• Name: Paul McLerran
  • Locations:Virginia, United States
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Monday, January 31, 2005

Dig Spotlight: Mount Sinai?

Has the Mount Sinai of Old Testament fame been found? Deep in the Negev desert of Israel lies a mountain that has been identified for millennia as a sacred place. Known today as Mount Karkom (or "Har Karkom"), it has been the subject of a series of investigations by Professor Emanuel Anati, founder and Executive Director of the Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici in Capo di Ponte, Italy. Investigations have revealed evidence that the mountain functioned as an important religious or cult center dating back to the Paleolithic Age, long before the time of the great pyramids of ancient Egypt. More significantly, Professor Anati's investigations show that this was a primary sacred mountain at the time many scholars identify with the Exodus in the Bible. Further, Professor Anati suggests that Har Karkom may indeed be the very Mount Sinai associated with the biblical events of the Exodus.

This summer, archaeological investigations continue. If you are interested, living accommodations are spartan, but the experience may prove to be one you will never forget.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Dig Spotlight: Early Humans in Spain

Orce, Andalusia, Spain— Here in southern Spain, palaeontologists have found human-made tools that are up to 1.7 million years old. When, exactly, did humans first arrive in Europe, and how did they get here? How did they live? A father and son team, Dr. Josep Gibert Clols and Luis Gibert believe they can find the answers in the sediments of the Guadix-Baza basin, with your help. So far, excavators have found stone flakes, fragmentary human remains, and, most interestingly, parts of elephants and hippos together with evidence of human tools, suggesting that the animals were killed, butchered, and carried to some other location. These sorts of detailed scenarios are precisely what the Giberts are hoping to reconstruct.

Working against the dramatic backdrop of the dry, austere Guadix-Baza basin, you will be trained to excavate the sites, remove fossils and artifacts, and map the remains. You’ll also clean, number, and catalogue the finds, and you’ll sieve sediments for microfossils. Some evenings may be used to survey for new sites. The sun is fierce at this latitude and elevation, about 1,000 meters, so bring your sunblock and a big sunhat. Typical work hours are in the morning and evening, with the hottest hours of midday reserved for refreshing swims in a nearby oasis, enjoying lunch, relaxing, and, if the spirit moves, siesta. At the end of the expedition, you will have the opportunity to explore the historic cities of Granada and the Alhambra nearby.

After your fieldwork in the hot, dry desert, you’ll return to the soothing coolness of your very own cave. In fact, this cave has all the comforts of a simple hotel, with shared rooms, running water, showers, and toilets; the rooms just happen to be made of solid rock. There is no electricity, except a small generator for lights in the evening. Your daily lectures will be given in the cool of the cave, and your meals will be taken there. Staff will prepare delightful and healthy Mediterranean food, including salads, lamb, and paella.

From Early Man in Spain, Earthwatch Institute

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Dig Spotlight: Starting Again in Ancient Pompeii

Most of us are familiar with the tragic and dramatic story of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. and the resulting destruction, yet paradoxical preservation, of one of the best known ancient cities of the Roman world........Pompeii. Few settings can rival the ruins of ancient Pompeii in terms of the richness and wonder of the architectural and artifact remains. We may say that, archaeologically speaking, investigations have run their course.......and we would be wrong. Under the Directorship of Dr. Gary Devore of Stanford University and Dr. Steven J.R. Ellis of the University of Sydney, a new project has begun to add to our understanding of urban development near the entertainment and theater district of the ancient city. Entitled the 'Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia' (PARP:PS), it aims to uncover the structural and occupational history of the south east corner of "Insula VIII.7" (a section of the city), from its earliest origins through to 79 A.D. Through a series of selective excavations, structural analyses, and geophysical surveys, PARP:PS is expected to produce a complete analysis of the shops, workshops, inns, and houses. Relatively little archaeological research has been carried out in this area. What makes this doubly exciting is that the 2005 season will be the first season of excavation for the Project.

All participants will be enrolled as students in the field school and will be trained in modern techniques of excavation, recording, and archaeological analysis. The team will be housed in modern apartments in Pompeii, and each apartment contains a kitchen, lounge, private bath, and balcony with a view of either Mount Vesuvius or the modern town. Lunch will be provided for the entire team each working day on site, and the students will receive a weekly stipend toward other meals each week. One can choose to dine in one of modern Pompeii's many local restaurants, or use the apartment kitchens.

Guided tours of nearby archaeological sites, such as Herculaneum, and the collection of Pompeian artifacts in the Naples museum will also be part of the program. A series of seminars will be held, covering Pompeian studies, archaeology, and the history of the Vesuvian region. Academic credit will be available to all participants.

The Field School begins July 2 and ends August 6.

More information!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Archaeological Dig and Tour Opportunities for 2005

Are you interested in looking for dig and tour opportunities for 2005? Go to Digs and Tours.

Dig Spotlight: Exploring Mayan Origins in Guatemala

One site holds promise for answering questions about the origins of ancient Mayan civilization. Perched between the pacific coast and a chain of volcanoes in western Guatemala, the largely unexcavated site of Chocola is revealing evidence that a large Mayan city thrived here in Preclassic times long before the great dynasties of Tikal, Palenque, and Copan made their debut. Monumental sculpture, architecture, and a sophisticated hydraulic system have already been discovered, but what makes the site significant is its location, date, and cultural remains which have implications for the seminal developments that led to the rise of the classic period Mayans. To be sure, the research here will be key to a better understanding of the origins of this great mesoamerican civilization.

Dr. Jonathan Kaplan of the University of Mexico and Dr. Juan Antonio Valdez of the University of San Carlos, Guatemala, will be leading a team consisting of Earthwatch volunteers this summer to find answers. Volunteers will survey, map, excavate, and do lab and archival work. They will also have the opportunity to visit picturesque Lago de Atitlan and colorful local markets. The season begins May 24th and ends August 23rd, but it is divided into 2-week sessions or "teams" from which participants may choose.

If you are interested in reading more about this opportunity, go
here for details.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Dig Spotlight: Rediscovering Jamestown

For many years it was assumed by scholars that the original James Fort constructed by English colonists in 1607 at the site of Jamestown, Virginia (the first permanent English colony in America) had long been claimed for oblivion by the waters of the nearby James River. Not so, according to archaeologists. Since 1994, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, in conjunction with the University of Virginia, have conducted excavations that have revealed thousands of artifacts and soil features clearly identified with the Fort. Thus far, these excavations have uncovered over 250 feet of palisade wall lines, the east cannon bulwark, three cellars, and a building, all part of the original James Fort configuration.

You can be part of this investigation as Dr. William Kelso of the Univesity of Virginia leads a formal field school during the summer of 2005. The field school runs from June 6 to July 15, and is designed to teach theory and methods of fieldwork in American Historical Archaeology. Students will learn how to investigate the features related to James Fort and to identify and interpret 17th century European and Native American artifacts. In addition, upon successful completion of the program, students will receive six (6) graduate credits in Anthropology from the University of Virginia.

So, in addition to being involved in cutting-edge historical research at a very famous American colonial site, you can walk away with some certified education!

If you are interested in this opportunity, click
here for detailed information.

For more reading on Jamestown and the Jamestown Rediscovery project:

Jamestown Rediscovery 1994 - 2004

Friday, January 21, 2005

Dig Spotlight: Walls Still Standing: a Herodian Palace

Near the northern coast of Israel lies a site where excavations have uncovered a large palatial complex from the time of King Herod (end of the first century B.C.E.). The palace was in use until the Great Revolt in the second half of the first century C.E. During the revolt (66-70 C.E.) the palace was abandoned and never inhabited again. A "lost palace" of King Herod the great? Dr. Yizhar Hirschfeld of the Hebrew University can best answer that question. He is directing the last season of excavations at this site, which has yielded a rich assemblage of finds from the Early Roman period, including pottery vessels, lamps, glassware, coins (including the silver denarius, which was standard currency in the Roman Empire), and metal objects. The remains at the site are well preserved and, amazingly, many of the palace walls were found standing to a height of over 2 meters. Last summer the team completed excavation of the palace garden. This coming season, which runs from June 26 to July 21, will focus on excavating the palace’s residential area.

Participants will stay at the Dor Holiday Village -- very nice hotel-like accommodations on the coast from where you can very easily step out onto the beach and take a swim. More information can be found at the
Ramat Hanadiv website.

Books to read on the subject:

Ramat Hanadiv Excavations: Final Report on the 1984 - 1998 Seasons

The Archaeology of Roman Palestine

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Dig Spotlight: Finding Early Man in the Serengeti

Picture yourself encamped in a Safari tent out in the middle of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, Africa. Picture yourself learning about how to survey, map, excavate, record, catalogue, and identify and analyze artifacts dated as old as 150,000 years. And picture some of those artifacts as stone implements fashioned by archaic homo sapiens (some of the first "modern" human beings by anatomical and behavioral standards), and animal fossils dated to the same time period.

If you are interested in archaeology of human prehistory, this is an opportunity that will offer you the chance to be a part of cutting edge research and to enjoy the big time wildlife of the Serengeti plains at the same time. During the summer of 2005, Dr. John Bower, in association with the University Research Expeditions Program of the University of California, Davis, will lead a research team of scientists, students, and volunteers to investigate a middle stone age site that yields evidence of early human occupation around the time when modern humans had just emerged from their more "apelike" hominid ancestors. The project holds the potential of shedding new light on a major transition point in human prehistory. In addition, program participants will not only have the daily opportunity of observing the Serengeti wildlife that surrounds the research camp and excavation site, but will also take some side-trips to the famous sites of nearby Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli, where important paleoanthropology history was made. If you are interested in participating, or just interested in reading about it, you can go to the Tanzania Expedition for more information.

Books about Human Prehistory

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Dig Spotlight: Hazor, Head of All Those Kingdoms

And Joshua at that time turned back, and took Hazor, and
smote the king thereof with the sword: for Hazor beforetime
was the head of all those kingdoms.

-- Joshua 11:10

Among all the ancient biblical excavation sites in Israel, Hazor is hands down the largest. Spanning 200 acres, the population of this city in the second millennium B.C. was approximately 20,000, which, for its time, made it the largest and most significant city in what was then known as ancient Canaan. Strategically located along the route connecting Babylon and Egypt, it figured prominently in ancient texts of both Mesopotamia and Egypt. Joshua's conquest of Hazor led the way for settlement of the Israelites in Canaan, and the city was rebuilt and fortified by King Solomon and prospered until its destruction by the Assyrians in 732 BCE. Evidence of the violent destruction was discovered in various excavation areas of the site.

If you are after sheer magnitude, few sites can match the experience. Under the direction of Professor Amnon Ben-Tor of the Hebrew University, an international team of scholars, students and volunteers will be investigating a monumental Bronze Age Canaanite palace and its associated fortifications at this location this summer. Dig participants will be staying in the air conditioned ETAP Hotel (a hotel!), and opportunities to visit other significant archaeological sites in Israel will be available. If you are interested in additional information, go to the
Hazor excavations website, where you will also find application instructions.

Books to read on the subject:

Books about Hazor

The Archaeology of Ancient Israel , by Amnon Ben-Tor.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Virtual Dig

If you are like me, you don't have the luxury of the time and money to pack up very often and head off to that dig that catches your fancy. Or, perhaps you don't like the physical wear-and-tear or the thought of "roughing it" on a dig. But, going on a dig once a year or once every several years or perhaps not at all doesn't seem to gratify the ever-present "digging" bug, if you know what I mean. So, here's a solution: the virtual dig. While waiting or hoping for that opportunity to become reality, you can visit a site that will, at least electronically, "take you there".

If you want a good education on what it is like to be on a paleoanthropological dig, by far one of the finest virtual field schools in existence can be found
here with the Smithsonian institution. Try it, and you'll know what I mean. Another excellent site is Archaeology magazine's interactive dig site. You'll find scores of different interactive digs from which to choose. The most recent interactive dig details the work being conducted at the ancient site of Hierakonpolis in Egypt, where the project participants are exploring the foundations of Egyptian civilization. Go here to see the site for yourself and get a taste for these interactive digs.

Thank goodness for the cyberworld!

P.S.: Speaking of us "in-between-digs" or "dig wannabee" armchair diggers: If you are interested, and you do not have a subscription, you can subscribe to Archaeology magazine and gain access to tons more information about what's happening in the world of archaeology. Part of the proceeds that come from the purchase of the magazine support archaeological research and education under the aegis of the Archaeological Institute of America. Archaeology Odyssey magazine, which focuses more on the ancient civilizations surrounding the Mediterranean, is equally informative.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Is It Safe To Dig In Israel?

Given the ongoing violence most of us witness and read about in the media concerning the broiling issues in Israel, it is natural for the potential dig participant to ask that perennial question: Is it safe to dig in Israel?

The U.S. State Department will officially advise us that we should avoid traveling to Israel, for obvious reasons. Most unofficial inside observers, however, will qualify that advice. It may not be a good idea, for example, to go wandering around town in Gaza, but the probability of terrorism at an archaeological dig site is relatively minimal. In addition, the construction of Israel's security fence/wall has apparently had a very significant affect on reducing the overall risk, wherever one is in the country. Tourism has increased, and Israelis are now going out at night more often to visit the popular restaurants and cafes. That being said, it would be unfair to lull ourselves into a false sense of security and inaccurately maintain that there is no longer any risk. Setting fear and emotion aside, however, and using the logic of statistical probability, the chance of being victimized by an act of violence anywhere in Israel is likely no more risky than the chance of falling victim to an automobile accident on the daily commute to work or school every day in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

Ultimately, the judgment about safety is a personal one.

Dig Spotlight: Dor, Seaport of the Ancients

About 30 kilometers directly south of Haifa, Israel, lies a very large Tel (an earth mound containing ancient architectural and artifact remains) that tells a story crossing at least eight civilizations. The story is largely a commercial one, as the ancient seaport city of Dor on the Mediterranean coast of present day Israel was host to the trading activities of a number of civilizations or cultures that ringed the Mediterranean world in ancient times. In this sense, it served as a major gateway between the East and the West, while it was successively ruled or inhabited by the Canaanites (beginning in 2,000 B.C.), the "Sea Peoples" (colonizers from parts west of the Mediterranean), Israelites, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans, and a historical time span that ends finally with the Crusades. Needless to say, this site presents a rich mosaic of archaeological finds and new opportunities for us -- volunteers, students, and scholars alike, to make a contribution.

Launched in 2003, a new expedition to Tel Dor is being conducted under the direction of Ilan Sharon of Hebrew University and Ayelet Gilboa of Haifa University. They are leading a consortium of universities and scholars in pursuit of multiple research objectives, inviting volunteers from all walks of life to play a part. If you are interested in joining, click
here for more information if you are a North American volunteer or student, here if you are from anywhere else. No experience is necessary (all skills will be taught at the excavation). You must be relatively fit and, of course, willing to WORK and LEARN. You will be doing much of both! An added attraction: You will be staying in a very nice seaside resort, up to four to a room with air conditioning, private shower, kitchenette, TV, hotel food, and various nearby amenities such as shopping, sports facilities, diving, boating, bars, and restaurants. In addition, optional instructional trips to other sites of archaeological significance in Israel are offered as part of the overall experience.

Go for it!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Archaeological Dig and Tour Opportunities for 2005

Are you interested in reviewing a listing of dig and tour opportunities for 2005? Go to Digs and Tours . Archaeological digs are organized by geographic area. The dinosaur digs and archaeological tours are listed in random order.

Dig Spotlight: Back to Olduvai to Work Against Time

Tanzania, East Africa -- Olduvai Gorge. This is that deep geological escarpment where Louis and Mary Leakey made history with their groundbreaking fossil discoveries that set the clock back on the early human timescale. Discoveries are once again being made there as Dr. Fidelis Masao of the Open University of Tanzania leads an effort to recover as much of the remaining fossil record as possible before erosion washes it away from humanity's grasp. Working against time and the elements, his staff and teams of Earthwatch volunteers are working feverishly to salvage what is left, making new discoveries along the way, such as two hominid (early human species) teeth and a hominid skull fragment, as well as the complete remains of a million-year-old elephant. This is exciting stuff, and there is more to come. If you are interested in joining the effort, go to www.earthwatch.org/expeditions/masao.html and read more about it. In addition, an excellent volunteer account can be found at www.episcopalhs.org/~jmm/Olduvai.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Archaeology in Europe

For a wealth of information on what's happening in the UK and the "European Theatre" of archaeology, go to the "Archaeology in Europe" weblog. This site is administered by David Beard, who is a professional archaeologist with many years of experience. Particularly for those of you who have an interest in participating in projects in Europe, or those of you who want to keep up in a detailed way with archaeological events and developments as they unfold in Europe, this is an excellent source. Bookmark this and stay on top! www.archaeology.eu.com/weblog/index.html

Friday, January 07, 2005

Archaeology Online

In case you haven't seen this yet........here is another blog about archaeology that may interest you. Entitled "Archaeology Online", it "features archaeological websites, books, reviews, and where to find archaeology on the WWW". I'm adding it to my list. Go to www.archaeology.blogspot.com.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Glassware in Roman Theaters: A Request

Joan Keller, who dug as a volunteer with the Tiberias project in March, 2004, is currently writing on the ancient glass from the Roman theater in Seppphoris (in Israel) and is conducting research on the use of glassware in Roman theaters. She is requesting information from anyone who knows something about this or who knows of any information sources on the subject. If you have any information to share, or know of someone who can provide input, please contact her at glassjk@hotmail.com.

Dig Spotlight: Breathing the Air of the Pacific Northwest

This past weekend I took some time with my family to visit the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. An impressive museum, I came away inspired to know more about the cultural history of our Native Americans, the changes they endured and the impact they have had on our society. One particular exhibit focused on the Yakama Indians, whose reservation is located in south central Washington State. The exhibit related much about how this great people managed their natural and cultural resources, which was an education for me. I'm planning a trip back to that part of the country at some point in the not-too-distant future. Having been born in Washington State and lived there a substantial portion of my life, I can say that it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

If you're interested in doing a little archaeology in these parts, soak in the air and beauty of the Pacific Northwest with this adventure: Dr. Astrida Blukis Orat is investigating historic homesteads and other settlements as part of a study to collect data and answer questions about the transition from North American Indian forest life to modern forest management practices. You can contribute by joining as a member of an Earthwatch team of volunteers who will map, survey, and excavate this summer near the Sauk River in the Skagit River Basin of Washington State. The field season for this project runs from June 20 to September 23, 2005, but you can participate as a member of the team for much shorter sessions during the field season. There is a participation fee for each session. For more information, go to

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Dig Spotlight: In the Valley of the Moon

No, the title is not suggesting an excavation on the surface of the moon.......but paleontological investigations at the Ischigualasto-Talampaya World Heritage Site (called "the valley of the moon" because of its incredible geological formations) in Argentina have been turning up startling evidence of life-forms on another planet -- the planet earth that existed over 200 million years ago at the end of the Triassic Period. This was BEFORE the big dinosaurs of Jurassic times walked the earth, but right around the time of the "great extinction" that led to their ascendancy. The excavation discoveries are suggesting that the great extinction was not as catastrophic in the southern hemisphere as it was in the north, and species that were formative to the big dinosaurs we all know and love in the Jurassic period were "king" during the late ("upper") Triassic period in this part of the world. With the help of Earthwatch volunteer teams, Dr. Oscar Alcober, Director of the Natural Science Museum at the University of San Juan, Argentina, is revolutionizing our knowledge of the formative dinosaur period and really "making history", so to speak. Fascinating stuff.

If you are interested in becoming a part of this Earthwatch team, go to www.earthwatch.org and look for the "Triassic Park" expedition. If you like adventure, "roughing it" a little and being a part of some major scientific discoveries, this is an experience you may wish to consider. I may try it myself!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Dig Spotlight: George Washington and.........Whiskey?

Did you know that in 1799, not long before his death, George Washington became one of America's most prominent producers of whiskey? In 1798, he commissioned the construction of a large distillery. Consisting of five stills for processing corn, malt, and rye into whiskey, it produced more than 11,000 gallons of the (then) popular beverage. Archaeologists began excavating the site of the distillery in 1999 and have since discovered the foundations, the system of drains and the locations of the stills. With the data they have collected from the excavations and from other sources, the Mount Vernon staff hope to reconstruct the distillery to its former specifications. Reconstruction is planned to begin this summer.

The Mount Vernon archaeology program employs a permanent staff but they rely heavily on volunteers and student interns for much of their work. For this year, volunteer work will focus on helping with the processing of artifacts and other materials from the excavation and development of the report. If you are interested in volunteering, go to:

For general information about the distillery excavation, go to: www.mountvernon.org/learn/pres_arch/index.cfm/ss/100/

Monday, January 03, 2005


Another excellent source of information about opportunities and activities related to archaeology can be found at www.archaeologyfieldwork.com. This site has been around since 1996 and it is loaded with information. Add the site to your list and, along with this blog and some of the sites shown in the google ads links, you should have an extremely comprehensive store of data from which to find just about anything you wish in this area. A link to the online version of the Archaeological Fiedwork Opportunities Bulletin (AFOB), for example, can be found if you click on some of the posts listed separately under "Previous Posts", below. The AFOB, along with archaeologyfieldwork.com, are two of the first sites I go to when searching for dig and research opportunities. If you know of a related site that you think I should be aware of, please don't hesitate to write me at pdmclerran@yahoo.com. Input from readers is always welcome!