Digging into stories of an ancient world

Noted archaeologists William and Pamela Dever talk with Drs. Larry Geraty and Murray Brandstater during Archaeology Discovery Weekend.
Noted archaeologists William and Pamela Dever talk with Drs. Larry Geraty and Murray Brandstater during Archaeology Discovery Weekend.

January 5, 2012

By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) They sipped sweet tea under a Bedouin goat hair tent, listened to insightful tales about famous archaeologists, practiced writing in hieroglyphics, and learned intriguing facts about the Israelite exodus from Egypt.

These were among the varied activities participants of La Sierra University’s third annual Archaeology Discovery Weekend engaged in recently. The event, organized on the theme of “Egypt: The Lure of its Storied Past,” was held Nov. 12-13 with a slate of lectures, hands-on learning activities, a children’s excavation, banquet and teachers’ workshop.

La Sierra’s School of Religion organizes and sponsors the event which began three years ago. This year’s weekend of events kicked off Nov. 12 with a panel discussion and slide show on ancient inscriptions. Archaeologists and professors Larry Geraty, Kent Bramlett and Doug Clark, all of La Sierra University, and William Dever, archaeologist and emeritus professor of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona provided interesting facts and background stories on a variety of artifacts. They included the Egyptian Kahun medical inscription on papyrus from the 19th century B.C.--the oldest known medical text; the Amarna clay tablets from 15th century B.C. bearing inscribed letters issued between Canaanite and Egyptian kings; and a Ba’alis seal impression from the 6th century B.C. made by a servant of the Ammonite King Ba’alis.

On Saturday evening guests filled La Sierra’s Cactus Room for a Middle Eastern banquet. The event served as a fundraiser for a proposed archaeology museum at La Sierra. The room was decorated in accents of gold with tabletop vases and figures and with several Egyptian-themed paintings by art department Chair Beatriz Mejia-Krumbein on display. Dever entertained the audience with stories of his interactions over the years with pioneers of archaeology in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. He relayed humorous and touching accounts that revealed the personalities, quirks and struggles of several iconic figures. They included Dame Kathleen Kenyon, a leading archaeologist of Neolithic culture; Nelson Glueck, a rabbi and former president of Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem; and William Foxwell Albright, archaeologist, biblical scholar and renowned founder of the biblical archaeology movement.

In one instance, Dever described a touching and poignant moment in which Glueck, a Jewish archaeologist, helped an old man in rags whose plastic shoe fell off while boarding a bus. Glueck knelt in the dust and placed the shoe back on the man’s foot, Dever recalled. In another anecdote, Dever described Kenyon as an archaeologist so focused and dedicated she carried a trowel in her handbag just in case an excavation opportunity presented itself.

Dever was a protégé of Dr. Ernest Wright at Harvard Divinity School and credits Wright with his entré into archaeology. Dever’s excavation projects over the years include serving as director of the Harvard Semitic Museum-Hebrew Union College Excavations at Gezer from 1966-71; director of the dig at Khirbet el-Kôm and Jebel Qacaqir on the West Bank from 1967-71; principal investigator at Tell el-Hayyat excavations in Jordan 1981-85; and assistant director during the University of Arizona expedition to Idalion, Cyprus in 1991.

“Archaeology is a major source for learning anything new about the biblical world,” concluded Dever during the banquet. “You have the makings of a marvelous museum here. You have a long and noble tradition. Honor it and keep it up. It really does matter.”


Kids enjoy a simulated excavation during Archaeology Discovery Weekend.
Kids enjoy a simulated excavation during Archaeology Discovery Weekend.


On the morning of Nov. 13, several teachers from Loma Linda Academy, El Cajon Seventh-day Adventist Christian School and La Sierra Academy sat at tables in Room 231 of Palmer Hall. The high-tech classroom allows images from instructors’ computers to be displayed on a bank of flat panel screens at the front of the room and on side walls. Archaeologists Dr. Ellen Bedell, history department chair of The Ellis School in Pittsburgh, and Stefanie Elkins, assistant art professor at Andrews University in Michigan led the group in the use of various web sites and creative activities for engaging elementary and middle school students in facets of archaeology such as categorizing and cataloguing artifacts.

David Roysdon, who teaches 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes at El Cajon Christian school attended the workshop to enhance his knowledge of archaeology and ways to teach the subject, he said. Last year he dug a simulated excavation pit for his students to work in and find seafood shells, bones, a simulated stone oven and other objects. “They had to determine how these shells got to the dig site,” he said. “I’m doing it again with the students this year.” He plans to pass along to his students lessons in the importance of practicing ethics in archaeology and asking key questions. “What are future archaeologists going to be talking about with our culture, and what is the past going to look like?” he said.

On Sunday Nov. 13, about 20 children ranging from preschoolers to middle school-aged kids gathered at tables under trees in a field near the Sierra Towers dorm to participate in a lesson on identifying old objects excavated in California. Craig Lesh of Archaeology Adventures gave a short lecture on how to name the objects and determine how they were used. He pointed to variously shaped and rusty cans, containers and lids on a table and asked his young pupils to identify the objects and connect them with photographs of similar, newer objects in a binder. In the end, the old cans proved to be containers for evaporated milk, maple syrup, peaches and other elements of an old-fashioned breakfast most likely consumed by workers during the 1800s.

Next, Lesh led the students to a square excavation pit dug into the soil and divided by string into smaller squares. He instructed the students on how to excavate objects buried there earlier in the day and assigned groups of kids to dig in various squares.

“It’s nice to have a feeling of archaeologists and learn about stuff that archaeologists do,” said 10-year-old Joel Lev-Tov, a Redlands resident. The excavation at La Sierra was his second. The son of an archaeologist with the Redlands firm Statistical Research Inc., the young Lev-Tov traveled with his father, Justin Lev-Tov in 2007 to participate in an Israeli excavation.

The elder Lev-Tov described Archaeology Discovery Weekend and its excavation as “a great educational opportunity for kids. It’s well organized,” he said. Lev-Tov learned of the weekend’s activities through an advertisement at an archaeology event in another city.

Seven-year-old Lia Kritzinger was among the group of children busily digging through squares of soil. She liked “finding the pieces,” Kritzinger said as she pushed a trowel through the dirt. When asked whether she might want to become an archaeologist one day Kritzinger responded, “I was thinking about being a dancer.”

Nelson Phillips and his friend Jonathan Meyer worked together on one square. “We’re finding a really cool pot,” Phillips said. When asked what he learned from the archaeology experience he responded, “you have to be patient.”

“It’s really fun and it’s great,” added Meyer.

View more pictures from the weekend here.


PR Contact: Larry Becker

Executive Director of University Relations

La Sierra University

Riverside, California

951.785.2460 (voice)

  • Last update on  January 05, 2012