Sunday, January 31, 2010
The most exciting find of this particular dig season was a life size statue of Artemis, found up on Area A. She had been lying just under the surface of the dirt, and was actually discovered by a couple of local workers who had been taking a break over where she was found. One of the younger guys who was sitting on some big rocks over in an area where no one was digging (they were all chatting and drinking their noonday glasses of hot tea), noticed a lump in the dirt. Jumping down off the rock to take a closer look, he brushed some of the dirt away to find this gleaming white marble statue. Excitedly he started calling out to everybody, "Come look! Come look!" Of course J was estatic! We all were! There had been evidence on the coins minted at Abila that there had once stood a Roman temple at this site, but no one had as yet any evidence of where that temple might have stood, or to whom it might have been dedicated. Now it seemed certain that Area A, which was the highest point of Abila, and thus an obvious choice for a temple, was most likely the site of the temple depicted on the the back side of many of the coins, and that Artemis was the city's honored deity. Of course, the images of Athena (probably to pay homage to Athens) and Tyche (the goddess of fortune, who appears more often on Decapolis coins than any other deity) both appear on coins minted at Abila, with Herakles being the male god depicted most often. It appeared that he was the chief god of Abila, as well as of many other Decapolis cities, especially Philadelphia (or modern day Amman), where a temple to Herakles had been excavated and partially restored up on the city's citadel. But to find that there might have been a chief goddess worshipped at the temple of Abila was unbelievably exciting!
What's intersting about this story is that it contains elements that can be found in both the Old and New Testament stories. (And of course most readers of the Bible know that Paul addressed a crowd in Athens, explaining to them the meaning behind their own statue to an unnamed god, a god that, once explained to them as representing Jesus Christ, many pagans were poised to accept. Their own mythologies, stories that reflected their spiritual foundations, had prepared their hearts and their minds to believe that such a God as Christ could indeed come in the flesh in order to save mankind, and that he could be born of a mortal woman!) What's interesting about the story of Heracles/Hercules is that most likely he existed in a matriarchal culture. The Hebrew Bible is written to address a very patriarchal culture, and by the time of the New Testament, matriarchal cultures had all but been demoted or swallowed up. And while both Jewish and Christian theologians point out that God is formless, neither male or female (and even God says, "I am that I am"), in truth, we have never been able to speak about God without using symbols and images. We have no other way of relating to the Divine, and while knowing that every image we do use to describe the Divine is transcended by the Divine, we have mostly created male forms, used male language, and male metaphors. Thus we have embedded into our belief system that God is really male, leaving us with no Divine Feminine imagery.
While myths are the essence of religion, Carl Jung (and later, Joseph Campbell) said that they were part of a universal collective unconscious. I had studied this idea all throughout graduate school, writing several papers on it, as I personally tested the various mythological systems I had been taught were wrong. I had become extremely interested in the idea of the Divine Feminine, and once I converted to Christianity I wondered how the feminine in such a dominant patriarchal theological system could possibly still be manifest. Creation, according to the Greeks, moved from a mother-dominated society, in which the most important divinities were female, to a father-dominated society, in which the most important divinities were male. Gaea, who is Mother Earth, was the first Great Goddess. The people who were living in Greece when the Bronze Age tribes invaded the land, worshipped the Great Goddess because they were farmers, and the fertility of the earth, as well as their ability to have enough children to assure the continuity of their clan, was of prime importance to them. Gaea's daughter, Rhea (or Cybele) was also known as Mother Earth, but by the third generation of gods, Zeus, a male god, becomes the dominate deity (with Hera, Demeter, and Hestia still looked to as beloved goddesses). Artemis, who is fourth generation, is still venerated as Mother Earth in some areas, but Apollo, who is her twin and originally her equal, wins out over her in most places, becoming god of the sun. She later becomes goddess of the moon, or of deep intuition. And this is what was getting to me. To the Greeks, logic and reasoning become elevated, associated with education and male "thinking," while intuition, connected to the feminine aspect, gets demoted in importance (feelings cannot be trusted), and thus another important separation occurs within the Divine, and within mankind.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Everyone you talk to who knows you dig always asks the inevitable question: "Have you ever found anything really exciting?" For most archaeologists the answer to this perpetual question usually goes something like this: Well, it depends on what you mean by exciting!" Of course the archaeologist can bet that the questioner most often has no idea what he or she means, but is hoping that the archaeologist will launch into a diatribe about some really fascinating find that will feed the imagination of the entire audience (whether it be an audience of one or one hundred). But let me tell you, this rarely happens! And when those really exciting finds are unearthed, it usually makes news headlines, and if you have any serious interest in archaeology, you will have already read about it (or will be seeing it soon on the History Channel!). Most Near East archaeologists are digging up ancient towns and cities, or fortresses and outposts, and while they are hoping to uncover some extremely important ancient text, or proof of some prominent ancient figure's existence, the day-to-day finds, while fascinating in every respect to the archaeologist, are often rather mundane and uninteresting to the average untrained individual. However, what the archaeologist learns to do most expertly (often in order to keep popular interest and therefore funding), is to tell stories of the ancient past that will bring those mundane objects to life! After all, it is the archaeologist's own vivid imagination, combined with his love of the past that keeps him returning to the field every season (either that, or he wants to escape the doldrums of academia, or both, more likely!).
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Nights were my favorite times at Abila, nights during the work week. It was at that time when the whole business of the day had ended, when I felt like I had made it through yet again, that I could finally relax! While most of the time I ended up collapsing from pure exhaustion into the fold up chair I had brought with me from the states, it was still a good feeling sometimes, which really surprised me. There would be about an hour from around 9:00 when the sun had started to set, until around 10:00 before going to bed that I could just sit and stare up at the stars. Since there were no street lights or outside lights of any kind, it would get dark enough to see the most amazing display of God's handiwork. It was then in the quiet that I would think about how enormous the universe is, and how insignificant we all would be in it if we didn't have some purpose, some reason, some design. It is especially easy to think about God when you are in a strange land far away from home. Every single night, without fail, I would hear the muezzin's call to prayer made from the mosque a few miles away in the nearest village of Hartha. It would be the last call to prayer before dawn, when I would hear it again as I got up, and I knew that every Muslim was kneeling down before God, being mindful of what He had done for them, and how He had provided for them. Hearing the calls five times a day not only kept the Muslims mindful of God (or Allah, as they call Him), but it kept me mindful of Him too. A devout Muslim must plan his life around prayer, being careful not to be caught out somewhere and not able to stop what he is doing and make ablutions and pray. Five times a day-- at dawn, at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset, and at nightfall, a Muslim knows that prayer must take priority over non-obligatory matters. They begin with the prayer, "God is most great." In Arabic it is Alla lu Akbar, and then saying Ashadu anna la ilaha illa Allah, meaning "I bear witness there is no god but God." The ritual prayer continues, and its melodic rhythm becomes enchanting to hear, especially from a distance. From where I sat at night, it seemed like God Himself was calling me to prayer! "Come to prayer!" "Come to well being." "Prayer is better than sleep." More of the ritual prayer, only it was being spoken in Arabic.
I felt like I had been searching out God my whole life. When I was around two years old, my parents joined a Sabbatarian church, a church that put more emphasis on works than on grace. When I was school age I often told people that I was Jewish, as it was easier than explaining what I knew they would never understand. It was a religious view that taught me a strict meaning of the observance of the Sabbath, and of a cycle of Holy days that not only called to mind a people's past, but signified a greater future when God would return to establish His Kingdom. It taught me that Christmas and Easter, seeped in pagan traditions, were as heretical to observe as going to church on Sunday. It taught me that I must obey strict Old Testament dietary laws against eating unclean meats (which helped to better appreciate the Muslim edict against eating pork), and laws about tithing would teach me how to go without, trusting more in God (another Muslim requirement is that they give alms to the poor). These teachings I took very much to heart, all the while believing that everyone else was wrong. At age eighteen, I quit. What I decided to do then was, if not totally disregard, then at least call into question everything I had been taught. Thus began a long spiritual journey of discovery, one in which I truly believe God led me along. As a child I had learned to pray, and as a family we often prayed together on Friday nights, after the Sabbath had begun. And like most families did during the 1960s, we made it a point to pray before every meal, thanking God for what he had provided. And so I grew up praying. I kept it up off and on in my teens and twenties, but eventually I got to where I calIed on God only when I was in distress, and even then I often forgot. I guess it was when I became a practicing pagan, more or less, that I started talking to God again, and then really trying to listen back. I began meditating, until eventually I began to hear and actually feel God's presence. And then talking with God became something I virtually did all day long. That is until I converted to Christianity, joined a conservative church, and found myself back in a box, or so I felt. So many of my prayers became prayers of desperation once again, only this time I was begging God not to let go of me, all the while fearing that I would struggle to get free of Him, if this in fact was Him, a notion I often regretted. I had begged God to show me who He was, not who other people thought He was, or professed Him to be. Did that have anything to do with how I ended up here? In Jordan? With J? Without my daughter? But honestly, how does one learn to see the true face of God? Does God Himself not show you all of His faces until it is you that you see more honestly? Will He not take you behind every nook and cranny of yourself until you must stand absolutely naked in front of Him with no illusions of anything. Islam was another face of God. Islam, with its 99 names for God (or rather for His attributes); Islam, with its religious divisions (Sunni, Shi' ite, and Sufi); and Islam, with all its strict regulations rolled into its more appealing aspects. I was yet again seeing God, only in a different light. And so for that night, and every night while I sat under the stars of the Jordanian skies, I would often hear God's voice saying to me, "Where ever you are, there I also shall be." God was everywhere, and He was still calling all of His children to come pray, come into well being. Don't sleep; seek Me. The lesson I was learning was that I would find God even in the most barren of places. And so it was that I would indeed need this lesson of the dessert later on when I was back at home, back where I was comfortable. Back where I would not so clearly hear the call to prayer.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Most days on the dig would not differ in any way from every other day, as I would quickly learn. We would begin digging at 5:00 a.m., work until 9:00, then take a half hour for 2nd breakfast, and then work until 1:00, at which time we would pack up our stuff, get back on the buses, and head back to camp. This we would do Monday through Friday, with Friday being short work days, since it is the Muslim "Sabbath," or noon day congregational prayer time, which lasts several hours, as in most mosques the congregational prayer is followed by a sermon (given by the imam). While Friday attendance at the mosque is a requirement for men, it is not for women, though women may attend. All observers of this prayer time go to the nearest local mosque to pray, but men and women both enter and pray separately. Prayer is required of Muslims five times a day, and while the use of a prayer rug is optional, both the body and place of prayer must be clean. This prayer consists of several cycles of standing, bowing, prostrating one's self, and sitting, all the while reciting very specific prayers during each position. Prayers are always made in the direction of Mecca, and mosques are architecturally designed to insure that everyone is praying in that direction. Fridays are not to be strictly observed as days of rest or of refraining from activity, and devout Muslims may work before this prayer time, and may return to work following it. However, to be respectful, digs in the Middle East usually work shorter hours on Fridays (sometimes requiring only the westerners to show up, giving the Muslim workers the entire day off), letting everyone dismiss early, as it is also the beginning of the Sabbath for Jews and Sabbatarian Christians (for example, the Seventh Day Adventists). It also marks the beginning of the (ever so looked forward to) weekend for all westerners. In any case, every last one of us was always happy to quit work early!
Monday, January 18, 2010
Saturday, January 16, 2010
In any case, the one thing we couldn't deceive ourselves about was that we were all of us, regardless of how comfortable we might or might not have felt, still sweating out all our body fluids. J would get so irritated at any of the American workers who insisted that they never felt "all that thirsty." Dehydration is serious business, and J often had to remind us to stop what we were doing and drink some water. As he kept jokingly saying to each of us individually, "You're not a camel!" One result of dehydration, besides getting deathly sick to your stomach, is getting diarrhea, which further dehydrates a person, making them even sicker, a condition that would eventually keep some people bedridden back at camp. This, along with all the general "foreign" bacteria floating around which would find its way into our systems, also caused some people's bowls to react more violently than others'. So you might imagine what that often meant, off and on, during any given part of a day, but especially during the eight hours we were out in the field. Obviously, this had been an ongoing issue for every season of excavation at Abila, and while attempts had been made to construct an outdoor toilet (J had also told me a very funny story about the absolute failure of trying to build one using a variety of materials on hand that would not only stand up against the wind and the constant use, but would assure its user of complete privacy, and how they named it the "Harold" after their esteemed director, instead of the "John"), but nothing had ever worked. And so . . . what each of us one-by-one eventually discovered is that if and when we were absolutely going to have to relieve ourselves, we were going to have to go over the hill on the back side of the tell where no one was digging, squat down behind some of the taller briar bushes, and do it there. As for us girls, while we were appalled by the notion of having to make a public announcement whenever we had to go, we did always ask another female to go with us, more to keep watch than anything, but also to be able to report back if the other girl needed some form of help. Now, as I mentioned earlier, we all were instructed to carry toilet paper with us out to the field, and here's the reason why: to put it quite bluntly, out on that hillside there was nothing, either in vegetable or mineral form, that was going to do the job when it came time to wipe our bottoms! All joking aside, and being from West Virginia I've heard it all, how we use corn cobs, or Sears catalog pages, or whatever, and even though I had used an outhouse at my grandma's when we'd go down to the end of her holler to play by our great uncle's house (who didn't have indoor plumbing for a really long time) and have to use his, and while I've used port-a-potties at different outdoor events, this was something else altogether! Squatting to poop while someone you barely know stands with her back to you, only feet away?! Throwing used toilet paper down on the ground and watching it blow away or else get caught somewhere on some briars (and seeing that some girl on this dig had brought pink!)? Of course, this made those toilets back at camp seem plush. So see? Just when you think things can't get any worse, they really can! I remember one time looking over at the other hillside, seeing a shepherd herding his flock of sheep and goats, and realizing that it could take a long time before he would be ready to move on; and I really had to go! My worst fear was that even if he didn't have 20/20 eyesight, he might own a pair of binoculars! You never could be sure what those Bedouin might have. After all, they weren’t riding around on camels in Jordan anymore, they were driving small Toyota trucks!
But what I’m saying is, out there, and on this whole trip basically, I had to learn to let go of my vanity, my pride, and everything else, eventually. And I learned a lot about myself in the process. It's amazing what you learn you're capable of doing, and how much you can adapt to new and challenging situations. I had never in my life been an outdoorsy kind of girl, but I was sort of proud of myself every time I made it through another "unusual" experience. My life as I had known it to be up to this point was going to change, and I think I was being changed in the process. Much like the process of going through a refiner's fire! God will not let us keep our original natures, especially if we ask Him to help us grow spiritually. But we'll only go through what we can handle a little at a time, and He'll provide so much fun and excitement along the way that you'll insist it was worth all the discomfort and pain! So while I would have to learn to squat out here on this hillside in Jordan (among a whole host of other embarrassing things I would find myself mixed up in), what I didn’t know was that very soon, actually later in the fall, I would reap an unexpected reward most unusual for a girl who grew up in a small town in West Virginia!
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
While I'm pretty sure that eventually I would have shed some tears over my dig assignment, right now I was satisfied, and all I had to worry about was learning how to dig a proper square. Unfortunately I am not, nor have I ever been a digger of any kind. This particular skill does not appear on my resume. I played in a sandbox when I was young, but I didn't really dig. I was too afraid of getting worms under my fingernails (which I could accidentally ingest, and which could then screw up my entire digestive system until at which time I might eventually poop them out --something my mother obviously must have warned me about, no doubt). I am not a gardener of flowers or of vegetables, and I swear that even having to dig in my purse for an object that has found its way to the bottom upsets me beyond belief! But J assured me that I would have plenty of help, and so not to worry as I would get the hang of it. In defense of real archaeology, I want to go on record as saying that several wonderful archaeological field manuals have been written on the subject of digging in the Middle East. J even assigns to his own students either Bill Dever's, A Manual of Field Excavation, or Martha Joukowski's, A Complete Manual of Field Archaeology whenever he teaches a course in introductory archaeology, and both of those books, along with Larry Herr and Randall Yonker's book, Excavation Manual: Madaba Plains Project are recommended reading before going on the Abila dig. However, to be clear, I did, after all, study English, not archaeology, and so like I said earlier, I prepped by reading Agatha Christie, though in my defense, I read up on her life during the time she was married to her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan (which I found very inspiring!), and not her fiction (give me a break). Anyway, J gave us all a demonstration on how one should properly go about the business of digging a square, removing tiny little scoops of dirt, as we carefully picked our way down through the stratigraphic layers, all the while maintaining a straight line. (This is my version, not the official version!) The straight line would be maintained by using the plumb bob. But I do jump ahead of myself here, because really, first we had to clear all the sheep dung out of the previous seasons' squares (they obviously had made for excellent pens), burning that, along with all the briars that had grown up all over the area since the last season as well. Finally, we were all ready to be assigned our spots where J wanted either new squares put in, or old squares dug deeper or dug wider. I was put over in what we affectionately termed the Kathleen Kenyon hole. (Kathleen Kenyon is perhaps the most famous female archaeologist, having once dug in Jericho and in Jerusalem, among other places. During the 1930s, in Samaria, which was the British mandated territory of Palestine, she actually dug a trench across the summit of a mound and down the northern and southern slopes, exposing the Iron II, 900-721 BC, to the Roman period stratigraphic sequence of the site.) Not to out do her by any means, but I would be digging earlier than the Iron age, as I would eventually dig down as far as the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC), but like her, I would be digging down the slope of a hill. Help! Where was my help? Ah, local guys. Men from the local villages would be helping me do all this digging. They would carry out and empty the goofas (rubber baskets made out of old tires, made especially for archaeologists), and they would dig wherever I told them to dig. Man. We were all in trouble. Oh, but J would be standing over me, watching, dispensing advice, that is when he was not overseeing someone else's digging in another square. While I dug, he supervised. I kept reminding myself that he had earned that position, and good for him! Me? I didn't have any real purpose for being here, other than the fact that all I had ever really wanted was to travel, and I had said that I would do anything to get to. I guess this was my anything!
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Tonight though, J and I were sitting here, far away from a world that seemed to barely exist from this long distance. Here, J was happy and in his element. I recalled how he had rescued me from going crazy over graduate classes, and then from a cold house during that first winter after we had met. Later he rescued me from bill collectors and a surmounting load of debt. He seemed to be at home in messes and tough situations, as his whole life, he often though somewhat reluctantly shared stories about, had been one of survival. And being on this dig, for me, was definitely something I would require his help to survive! After about an hour of sitting mostly in silence (we were both unbelievably tired), we finally wound down enough to be able to sleep. Besides, our alarm was set to go off at 4:00 a.m., and that would be here before we knew it. After we each had made a quick trip out to the toilets, using a flashlight to light the way along the dark path (there were no street lights, only the stars), we then lay down together on our mattresses and very quietly made love. J fell right to sleep, but I lay awake a while longer, remembering one more thing. It was a vision that I had back in 1990.
I had only been dating J for about three months. As I had gotten into the habit of doing, one afternoon, as I was practicing deep meditation, I saw myself standing in a raging fire. Flames were all around me, though they did not feel hot, nor were they hurting me in any way. After I had been standing there for an indeterminate amount of time, two spirits carried J into the flames. Holding him directly over my head, they released him down into my body, so that we stood there together as one, he inside of me. What was so amazing to me was that I could really feel this. My entire body, from head to toe, shuddered in ecstasy for the duration of this whole part of the vision! We stayed like that for how long, I didn't know (only seconds passed in real time), before those same spirits came back and somehow related to J that it was time for him to go. He told them that he was not ready and didn’t want to leave, and so they allowed him a little more time before they returned, lifted J back out of me, and took him away. Even then he did not want to leave, but I had somehow understood that it was time for us to part, and that everything would be okay as I remained standing alone in the flames. After that vision I knew in my heart that we would be married (it took 3 1/2 more years for this to happen), but that our time together would be short. Why short, I did not understand; however, I immediately related the flames to passion, a word derived from the Latin, passio, which means "to suffer." But since it seemed in the vision to be a fire that did not consume, then maybe it would be a fire that would refine, or purify, changing me into something different than what I was. In any case, nothing I had ever experienced seemed any more real to me than that vision had seemed, and I had been thinking about it ever since. Now 4 1/2 years later, I still thought about it, and what it meant, and why I had received such a vision in the first place. Thinking about this, my marriage, my daughter, and about being here, I eventually drifted off to sleep.