Digging at Dor

September 10, 2006
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Dor, an ancient natural seaport just north of Ceasarea, has been dug for 20 years. It is mentioned in the Bible several times. Joshua won it in battle (Josh. 11:1–12), and it became part of the tribe of Manasseh (Josh. 17:11–13). David’s unfortunate census included Dor (2 Sam. 24:1–7). One of Solomon's son-in-laws was one of 12 governors appointed over Israel whose region was Dor (1 Kings 4:7–11). It later became the capital of a province in the Assyrian empire. Today, part of the foundation of a Roman-period temple sits just underwater and huge foundation stones form walls of other large buildings there.

I was assigned to probably the best spot in the place, right on the edge of a cliff overlooking the harbor and the gorgeous green-blue sea that crashed rhythmically into white froth on craggy sea shelves. As I dug there, I often wondered what it would have been like to live in such a spot. The area was covered with the traditional black netting used to shade digs. The sea breezes were refreshing but constantly blew sand in my eyes.


Because July in Israel is unmercifully hot, a day on a dig starts early. Since Teri and I were staying in Netanya, the alarm went off at 3:45 a.m., giving us enough time to dress and pack our cooler with breakfast, water, fruit juice, and bottled iced coffee, drive 30 minutes, park, and walk by moonlight for 10–15 minutes up the hill to arrive at the site by 5:00.

Our first duty was to help gather wheelbarrow loads of tools and buckets. Then we brushed the site clean of sand that accumulated overnight before starting new digging. By then, it was just light enough to work. The war with Lebanon started that Wednesday, so a couple of mornings, we saw the helicopters go by before sunup. I didn't realize till we got back to Jerusalem how close we were to some of the bombing. Haifa is only 12 miles north of Dor!

By 7:00, we had full buckets and had to do a bucket brigade, in which we all lined up in a long line about an arm’s length from each other and passed the buckets along to the dump site. Some young, strong guys liked to toss the buckets several feet in the air, so the ladies made sure they weren’t on the receiving end of them! There were at least 200 buckets. It was quite a strain for someone who was used to sitting at a computer all day. We usually did four of these each day.

We had a coffee break at 7:15 and at 9–10 a breakfast break. By 9:00, we’d been at work for four hours! It felt like lunch instead of breakfast. We had a fruit break at 11:15 and quit at 1:00, a full 8-hour day. The 10–15 minute walk back to the car was the hottest and hardest part of the day. I thought I’d pass out from the heat. Every day I fell asleep during the ride back to the apartment.

A shower was more important than food, as we were covered with sand from head to toe. My hair was so full of it I could not run my fingers through it. My face and skin were so covered with sand that I couldn’t stand to touch them. My socks and shoes were full of sand. A shower never felt so good. I ached everywhere and had to lower myself slowly to sit. There was pottery washing at 4:00–6:00 with a lecture at 6:00 every day except Friday, but once I was home, I never went back. By 8:30, I was more than ready to hit the sack.


I worked with a regular-sized pickax for hard ground, a hand tool that looked like a miniature pickax, a shovel with no handle for picking up the dirt by hand, and a brush (the end of a broom with no handle) for brushing away the dirt after breaking it up. Every hard clod had to be broken up to see if it might hold a ring, a bead, a tooth, etc. It was slow, methodical work, and I spent four days on my knees until I couldn’t bend them any more by the fifth day and discovered sitting on an upturned bucket was the best.


I must have had a good eye, because I found three “special finds,” as they called them. That is really quite remarkable as I heard that you can dig for weeks and find nothing significant. On the very first day, I found a ring. I noticed it because it had turned green, so it could have been copper or gold. I did not rub it for fear of breaking it, but it looked like it had some kind of “crown” to it and was not just a band.

On Wednesday, I found a three-inch piece of painted pottery with a design that they thought might be Greek. On Friday, I found an animal tooth with gold on it! They were pretty excited about that. When you found something special, they let you take it around and show it off.

I worked in sandy soil but others worked in more compacted dirt. Sometimes they dug up a shovel full of dirt and put it in a bucket lined with screen mesh (like you use in windows). To find stuff that was almost too small to see, we dipped the mesh bags of dirt up and down in the sea to wash away all the dirt, leaving the tiny finds––like tiny shell beads or pieces of grain––at the bottom of the bag.

The fun was not just looking for or finding special finds, but hoping to uncover a floor or a wall, which would indicate a change in the time period. All pottery shards were put in buckets and tagged. Each area had a number, and every day new buckets and tags were used. If any area was particularly sensitive, it could be divided into three or four smaller areas, each with a separate tagged bucket. Plastic bags were for bones or shells.


There were around 100 in all working, with about 20 staff, most of whom were archaeology students. Though the Israeli staff spoke Hebrew amongst themselves, everyone spoke English. It amazed me that they would let a total novice, like myself, be a part of something with such scientific significance after giving me only a few minutes instruction. However, right next to me was an Israeli mother of six, who brought two of her children, one a nine-year-old girl, who dug as well!

The staff was a wonderful group to work with, very professional, but fun and not too serious, and they never made anyone feel bad if they made a mistake. One lady on staff was called an “architect” and did nothing but draw the sites, stones and all. They said the drawings could show detail that even a picture couldn’t. They also took photos and did elevation measurements twice a day.

I can hardly believe I got up at 3:45 every morning for a week. I thought I’d be sleepy, but the work requires so much concentration, there’s not a thought of being drowsy. I’m glad I can now say I’ve been on an archaeological dig. Though I doubt I’ll ever do it again, you might want to try it sometime. My advice: take a gardener’s kneeling pad or wear sports knee pads and condition your body with some exercise beforehand. Try it––I think you’ll like it!

By Charleeda Sprinkle

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