Exactly two weeks ago, during Chol HaMoed of Sukkot, I took my brother Nissim to an archaeological dig at the nearby Tel Kedesh. Located on the Old Northern Road north of Tzfat in the Naftali Mountains of the Upper Galilee, Tel Kedesh is just approximately 700 metres from the Lebanese border. I had visited half of the site two-and-a-half years ago with my sister (blog post linked in the first sentence).
But this time I was to explore the half I hadn’t known about at that time, and to contribute to an excavation under the auspices of Dr Uri Davidovich, Ido Wachtel and Roi Sabar of the Hebrew University. This was to be my second archaeological dig, the previous one also under the behest of the Hebrew University at Khirbet Arai near the city of Kiryat Gat.
I had emailed the team in advance and so when we arrived on-site in the morning, they already knew that I was a student of Archaeology at Bar Ilan University. Our group of archaeologists, students and volunteers gathered in the Tel Kedesh park parking lot and received our briefing before taking the necessary equipment up to the dig site on the northern mound of the hill. On my second trip up, I stopped to watch Asaf Ben Haim uncover what looks to be a architrave and/or frieze of an important Roman building, located on the path to the dig site.
As I watched him tear up the dry earth I saw what looked to be a tarantula near his hand – but no, this was a camel spider, not a true spider but a true fright! Pelicans soars in unison overhead as the sun climbed, the site slowly being turned into an archaeological excavation. As it was the very first day of the dig, in a place never excavated before, there was a lot of surveying, plotting and photo-taking to be done. At last three “squares” were decided upon – one inside the ruins of a building and two adjacent to the eastern wall of that building. The leaning column and large ashlars (Roman-looking) made this site a good place to start.
To give a brief synopsis of Tel Kedesh’s history: Originally a fortified Canaanite city, the Israelites took it over and eventually made it a “City of Refuge” (alongside Shechem and Hevron on this side of the Jordan River). Later, the Assyrians captured and destroyed Kedesh along with other keys cities in the Galilee, perhaps most notably, Hazor. The Greeks, and subsequently the Romans, took up occupation renaming the city Cades. Excavations of a Hellenistic administrative building on the southern mound were done recently by the University of Michigan’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. An Arab village named Kadas was established, built upon the Roman remains, and was abandoned in 1948. Remains of British rule include two pillboxes along the road to the west and a Tegart fort under the name Yusha or Metzudat Koach to the east. The Hebrew University archaeological team has its eyes set on Roman ruins so we had to clear away the dry/dead vegetation and fallen stones.
Whilst clearing vegetation I found a bone in the dirt and took it to be examined – it seems to be a scorched sheep knee bone. It was the first find of the day, stashed away in a bucket soon to be filled with more bones, lots of potsherds and even a Roman metal clothespin of sorts.
Even while at an archaeological dig I cannot help but be curious as to the flora and fauna to be seen. I spotted what looked to me like a good ten or so black kites wheeling overhead, the droppings of a porcupine (which I have yet to see in Israel), two clay capsules holding wasps in their late stages of development and my first sighting of a few Sardinian warblers popping in and out of the dry undergrowth.
When lunch break came around I sat under a bitter almond tree and decided to have a taste. I don’t recall ever eating a bitter almond; the taste is just like amaretto albeit much more bitter, hence the name. Bitter almonds have forty-two times the amount of cyanide than the normal sweet variety which means that fifty or so bitter almonds can provide a lethal dose of cyanide poisoning.
After the lunch break I left the square of rock clearing and joined my brother under the field shade-tent in his square. He was wielding a small pick, clearing dirt and small rocks from alongside the base of a wall. I grasped a larger pick and we went to town on the earth and rocks of the square, clearing out a nice corner.
With the sun slowly slipping off to the western horizon the productive workday came to an end and after making our way back down the hill, we took a quick look at the ruins at the eastern mound.
Getting back into the car we drove back home, tired but happy to have been among the first to break ground on a new excavation site. If anything is ever found in that part of Tel Kedesh, we’ll be able to boast that we were there the very first day.