Dig it

It was staggering the more she thought about it.

On a sweltering July day at the Tel Keisan archeological site in Israel, science teacher Katy Lambson had just excavated a loom weight. It was considered a “small find,” but Lambson found herself awestruck while holding the 2,000-year-old plus tool that had once been used for weaving.

“In America, we say, ‘this is such an old building, it dates back to the 1700s,’ and there I was witness to something that had been intact for millennia,” she said.

Lambson and her husband, Jeremy, spent four weeks at the ancient Phoenician site, located just a few miles from the Mediterranean coast in the Galilee region of Israel. The trip was organized by one of Jeremy’s professors at the Princeton Theological Seminary.

It was the first time in Israel, and the first time on an archeological dig, for both. “My experience in archeology before this was watching Indiana Jones,” Lambson said.

The Lambsons were joined by nearly 40 volunteers, many of whom were American students with plans to pursue archeology, and around a dozen specialists, including historians and pottery and bone experts. “It was cool to see how people from all different walks of life and all different ages bonded through this one unique experience,” she said.

Volunteers were divided into teams and assigned to one of several 10-meter square patches of land on the 15-acre mound. To get ahead of the brutal Middle Eastern sun, they began the arduous task of unearthing Iron Age remains at around 5:45 a.m. each morning.

Israeli archeological site

The sun rises over the Tel Keisan archeological site in Israel.

Lambson said that team members located pottery sirds (fragments) about every few seconds. “Not a minute went by where you weren’t finding some form of pottery, and they ranged from tiny pieces the size of your thumbnail up to almost complete vessels,” she said. Afternoons were spent washing delicate fragments and handing them over to experts, who decoded chronological clues and determined what could be reconstructed.

Occasionally, someone would find a nearly unscathed object. “It’s always really exciting when you find something intact,” Lambson said. “The square that my husband was in, they found an olive press that was pretty much completely assembled. And we found lots of storage jars that were almost completely intact,” she said.

Lambson also had the opportunity to attend a one-week intensive course at Tel Shimron, an archeological site near Nazareth. There she studied the physical science side of archeology, including soil chemical analysis. “As a chemist, getting to see very specifically how chemistry is used in archeology was amazing,” she said.

Lambson thinks that most people, including her students, have a “latent interest” in studying artifacts and plans to introduce archeology-related lab work in her “Chemistry in the Community” and “Advanced Organic Chemistry” classes.

“In a couple of years, I would love to introduce a collaborative archeology class at Peddie where I can talk about the physical science and my colleagues in the English or history department can evaluate time periods. I think that would be really interesting,” she said.