Israel, Part II: Digging

My team and I found some cool things on this dig. For three weeks, I was assigned to an area near the headquarters of Legio, the home of the Roman VI Ferrata Legion (the “Iron Legion”).

Even though the pieces of pottery (called “sherds,” not “shards”)must remain in the lab or on site, I did find some intangible things that I am allowed to take home with me. Perhaps the most important finding: it’s all about context. There’s no use in finding objects without knowing where they came from. So, here’s a bit of context for what I did for three weeks in Israel.

See the teeny white dot near the trees in the distance? That’s our dig site!

Each day I was woken by a 4 a.m. alarm. In a semi-conscious state I’d get dressed, lace up my boots, apply the first coat of sunscreen, stumble downstairs to the kitchen, flip the switch on the electric kettle, and make a mug of tea with two teabags for extra caffeine. Then outside in the darkness I’d grab a few buckets from pottery washing the previous day to bring back to the dig site and wait with everyone else for the 5 a.m. arrival of the bus. We’d all board the bus and depart for the site, eating granola bars, listening to music, and silently savoring our last few moments of rest before the day began.

When the bus dropped us off in the field south of Megiddo that became so familiar, we’d immediately station ourselves tent posts and work together to raise the tarps that would shield us from the sun later in the day. After waiting a few minutes for adequate light and grabbing pickaxes, hoes, patiches (mini pickaxes), trowels, and a variety of brushes, we’d start to work.

The difficulty of the work varied depending on the contents of our square each day. If we were lucky enough to have some architectural stones in our squares, we’d use light tools to articulate their surfaces to make them nice and clean for the photographs. But most of the work was breaking ground and clearing away as much topsoil, sediment, and rocks as would fit in the buckets and hauling those buckets down to our pile of dirt, either to sift them in search of material culture or to dump them unceremoniously in a growing dirt-mountain.

Breaks came as a relief after hours of work in often-humid air or deceptive breezes that felt refreshing but actually dehydrated us. The first break of the day was breakfast, when we’d sit on grass mats and eat vegetables, eggs, hummus, bread, hazelnut spread, and peanut butter with dirty hands. The next break came closer to the end of the work day at 1 p.m., and often our supervisors would be kind enough to supply us with watermelon and popsicles.

The work, as I have said before, is not easy. I have never experienced such muscle pain before waking up on morning two after learning how to properly pickaxe on day one. Injuries are common. Though I luckily escaped with only one bruised fingernail, two scraped knees from two graceful falls while carrying buckets, and one head wound, I have heard stories about past volunteers losing fingers. And the combination of the heat, humidity, sun, and inhaled dust drained everyone and made early bedtimes a necessity.

Downside to head injury: blood. Upside: free bandana!

I gave up my sole for archaeology.

But despite the challenges, there were things that made the long work days fun. Herds of cows routinely visited before breakfast to keep us company. The more curious of them even hopped the fence to join us. The stunning sunrises, which came slightly after 5 a.m., more than justified our 4 a.m. alarms. And in my area (nicknamed “Lollipop Valley” by the second area, who often complained about how hard their supervisors worked them) we were seldom without good music supplied by one of the students or Dr. Cline.

The cows got too close to our squares, so we had to tell them to moove back.

Sunrises like these were usually accompanied by The Circle of Life from someone’s phone.

We found pottery. Lots of pottery that we’d have to wash back at the kibbutz later in the day. Many of us have experienced haunting dreams about washing pottery sherds. We also found lots of tiles that would have covered the roofs of the buildings in the camp, and bits of glass and shell.

Smiling through the pain

The long days of work made me appreciate things I often take for granted, like air conditioned buses, food, naps, a pool to take a dip into, clean laundry.

I did find some cool material culture on this dig, and I learned about archaeological techniques and skills like taking elevation points, keeping a field notebook, and keeping track of finds.

I would definitely return to Israel for another season to gain more knowledge and archaeological skills, but I’d especially want to come back for the camaraderie. Yes, digging brings people together.  It’s hard to spend a week with someone in a 1.5 meter deep hole brushing dirt off rocks without emerging friends.

Israel, Part I: History, Touring

I’ve just arrived home from four weeks in Israel. My circadian rhythm is in the middle of a 180. Thanks to the regularly early wakeup times combined with a significant difference in time zones between Fort Worth and Tel Aviv, I woke up at 2:30 am and crashed at 5:30 pm yesterday. My brain is fried, my eyes won’t stay open, my stomach is churning, my muscles are sore, my hands are calloused – but my heart is full.

I’ll start by giving an out-of-order run-down of the pre-dig tour, which lasted for a week before the start of the excavations at Legio and familiarized us with Israel’s rich archaeological history. Israel’s “old stuff” makes the United States’ and Europe’s seem young in comparison – it’s not just from one time period but from many. It’s probably impossible to throw a rock and not hit a tel, an artificial hill consisting of layer upon layer of civilization. On our dig, we found not only Roman ruins but also bits of material culture from the British Mandate period, the Ottoman occupation, and the Early Bronze age.

Case in point: Beit She’an is a small mountain of 18 distinct layers of human occupation. Eighteen!

Beit She’an was not the only tel we visited. We also observed the current excavations at Tel Kabri, a site where a large palace and evidence for large quantities of wine have been found. We hiked around the Tel Dan reserve with its massive fortress and arched gate known as Abraham’s Gate. And we were given a tour of Tel Hazor, with Late Bronze temples and administrative buildings that had been destroyed around the time of the Bronze Age collapse.

Tel Dan

Tel Hazor

The cities from the Hellenistic and Roman time periods helped us get an idea of what we would be looking for at Legio. We got a tour of Omrit, a complex of temples built in multiple phases. Hippos-Sussita, a town on top a mountain in the Golan Heights overlooking the blue Sea of Galilee, was a real feat of engineering with its water system and gate carved of basalt. Caesarea Maritima, Herod’s tribute to Augustus on the Mediterranean, is still impressive to this day and must have been especially so before its destruction by tsunamis. Sepphoris, one of my favorite places we visited on the tour, had lots of beautiful mosaics that have survived nicely. One of them the mosaic in the temple which depicts biblical characters and a menorah alongside a zodiac wheel around a sun god, is an interesting example of religious and cultural syncretism between the Romans and the local population.



Caesarea. The above picture is Herod’s swimming pool. I’m a little jealous.

One of Sepphoris’ main roads

One of the many mosaics at Sepphoris. Are they hugging? Wrestling? Waltzing?

A representation of the Nile and all the life that springs from it

Known as the Mona Lisa of the Galilee. Isn’t she lovely?

Zodiac wheel in the synagogue

Games carved into the road. Wish the Romans had left behind the instructions.

To round out the survey of Israel’s history we also saw examples of Crusader-era architecture. The fortress and tunnels at Akko were fun to explore, and so was Nimrod’s Fortress with its narrow spiral staircases, archer’s loops, pathways between mountaintops, and spectacular panoramic views.

Tunnels in Akko

Inside the fortress

Nimrod’s Fortress

Stay tuned for part 2 for pictures of the holes I spent three weeks in and part 3 for stories from my weekend excursions and overall reflections!

A Peace to End All Peace

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This semester Jaci and I co-moderated an honors reading group for the book A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin. I was interested in the book since it concerned the region that I visited last summer, and I wanted to gain historical background not only about the region but also about the Middle East as a whole, since my knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs is limited.

The book begins on the eve of the first World War, a time when the Middle East was one of the only regions in the world not shaped by colonial Europe. As war breaks out and victory over Ottoman Empire seems within reach for the Allies, these major powers begin to discuss the fate of the conquered territory. The books tells of the guises the Allies adopted – concern for the people of the Middle East, protection, Zionism – to justify partitioning the Middle East according to arbitrary boundaries.

An aspect of the book that was interesting to me was the lack of preparation the main figures in the British Government had for their executive positions. While they could compose easily in Latin and Greek, they did not know an iota about the Middle East. Thus, they made decisions that were harmful to region and not in the interests of the peoples concerned, as Woodrow Wilson said they would be. A broad education did not adequately prepare these men to make these kind of decisions. I now recognize the importance of experts qualified to make policy decisions that affect people worldwide. The liberal arts still hold a critical place in the world, but so does specialized knowledge. The failure of the Allied leaders to recognize the limitation of their knowledge was prideful and foolish.

A Peace To End All Peace was not an easy read. Since I usually tear through books pretty quickly, I the time this book would demand of me. However, I am glad that I read this book. I feel that the perspective I have gained on the Middle East – and on competence – has been invaluable. More importantly, this book has taught me much about the importance of cultural competence and specialized knowledge and the damage that thoughtless decisions and unbridled foreign intervention can wreak. A Peace To End All Peace is not just a thorough historical look at the decisions made during and after World War I. It also contains deep truths about human nature that anyone, history buff or Middle East expert or not, can understand.

ICDG Fascism Panel Discussion

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Is it fair to use the term “fascism” to describe populist movements?

What is fascism? Do we throw the term “fascism” around too lightly? Do the right-wing movements around the world today deserve to be called “fascist?” These are a few of the questions that a panel of three professors, hosted by the Informed Citizens Discussion Groups, discussed last Wednesday, April 19.

Drs. David Chappell, Kathleen Tipler and Mitchell Smith began the discussion by defining fascism, a term that is not simple to pin down. The panel mentioned several recent events and elections and decisions, particularly in Turkey and France. Does Turkish President Erdogan count as a “fascist?” What about right-wing French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen? Though these leaders display some of the characteristics of fascism, Chappell and especially Smith argued that we must be very careful about whom we label “fascist.”

I was surprised to find out that fascism is not a broad term, but a rather narrow one that really only applies to political movements in Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 30s. Smith and Chappell argued that its definition is too specific to encompass much else, and that because we have so few historical examples of fascism, it is unfair to use the term to describe many political movements at all.

I was surprised to find out that fascism is not a broad term, but a rather narrow one that really only applies to political movements in Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 30s. Smith and Chappell argued that its definition is too specific to encompass much else, and that because we have so few historical examples of fascism, it is unfair to use the term to describe many political movements at all. I partially agree with Smith and Chappell that we must be careful to be precise with our language, since fascism is not a simple matter. I also partially agree with Tipler – the term “fascism” is a helpful one to mention to describe some of the characteristics of current political movements around the world.

Woody Guthrie famously put the message “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar. This slogan represents the anti-fascist ferment of the 1960s, as the panel mentioned.

Into the Mainstream: Explaining the Rise of Radical Populist Parties in Europe


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Last week I attended the lecture “Into the Mainstream: Explaining the Rise of Radical Populist Parties in Europe” given by Reinhard Heinisch last Tuesday, a talk addressing the alarming populist trend in Europe that is no longer a fringe phenomenon. The fact that populism is still growing comes as a surprise to me – I assumed that it had leveled out or was tapering off.

Heinisch’s lecture explained what populism is and what populist movements have in common, political patterns in modern Europe, and the success of the current movements. Some of the characteristics of populism that Heinisch named were little respect for human rights, the breaking of taboos through provocative speech, nationalism, and nativism. The populist political parties in European nations share some but not all of these characteristics; though the “isms” often overlap between parties, some parties can lie at completely opposite ends of the political spectrum. I was intrigued by the way that Heinisch classified the similar but distinct populist movements spreading in Europe today, drawing lines between western, southern, and eastern Europe. Each geographic region of Europe, for example, shifts blame onto other parts of Europe and certain groups of people. Western Europe is characterized by using immigrants as scapegoats and blaming the failure of the European Union, eastern Europe uses the Roma (gypsies) and the liberal west, and southern Europe uses capitalism, the EU, and the advanced economies of the north.
I would be interested to hear more from Heinisch about the types of tactics populist political parties use to accomplish their ends and win support through fear. He touched on this by showing anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant posters, so I would be curious to understand more of the psychology and rhetoric behind populists’ use of scapegoats. I am also eager to know more specific reasons why men are more drawn to populist ideology than women. One of my professors asked this question at the end, and Heinisch responded that there is no definitive, proven answer.

Language and Religion: The Case of Arabic

Last Friday, April 21, I went to a talk by Dr. Muhammad S. Eissa on the connection between language and religion by using the case of Arabic. I found the talk fascinating even though I may have been one of the two members of the audience not studying Arabic.

Language and religion, Eissa said, are inextricably intertwined. To help his audience, much of which comes from a Christian frame of reference, he used the example of the connection between Latin and Catholic masses. When many English speakers hear Latin, they often think of church services because they only hear Latin in church services. As a result, the Latin language seems, to many, to have a spiritual quality. This phenomenon, Eissa said, is the same with Arabic. Muslims around the world, especially those from non-Arabic-speaking countries who only hear the language spoken from mosques, associate the Arabic language with the divine.

What do many Americans think of when they hear spoken Arabic? They often automatically associate Arabic with Islam, even though Arabic is not only the language of Islam but also a language of commerce, education, and everyday life. Many Americans’ only exposure to Arabic is through the media, so they assume speakers of Arabic are Muslim, even though Arabic is a language of commerce, education, and everyday life – not just a religious language. According to an anecdote Eissa told, the association of Arabic with Islam is a global phenomenon. He told a story about an American man who went to a conference in China. Many assumed, based upon his physical appearance, that he was American – but when he began speaking in fluent Arabic, everyone’s perception of him immediately changed. They assumed he was Muslim, and they asked him to recite prayers!

I learned that many young men in Arabic-speaking countries memorize large portions of the Qur’an, or even the entire Qur’an, from a young age. Eissa noted the cognitive benefits that come from memorizing large portions of text – it really does rewire and improve your brain. However, he drew a distinction between merely memorizing large portions of scripture and understanding it. There is a disconnect between being able to recite the Qur’an and knowing its meaning, and this difference is exacerbated when Arabic is not one’s original language.

Another aspect of the talk I found interesting was Eissa’s argument about the Qur’an’s essence, which he says lies in spoken words. Eissa believes that many Muslims place too much importance on the physical Qur’an, rather than the spoken words of the Qur’an, because the physical, printed text itself is not the Qur’an. The Quran, he says, was first spoken by the Prophet Muhammad and transmitted to his followers. It was not written down, printed, and distributed until later. The physical book itself is only a means of accessing the true Qur’an, which is spoken.

Eissa asked us to consider the link between language and religion in our own religious life. I realized that I do not closely associate my Christian faith with the English language. I believe that the Bible is God’s word whether in Hebrew, Greek, or English, and for this reason, all people can understand God’s word in their vernacular. Eissa, however, explained that if the Qur’an is translated into a different language, it loses its essence. I think he makes an excellent point. Language is powerful and precise, and a text cannot carry the exact meaning of its original when it is translated into a different language. Dr. Eissa’s talk gave me important things to consider and helped me understand the importance of studying religious texts in their original languages to extract their original meanings.

Summer 2017 & Spring 2018 (updated)

After much deliberation, many applications, and lots of wavering, I have decided to go to Israel this summer!

I am participating in the Jezreel Valley Archaeological Project. Dr. Cline from the Religious Studies department, eight other students and I will help in the excavation at Legio, the site of the camp of the sixth Roman Legion (how cool is that?). The trip lasts four weeks. The first week includes a tour of important sites in northern Israel such as Caesarea Philippi, Nimrod’s Fortress, and Nazareth. During the other three weeks we’ll live at a kibbutz (a commune), dig, share meals, and listen to lectures.

I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to go on this trip. I’m eager to gain a knowledge of basic archaeological methods, which will bring new perspective and new life to my classical culture classes. I also particularly hope to travel to Jerusalem, Masada, and the Dead Sea.

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The dig site in 2015. Image courtesy of the Schusterman Center.

In other news, I have recently decided to add a major in Classical Languages! Since these majors will work together fairly easily, this decision won’t change too much for me, except that after this semester I will start taking Greek and continue taking Latin and classical culture courses. In light of this decision, I’ve decided to study abroad (probably, again, since plans tend to change) in England or Scotland. My top choice is the University of Glasgow. Scotland captivated me when I visited for a couple days in the spring of 2015, and the prospect of returning to study there sounds magical.


Turkish Food and Art Festival

Immediately following the camping trip with the BCM and ACC, I made a trip to Oklahoma City for the Turkish Food and Art Festival hosted by the Raindrop Foundation.

Turkish food on its own is a cause for celebration. I ate some mantı, meat-filled dumplings reminiscent of ravioli and served with yogurt, dried mint, and red pepper. I also sampled gözleme, a thin pastry filled with cheese and spinach, and then grape leaves stuffed with rice, and some çay (black tea). There were also kebabs, köfte (meatballs), and Turk kahvesi (traditional Turkish coffee, which is rich, dark, and delightful and surprises the drinker when she gets to the bottom of the cup and encounters a layer of fine grounds half an inch deep).



On the stage, whirling dervishes whirled, dancers called on audience members to join them, and the MC awarded recognition to children who could correctly answer a question about the Turkish flag. My favorite art-related station the festival offered was the booth with Ebru, or water marbling. Watching an artist paint delicate swirls and flowers with a fine brush on the surface of the water is mesmerizing. I have seen Ebru artwork before, but never the intricate process behind it.

The Raindrop Turkish House in Oklahoma City offers a variety of classes in Ebru, cooking, and Turkish language. Next semester, I’m planning to brush up on my Turkish by taking one of the language classes! I’m glad I discovered the Raindrop House and the classes because of this festival.

It’s been several weeks since the festival, but I’m still thankful to the Raindrop House for hosting it and sharing so much beautiful art, wonderful food, and Turkish culture with Oklahoma City. I’m already looking forward to next year. Until then, I’m going to have to keep eating yogurt on my pasta and pretending it’s mantı.

American Culture Club

The BCM, the awesome student ministry I’ve been a part of since coming to OU, hosted an American Culture Club for five weeks earlier this semester. The club’s goal is to welcome international and exchange students and help them learn about American culture. I’ve been eager to spend more time with international students at OU since receiving such a warm welcome as a guest in Central Asia this summer, and making new friends and helping facilitate discussions at ACC was a perfect opportunity.

Each week, we had time to chat and eat snacks and then discuss a set of questions over topics like culture shock, family differences, and U.S. holidays. In seeing American culture though new eyes, I ended up not only learning more about my own culture but a little bit about everyone else’s cultures, too.

One afternoon at ACC, when we were discussing family structures, a student from Cambodia shared that in her language there are five different ways to address people and five different grammatical forms based on their rank of seniority. A student from Sweden said that there were no distinctions in seniority in her country — everybody is on a first-name basis. However, despite this cultural difference, I observed that in every culture, some things are common between everyone. In every culture, people love and treasure their families.

(Not really related to American Culture Club, but I found this infographic illustrating East-West cultural differences the other day. It struck me as a creative illustration. Do these illustrations accurately represent the cultures without making too many broad generalizations? What do you think?)

American Culture Club made me realize that it’s difficult and quite funny to explain American, Southern, and Oklahoman slang. “Hit the sack?” “Twister?” “Fixin’ to…?” “Pitch in?” Where do these phrases come from, and how do they find our way into the regional collective consciousness and stay there? I don’t know. One week,  our small group’s assignment was to write a short story using all of these terms. Hilarity ensued.

One weekend, a group of us went camping at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area near Sulphur. It was my great pleasure to introduce my international friends to the s’more, which is officially the most purely American food of all American foods and also undeniably the most delicious. It was also great to sing songs and talk about our favorite music, our philosophies and spiritual beliefs, our hometowns, our goals and dreams. Something about sitting around a campfire draws people together.

I made some wonderful friends at American Culture Club, and though I wish it had lasted longer, I’m glad we’ve still been able to hang out since then.


A Mexican Cooking Lesson

Last week, my friend and I took part in a Mexican cooking workshop in Farzaneh Hall, offered as a part of OU’s Latin America Week. This week, I still haven’t applied my new skills to make my own guacamole or salsa, but I’m looking forward to using the recipe I got next time I have access to a kitchen.

Armando Rivera, the owner of Puebla Tacos y Tequileria on Main Street and our instructor, greeted the class of ten or twelve warmly and asked who had traveled abroad this summer and who spoke Spanish. He then expressed to us his passion for Mexican food and culture because it is an integral part of his life — he grew up in Mexico and first learned to cook from his grandmother when he was six years old.

As he told us a brief history of the South and Central American civilizations, the adoption of the tomato by the Spanish, and the Aztec origins of salsa, Rivera passed around specially fire-roasted tomatoes, garlic and jalapenos to smell. The technique of fire roasting chars the outside of the vegetables and sugarizes the inside, he explained, resulting in an unrivaled and irresistible flavor.

Rivera drafted a few volunteers to help him prepare the ingredients, which he sources and hand-selects, to ensure quality. I asked him where he buys his avocados, and he vaguely replied that he has four sources, and he buys his from whichever source offers the best avocados on that particular day.

Finally, we gathered around several bowls and enjoyed the best salsa and guacamole we had eaten in our entire lives. Needless to say, I’ll be paying a visit to Puebla on Main very soon.

The aftermath.

The aftermath.

When I’m traveling, trying popular food is always an important part of experiencing other cultures. But when I’m chowing down on chips and salsa or guacamole at home,  I don’t always take the time to appreciate their close ties to Latin American history. This workshop and Mr. Rivera’s enthusiasm for Mexican food and culture was an excellent reminder that the United States owes appreciation to countries around the world for many of its popular foods. And thanks to other cultures, in my opinion, the United States is a much more delicious place.