill, sophomore Mark Surber was excavating remains from an Egyptian period square and unearthing some very interesting ancient pottery.
The director of the Tel Zeitah project is Dr. Ron Tappy, who leads a team of international scholars and a broad range of volunteers and students from all over the world. This diversity makes for some of the most captivating conversations one might ever have. Our living quarters are luxurious by the standards of most archaeological projects. We stay at Kibbutz Gal-On and we enjoy their pool and pub and pizza - and many other things that don't start with "p," such as their warm hospitality. Some students get to know the locals well, and everyone gets invited to meals or visits to homes, often talking late into the night about Israeli pop culture or rock stars.
Why do we go? The same reasons you would go: because we're compelled by a desire for new and interesting experiences, by our curiosity about ancient worlds and other cultures, and by our academic interests in religion and history. Last, but certainly not least, we go because it's fun!
Contact Dr. James Bowley to learn how you can explore the ancient world at Tel Zeitah.
For more information on Tel Zeitah, visit http://www.zeitah.net/.