BAS Dig Scholarship Recipient Report: Eric Welch
Tell es-Safi/Gath 2009
When I close my eyes, I think I can picture every cactus, rock, and piece of rubble on the path from the bottom of Tell es-Safi to the summit of the tell. In the morning, everything is cast in the warm glow of the rising sun that is slowly evaporating any final drops of the evening dew. By the end of the day, the same rocks are washed out under the bright afternoon sun, covered over in the dust from the day, and are as dry as a bone. Trudging over them are the exhausted volunteers, who, like their stone companions, are covered in dust and ready for cold water at the end of a long day. For the month of July, this routine is repeated daily at Tell es-Safi where a crew of volunteers hike the length of the tell and carry tools and water up to Area F at the summit of the tell and then back down again at the end of the day.
This was my fourth summer at Tell es-Safi, where I supervised the excavation of a square in Area F. My specific tasks were to continue the work of a previous season in which an Iron I-era surface had been exposed. Little did we know that “surfaces” would be theme of the square in 2009. Through the summer we traced multiple Iron I-period surfaces in the square, stopping at each surface for photos and samples to be taken by the team from the Weizmann Institute of Science. While the work was slow at times, it gave everyone involved a very clear picture of how science can be used in archaeology. By the end of the season, we were pleased to have reached surfaces indicative of the earliest Philistine presence at Tell es-Safi/Gath.
I’m embarrassed to say that one of my more exciting finds was actually not mine at all. As we came up the tell on the final day for aerial photos, I noticed a large pile of dirt in my square that I had spent the entire afternoon the day before cleaning. As I approached the pile I noticed a number of footprints left by the culprit: a fox! A fox had come into my square in the night and dug into the side of the trench. In the process of digging, the fox had knocked out a beautiful, polished stone-spindle whorl. While I was thrilled at the find, I wished the fox had taken the time to fill out the resulting paperwork as well...
The time at Safi was not all work, though. Plenty of afternoons were spent in the pool discussing the finer points of Australian slang with the team from Melbourne while their mascot, a yellow inflatable kangaroo named Skippy, watched nearby. Our afternoons had us traveling the region visiting sites while our evenings were filled with lectures from world authorities on a range of topics relating to Biblical archaeology.
Every summer I return home to groups of friends and family with the same question: “What did you find?” “Rocks, pottery, and a spindle whorl” are the answers they want to hear, but the truth is that the summer would still be valuable without those things. The greatest things I take away from Tell es-Safi each summer are not the “treasures” I find, but the memories made while excavating side-by-side with my friends from around the world.
Eric Lee Welch
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