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The archeology project in the 2006-2007 school year

Saturday 11 August 2007, by Bob Mark

The archeology project at the NSWAS Primary School has now reached the end of its second year. Children from fourth through eighth grades participated in the project. The program included: a) weekly lessons on archeology conducted by guides from the Antiquities Authority, b) twenty days of digging to uncover a Byzantine mosaic floor and its surroundings, and c) a number of walking tours in which children learned how to identify indications of archeological sites. The dig was conducted in four 5-day sessions and supervised by two certified archeologists, Gidon Sulimani and Nuha Aga Sa’id. In summing up the second year of the project there was a general consensus among the children, archeologists and teachers who were involved that it has been a success. The children were engaged in the work and we have little doubt that the project was a history lesson that they will not forget.

We want to thank the CRB (“Karev”) Foundation for funding the weekly archeology lessons in class and the American Friends of NSWAS for providing funding for the dig. We also want to thank the archeologist Gidon Sulimani, a member of NSWAS, for volunteering his time whenever possible, beyond the standard hours that he worked for the Antiquities Authority.

The dig has reached a point at which we appear to have exposed the major part of the floor that we can expect to find in tact. This includes one room measuring three by four meters in the center of which we find a red and blue cross surrounded by other small decorations. On the east side of that room, partially divided by the remains of a wall, we find a narrower room, perhaps a hallway, with a number of geometric designs. On the north side of the room we found a threshold to yet another room with a hint of a plastered wall and a small piece of cement flooring.

The large cross on the mosaic floor had led most of us amateurs to assume that we were working on a Byzantine church. This was how it was reported in the media as well. However early on in the dig Gidon pointed out that certain pieces of the scattered clay tiles that we came upon were characteristic of the roofs of bath houses. The idea that this is a bath house was reinforced when it was later noticed that when knocking on part of the floor it sounded hollow. The floors of Roman and Byzantine bath houses sat on rows of small pillars between which coals were burned to heat the room. This could also explain an interesting angle in one corner of the room that seems to indicate that the floor had sunk. There are plenty of other possible explanations for this but the speculation is interesting, and actually a lot of fun.

Before deciding whether to proceed with further digging at this particular site we are under a moral obligation to invest in fortifying the floor and in restoring parts of it. The Antiquities Authority and the Forest Authorities regard our work as an important contribution to the public, but without proper restoration work the floor may be damaged by common visits, not to mention the frightening risk of intentional vandalism. Fortifying the floor will also be required in order to renew the license to dig. Once the floor is fortified it will not be easy for the average passer-by to walk away with a souvenir mosaic stone.

Much of the fortification work can be done in cooperation with the children and this would be the focus of at least part of the project’s third year, once funding is found. A piece of the project worth mentioning is the floor’s cleaning, also to be professionally guided. As we work on the stone mosaic, we begin to reveal colors that were not initially seen during excavation.

Gidon Sulimani mentioned a number of ways that the dig might be resumed after completing the maintenance work, however it is still too early to say whether these options would be suitable for working with the children. At a later stage we will decide whether to continue work surrounding the Byzantine mosaics, or perhaps investigate a number of other new sites in the forest that we have yet to report on.

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western floor eastern floor Damage at the edges

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