University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

The Work Goes (Sub-Awning, Yawning) On – Jeremy Cohen

July 15, 2015

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.

When George Washington University Professor, Tel Kabri Excavation Co-Director, and impromptu limerick enthusiast Eric H. Cline notified me of his “just having happened to stumble upon” my first post on the Penn Museum website (there’s no shame in self-Googling, sir), I realized that I had a tangible audience for these posts. To be precise: four, counting also my parents and Dr. Tiballi, to whom the posts are sent for initial review. Less fortunately, the wireless available at our field school—otherwise a great facility, I hear, by “dig standards”—has been less reliable than my nascent fan base. Though it is hitting the web in mid-July, this post was composed on 25 June, a mere two weeks into my dig experience.

N.B. The following is a work of historical fiction; any similarity to real individuals, locations, and events is unintentional and should not be the basis for a misconceived lawsuit, tabloid, M.A. thesis, etc.

Once, while in elementary school, my parents woke me up at a quarter to four in the morning so we could see the Battle of Lexington and Concord, reenacted. It was Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts—which, I would later learn, is the only state to recognize this holiday.

In the decade since, by unofficial decree, I had never awoken prior to dawn’s rosy-fingered arrival. But starting a few weeks ago, by semi-official mandate, je me levai before l’élévation of the sun levantin. By four forty-five, I find myself planted firmly in the seat of a northern Israeli bus on the winding, wakening road to Tel Kabri.

Assaf, in his natural habitat
Assaf, in his natural habitat (Photo by the author)

Accompanying me are roughly thirty undergrads and graduate students, roughing it with hiking boots and water jugs, trowels, and pencils. Many students hailed from The George Washington University (in the eponymously named city of Washington, of the District of Columbia, definitely articulated on its bookstore-sold clothing to avoid confusion) or Brandeis University (Waltham, MA). Yet, I found myself immediately welcomed as “Jeremy, from Penn!” by Profs. Eric H. Cline (“Cline”, GAS’91) and Andrew J. Koh (“Koh-Koh”, GAS’06), leading to easy conversations centered on, if you’ll believe it, the youthful shenanigans of now-tenured Penn professors. (Career Services, feel free to cite this blog post “What a Penn education can do for you!”) For Professor Assaf Yasser-Landau, formerly of the 1980s New Wave music movement and now of the maritime and coastal archaeology program at the University of Haifa, consistent mutual reference to Kafka or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has accomplished the same ends. As they watch us work through six-hour shifts, taking notes or photographs or turns with the pick-axe, each professor casually, smilingly sells their own graduate program (and/or personality cult).

A leader by example
A leader by example (Photo by the author)

I came well-equipped with sunscreen, patience, and an open mind. Yet, while my “un-apologetically lanky” physique may help me blend into hip Tel Aviv establishments, my muscles have been paying the piper—pick-axing, crouching, balancing, carrying, emptying, and high-fiving—at the local rate of 12 Israeli new shekel/day, or whatever an after-shift non-iced coffee (with ice) costs at the local gas station. It is rewarding work, though, worth the increased hummus appetite and penchant for falling asleep at 8:30 pm. The uneven tanning may take more getting used to, especially when any tanning is a fairly novel concept; armistice lines run along my legs, upper arms, and lower neck, separating two Euxenine shades between which only a 1028-pack Crayola could distinguish.

Trench acrobatics
Trench acrobatics (Photo by the author)

Still, the work goes on, as the self-described Clininites more deeply and widely delve into the Middle Bronze Age Canaanites’ palatial storerooms. Depending on your politics within the archaeology community and willingness to accept data collected by first-of-its-kind, on-site residue analysis, you may well nod toward Kabri’s claim of “world’s oldest known palatial wine cellar.” Indeed, even if you are skeptical of superlatives, The New York Times’ public interest journalism, and (definitely not member-edited) Wikipedia pages, there is still great merit in discovering wine residue, indicative of recipe-based mixology, in dozens of storage jars housed within several separate rooms, adjoining uniquely paired Syrian-style architecture and Aegean-style frescoes, all abandoned enigmatically some 3,700 years ago.

At least, I think there is. And it’s worth all the toe-bottom blisters and four o’clock wake-ups in the world.

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