Field Trip: Archaeological Sites on the Israeli Coast

By Nicole Constantine, a student of MA program in Maritime Civilizations, 2016-2017 Cohort.

One unique and rewarding aspect of the International MA program in Maritime Civilizations is the opportunity to go on field trips throughout the year. The field trips provide hands-on experiential learning that complements what we learn in the classroom. The department takes us to a wide variety of locations – from touring the fisheries of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) to exploring ancient Caesarea and getting a behind-the-scenes look at Israel’s biggest power plant. The trips are all lead by our professors – all experts in the topic at hand.

For me the most memorable field trip yet has been touring the archaeological sites along the Israeli coast, zipping from site to site in small rubber dinghies.

A mini-bus picked us up from campus early in the morning and we began the snaky road down towards the coast. Two professors led our trip: archaeologist Assaf Yasur-Landau and geologist Dorit Sivan, both from the department of Maritime Civilizations.

We arrived at the beach at Yavne Yam, and began the work of unloading the three rubber boats off the truck. The Department of Maritime Civilizations has an impressive host of resources – rubber boats, dive gear and underwater excavation tools are all available to the students of the department.

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Professor Dorit Sivan & students
Photo by: Jamie Shapiro

 

 

We stepped into the water, pushing the rubber boats into the sea and then jumping in. I was lucky enough to be in the boat with Dorit, our geology professor. As we started jetting down the coast, cool water sprayed into our faces. It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day – sunny and warm. The sea was calm and visibility was so good we could see straight off the side boats to the sea floor.

Dorit explained as we went along the geological processes that led to the formation of the Israeli coastline. In class we discuss how sea level changes affect archaeology – how the location of the coastline effects human settlement and how sites that were once on land can become submerged.

We sped along the coastline, stopping every 10 or 15 minutes to haul the boats onto the sand. At Dor, we toured the Tel, looking at the Iron Age remains and the massive Roman period constructions. At Ma’agan Michael we stopped the boats over the site where the famous Ma’agan Mikhael shipwreck had been excavated. Assaf led us to archaeological site after site pointing out architecture and explaining the importance of the various sites. Dorit would then take over – explaining the geological features at each site and discussing how the sea level had changed over time.

There was something special about seeing the country from the water – it was a totally new perspective that allowed each of us to reflect on the rich maritime history of the area. The sea was so calm that we were able to cut the motors and paddle ourselves into a narrow sea cave with crystalline blue waters.

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Looking at a modern metal shipwreck.
Photo by: Jamie Shapiro

Towards the end of the day, we stopped the boats in the middle of a bay and Assaf informed us that we were floating above the site of a recently discovered shipwreck. The water was so clear that we could see timber of the boat sticking up from the sea floor. Assaf suggested that we could even touch the wood of the ship. Before I knew what was happening, Assaf had jumped off the boat into the water. We looked around at each, shrugged, and jumped in after him. I dove down, opened my stinging eyes under water and reached down to touch the exposed wood. We floated on the calm surface for a while chatting.

This experience and the other field trips organized by the department provide us with a unique companion to our classroom learning. We’re able to discuss concepts in the classroom and then see how they are applied in the field. Traveling around Israel with expert professors has given depth and new understanding to my time in Israel. The program affords each student access to professors who are amazingly knowledgeable and dedicated to providing us with the resources to learn about the incredible history of the land in which we’re living.   

 

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Students in the water near the site of the Ma’agan Mikhael Shipwreck. Photo by: Jamie Shapiro
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