A Grand Day Out: Field Trips from the Field

Blog post by Nathan Downey

At the conclusion of the work week, the GPP squad is allotted a glorious 36 hours to rest our weary trowels. But even when we are not busy slinging soil and sweeping silt, the appreciation of archaeology, ancient history, and all things old remains firmly rooted in our minds. We are extremely fortunate to have our weeks punctuated by short excursions to the Galilee’s finest archaeological offerings.
DSC_0455Scaling the Mt. Arbel cliffside

After the first week of tireless excavating we set off southward towards the Sea of Galilee to  hike the cliffs of Mt. Arbel. We were saddened to find that much of the Iron Age fortress embedded in the cliffside was closed for conservation. Nevertheless, the crew thoroughly enjoyed exploring the many caves dotting the rock face and spotting local wildlife such as Procavia capensis, the Rock Hyrax. We returned to our van after a steep climb and set out to the eastern end of the Sea of Galilee to visit the Roman period site of Hippos (Susita).

Hippos_SusitaLooking out over the Sea of Galilee from Susita

Week two’s day off consisted of an excursion to the site of Rujm el Hiri. The site, possibly Chalcolithic or Early Bronze Age in date, is known for its megalithic concentric stone circle arrangement as well its purported reputation as a new age energy vortex. Guided by nothing but a faint memory of past visits and the swirling lifeforce of the universe our fearless team leader led us to the peripheral settlements of the sites and then on to the central megalithic structure, and eventually into the inner sanctum.

ChalcoHouses_Rujm_elHiriLearning about the arrangement of ancient Chalcolithic houses near Rujm el-Hiri


Rosemary_emerging_R alHiriRosemary gets caught in the vortex of Rujm el-Hiri

We made a b-line for the beach for our third day off, enjoying a short day trip to the coastal city of Akko. First, we were treated to an exquisite multimedia presentation on the significance of the Turkish bathhouse in Akko, highlighting the rich history and practices at the once-bustling social hub. At the Treasures in the Wall museum we examined the day-to-day life in Akko through the material culture left by prior generations of inhabitants. Later, the gang went a little deeper into the winding subterranean tunnels beneath the streets of Old Akko. Once we returned to the surface, we stopped at Hummus Said, a reported contender for the coveted “best hummus in Israel,” moniker, to sample the spread and assess the hype.

Akko_BathhouseThe Turkish bathhouse presentation may or may not have been narrated by a young Steven Seagal


Akko_tunnelsIn the tunnels beneath Old Akko

Our 4th week of hard work was rewarded with a trip travelled to Montfort castle, a hilltop outpost built by the Crusaders. After exploring the ruins, we made a quick stop in Ma’alot-Tarshiha, for the first falafel sandwiches of the field season.

crew_MontfortBefore the hike across the valley to the castle

For our final day off in the field, our friend from the kibbutz and regional cycling guru, Eli, took us to view some dolmens he happened to come across on his many bike rides around the North. Many of these ancient stone tombs sit a mere stone’s throw from the roadside, countless motorists whizzing by scarcely giving these ancient tombs a second glance or thought.

Crew_DolmenThe gang assesses the mighty roof slab of a dolmen


crew_near_dolmenOn the next ancient rock tomb


Crew_overlooking GadotListening to Eli’s tales of Kibbutz Gadot

I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to visit these amazing sites. I would like to thank the directors for organizing these trips. I would also like to thank our friends at the kibbutz especially Eli for his perspective and direction. I will remember these day trips and adventures fondly long after I have left the Galilee. And should I have the good fortune find myself in any more old city tunnels, mountain fortresses, turkish bathhouses, or hummus shops, I will be reminded of the joy that I felt peeling back the layers of history with the GPP 2017 excavation team.


Meet the Team!

Jennifer Feng is a Geographical Studies major at the University of Chicago. She is our resident turea (a draw hoe) expert, keeping the section straight and level, even in the 100+ degree heat.



Nathan Downey is an Anthropology/Biological Sciences major at the University of Chicago, with an interest in palaeo-ethnobotany. Nathan is our resident lefty and enjoys felafel and sleeping outside. He respects the rocks in the section, even when he’d rather not.



Blair Heidkamp is a graduate student of anthropology at the University of Cincinnati, writing a thesis on spindle whorls in the Pottery Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Early Bronze I. This is Blair’s third season with the GPP, and her seventh project overall, and her wisdom and experience have already proven invaluable.



Emma Menio is beginning her graduate studies in geosciences at the University of Arkansas this fall. Her academic interest lies in remote sensing, and for this project, she is the resident surveyor/geologist. She’s also an expert with the pickaxe, taking down levels with gusto.



Rosemary Hanson is a former Anthropology major who now teaches at an elementary-school in Seattle, WA. This is her second season with the GPP, and she enjoys obsessively straightening the balks and sneaking dates from the kitchen.  


Chad Hill is field director for GPP, and a research associate at Dartmouth College who specializes in zooarchaeology and aerial survey. He is working remotely this season to spend more time with the newest member of the Hill family, Elora! The team is both extremely excited and a little jealous: digging is just not the same without Chad’s quick wit, sharp trowel, and tech savvy at the ready.


Yorke Rowan is a co-Director of the GPP. An anthropologist and archaeologist by training, Yorke specializes in ground and chipped stone artifacts. He also specializes in strategic driving, dodging potholes, wild boars, and basalt rocks in the trusty Budget rental van.


Morag Kersel is a co-Director of the GPP. Professor of Anthropology at DePaul University, Morag specializes in the study of the antiquities trade in the eastern Mediterranean. She is registrar, surveyor, and manager who keeps the team on their toes with questions like: “Are you drinking water?” and “Did you label that?”








New Season Dates


We are looking for the few, the dedicated, the untiring, for a special short season in 2014.  There are a few places left if you would like to join the team: July 28 – August 18, 2014.

Don’t delay, and don’t forget that the ASOR grant applications are due soon (Feb. 15). They can be found at: http://www.asor.org/fellowships/excavation.html

Room 1 w storage & features

Contact Yorke Rowan (ymrowan@uchicago.edu) or Morag Kersel (mkersel@depaul.edu) for more information.



TK on the left, AM on the right, sustained by coffee, hummus, and biscuits

When the field excavations and survey end, most people involved return home (or on to their next project!) soon after – to teach, to enroll in their classes, to go back to their real jobs. As any archaeologist can attest, the excitement of discovery and fresh insights while in the field is only one part of the overall research project. The long, arduous process of studying the material culture, biological remains (animal bones, plant remains) and establishing the stratigraphic and contextual relationships begins after the excavations, and sometimes take years.  But even before that process can begin, these materials must be organized; the thousands of files and photographs must be organized in some coherent manner in order to be useful and likewise, the physical remains too must be organized, placed in well labeled containers, and stored in accessible places.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEnter the interns (Ani Marty and Tova Kadish) and one volunteer (Ted Gold). For two weeks, two interns  (Metcalf Interns) from the University of Chicago stayed on in Jerusalem after the excavations for intensive remedial organization, database work, editing, flotation, and a seemingly endless array of other tasks requiring stamina, organization, intelligence, plates of hummus, and boxes of petit beurres. Together AM and TK worked miracles. At the moment they are printing out the 300+ pages final report for the Antiquities Authority – yay!

TG continued working on the sickle blade assemblage, a project he started in 2012 and used for his BA Thesis at the University of Chicago.


TG and Yorke check out some lithics



We are very grateful for their professionalism, dedication, and commitment to the Galilee Prehistory Project – we can’t thank you all enough!!!