MAILED: Oct. 12, 2000
This past July a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor and a computer science student investigated a cave in Israel during an archeological dig that allowed researchers to better understand the people who inhabited it more than 2,000 years ago.
Dr. Harry Jol, associate professor of geography, and senior Chris Morton, Duluth, Minn., took part in an intensive three-week archeological dig in the Cave of Letters located near the Dead Sea. During the summer of 1999 Jol participated in a preliminary dig to determine if an excavation was possible.
"During this particular dig we were trying to find even more artifacts and see what we could learn," Jol said.
Led by Richard Freund, director of the Bethsaida Excavation Project at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, researchers and students from several universities and colleges across the United States searched for more of the buried artifacts. Based on the tests from the preliminary 1999 dig, the researchers conducted extensive ground penetrating radar surveys, cave explorations, climatic tests and other geophysical surveys as well as extensive excavations. From these surveys, researchers found many new artifacts that are believed to be significant.
A theory, based on Freund's research, suggests that approximately 40 years after the death of Jesus the Romans drove the Jews out of Jerusalem. The Romans took over the city and destroyed the Holy Temple. Later, approximately 135 Jewish rebels fought to regain Jerusalem, but many were forced to take refuge in the Judean caves along the Dead Sea, Jol said.
Inside this sacred Israeli site, the researchers found more clues about who lived in the caves during a time when the Romans caused suffering and death of hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women and children. The researchers found artifacts that included coins dating back to the first and second century, a child's sandal, a comb, fabric, pottery and even some bones possibly from the Jewish rebels and their families or from earlier people living in the cave.
"The artifacts are what we were looking for and are very significant," Jol said. "They are priceless and help us understand a time period where there is little knowledge of the people living in the area."
Similar to the 1999 dig, Jol was the principal investigator for the use of a ground penetrating radar system that directed the fiberscope an instrument that can be used to view into the human body to map and excavate a portion of the 450-foot long Cave of Letters.
"The cave is too large to completely excavate, so the ground penetrating radar allowed the project to locate areas that could potentially lead to the discovery of artifacts," Jol said.
There are three chambers in the cave: A, B and C. The research team focused most of its time in chambers B and C. Ground penetrating radar surveys were conducted along the surface of the cave floor to locate potential artifacts and levels of habitation where the people lived below the rough, rocky surface, Jol said.
Morton's role in the dig was to locate the finds on a map real-time using a geographic information system on a pentop computer in the cave. Morton also recorded all of the artifact information and collected a daily log of the group's activities, Jol said.
Jol thought the project provided a rare opportunity, and he was able to learn a great deal from the experience.
"Working collaboratively provided an opportunity to solve real-world problems," Jol said. "Working on this project was a real privilege."
Morton agreed that the dig was an incredible experience.
"I was absolutely amazed at what I was taking part in," Morton said. "It was the coolest thing I have ever done."
Morton said he has a definite interest in the field because of the dig and has been invited by Freund to participate in another dig possibly scheduled for next summer.
Jol presented about ground penetrating radar and the Cave of Letters experience at the 2000 International Binghamton Symposium Oct. 13-15 at Binghamton University in New York. He also will present at the Biblical Archaeology for the 21st Century: Conference and Reunion at the University of Nebraska-Omaha Nov. 9-11.
The John Merrill Jr. Foundation primarily funded the dig.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Oct. 12, 2000