Anatomy of an Excavation by Jacob Vandor, 31/10/13


Today is Halloween, so perhaps it’s appropriate I woke before dawn had even cracked. It was the witching hour, when ghouls and wraiths and more realistically overworked Israeli truck drivers roam the landscape. I met Amir, the diving officer at the University of Haifa Diving Workshop, outside of school. For a few minutes it was just the moon, the occasional stinging blast of wind breaking the pre-dawn stillness, a pack of coyotes howling down in the canyon, and me. Then Amir pulled up in a massive truck towing a trailer stuffed to the gills with every type of gear one could imagine. Random odds and ends of metal pipe stuck out glinting in the moonlight.


We stopped for coffee. It was our first coffee of the day, but would not be our last. We met up with Amir’s partner Mosheko and two professors from the Maritime Civilizations Department at University of Haifa with a zodiac in tow. Hitting the road again, our next stop was Herzilya. Pulling up to the marina things started slow. First the requisite warm-up of more coffee or tea, a few energy bars, passionate Israeli conversations, which always sound heated even if just discussing logistics. But then things started to move. I soon shucked my early morning zombie shuffle and started muscling large lengths of metal dredging pipes onto a small dive boat they barely fit in. When we finished, every inch of available space on the boat was used. I found myself sitting cross-legged atop a stack of containers as we motored out to the site, dive tanks, coolers, weights, aforementioned pipes, hoses, gas cans, and much more, askew around me, feeling somehow very much in my element.


As the rest of Herzilya, a small beachy town near Tel Aviv (imagine if San Diego and Santa Monica had a baby and it was Israeli) woke up to morning runs, or ocean swims, even a few surf ski paddlers and stand up paddlers, we came upon ancient Apolonia. Navigating the small slightly overstocked dive boat through shallow shoals we came as close to the rocky beach as possible. My duty consisted of holding a rubber car tire over the side and fending off attacking reef outcroppings. However I soon found myself stripping off my shirt, shoes kicked off, board shorts finally wet, hauling gear from boat to beach. Thank god I brought booties. We never really secured the boat, just kind of held it in position off the beach, so there was a breakneck speed to the unloading process. Which, in a way, was good because I was too tired to feel the weight I was lifting and moving too quickly to think about it anyways.


After everything was up on the beach we set about making camp, placing all the diving cylinders off to one side, high and dry, our dive ops area. We created a small kitchenette with a fold-out table, a coffee maker (of course) and some random Israeli snacks. We stashed the dredger equipment, by far the bulk of gear, off to the opposite side of the small rocky beach and then pulled up onto shore the zodiac that would be used as the dredging platform. A line with water and electricity was thrown down from the Crusader period fortress on the cliffs above. Camp was set up, science could begin.


There is so much work that goes into an archaeological excavation, underwater or on land, before even showing up to the site. And I would argue that this planning and preparation is the most vital part of any excavation. Every site is a snowflake, uniquely inherent with its own problems and challenges. Although the work was hard, the day was long, and I woke up far too early, I felt lucky to get this “behind the scenes” tour of an archaeological excavation. I’ve participated in excavations before, land and water, but I enjoyed the opportunity to establish one and see the legwork that goes into producing significant science. I hope to continue working with the Diving Workshop and learning as much as I can about how to set up and run underwater digs. I guess you can say that I’ve added another class to my already impressive schedule at the University of Haifa: Anatomy Of An Excavation 101.


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