Digging up the past
Real-life Indiana Jones creates artificial site to simulate archaeological dig
By April M. Fatula
In the popular movie series, the crusader side of Indiana Jones receives a much more glamorous treatment than the professor side. While Dr. Dale Manor wears a similarly styled hat, uses the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme song as his cell phone ring tone, and has had his share of adventure, he brings the scholarly approach to archaeology to students.
"I find him fascinating," Manor says of the character. "Not so much in the way he does archaeology, but the fact that he is one!"
Although he has not searched for the Ark of the Covenant, Manor does have enough stories from his experience as field director at Tel Beth-Shemesh in Israel each summer since 2000 to keep the students in Honors 342 captivated.
For this new interdisciplinary honors class called "Biblical World and Archaeology," Manor has constructed a classroom laboratory about 25 miles from the main campus that comprises a multilevel simulation and mixture of structures and artifacts found at various dig sites throughout Israel.
According to the course description, the class is "a historical and religious survey of the context of the world of the Hebrew Bible [and] a laboratory exercise and introduction to archaeological theory and method to familiarize the student with the strategies of archaeological technique, retrieval, recording and interpretation."
In other words, students are learning how to dig, procedures to follow when they unearth something, and the significance of their findings.
Explains Manor, "This is where we're learning and practicing. They've read a book on how to dig, but the best way to do it is hands-on."
This day in March is the students' third time to dig. As the eight of them gather their gloves, kneepads and notebooks, Manor announces, "OK. We've got graph paper, we've got record-keeping paper, compasses, one scale …"
They get to work quickly, for time is limited, and the spring rain has made their work more difficult. As they dig, "They're measuring, drawing and verbally describing what they're finding," Manor explains. "Then they go to the literature to find out what the objects represent."
So far, the objects have been limited to beads, but such a discovery generates much attention.
Amy Henderson, a junior history major from Murfreesboro, Tenn., exclaims, "We found a bilobate [two lobes] bead! We're very excited! I was troweling and saw the shine."
Measurements of each discovery — including elevation — are taken and recorded precisely so that ideally students can later construct a 3-D model. The findings will be passed on to future classes to carry on where the previous class left off.
"I have some cards for the finds," Manor tells the group. "It's tedious," he says of the precise descriptions required.
As if to prove his point, he instructs them to mark through number 7 the European way. And, he reminds them, "Everything is in metrics."
"Which we're still adjusting to," says Kaitlyn Briscoe, a senior economics major from Lakeside, Texas.
The students will later transfer their descriptions to detailed forms, so they must make sure they capture everything.
Regarding the bead, Henderson informs her team recorder, "It has oval lobes, by the way, and it's red."
The precursor to this labor of love actually began in 2005 when Manor created a smaller-scale version of the site west of Denver for an Honors Symposium summer program at Honors College Dean Jeffrey T. Hopper's request. Assisted by his wife, Sharon, Manor spent last summer and fall 2007 — while still teaching three classes — preparing the current site for the spring course. The course will be offered again this fall, and he expects to use the site for five years.
He named the site Tel Achzib, which means "ruin of deception." Micah 1:14 refers to the Israelites placing their trust in towns rather than God. Manor also appreciated the play on words since it is a fake site he built.
"This is something I always wanted to do," he says. "But I just thought, 'Wow, wouldn't that be neat.' I never figured it was a realistic expectation. I am very grateful to Jeff Hopper and the Honors College, which provided the funding to make this possible."
The result far surpassed Hopper's expectation. "Those who visit the site are impressed with the level of detail and the sheer scope of this project," he says. "In some ways, this large-scale laboratory functions as a superior teaching tool to carrying the students to dig with him in an authentic and ancient site. He knows exactly what has been placed into the site, and he knows where everything is located. At an ancient site, one can never know if everything has been found or if proper inferences have been made."
At times, Manor's insider knowledge becomes too much for him to contain. It is still early in the semester, but he wants them to find something besides beads.
Peter McGraw, a senior Bible and religion major from Cordova, Tenn., sifts through soil, which he says, "Looks like deer droppings."
Manor, observing his method, says, "Can you think of a faster way to do it?"
Then, out of student range, he says, "They're actually spending way too much time on this. I'll get merciful after awhile."
True to his word, Manor later announces, "Alright, I'm going to make a recommendation to you guys. Get the big pick and go at it."
He demonstrates and says, "I want you to notice how I'm doing it. I'll come forward just a little bit."
He later confesses in class, "I appreciate your sensitivity that you might run into bricks. I appreciate your caution. You don't know what's there. Trouble is, I do. You don't know how hard it is for me to shut up. It is really tough."
Preparing the site was not easy either. Patrick Barber ('04) helped the Manors with this process — busting up rocks, carting dirt, digging pits, laying plaster — and he has come to see how students are progressing.
"I haven't done a fraction of what he and his wife did," Barber says.
As he and Manor discuss the site, Barber says, "They don't know what's under there yet?" To which Manor replies, "They're assuming there is something."
The jokes are classic Manor. His sense of humor is reflected in some of the objects buried: a 45 of pagan love songs on a shrine and a Harding Academy-produced recording of funeral songs, which he placed under a skeleton.
His students play right along. In class a couple of days later, Manor discusses layers in an archaeological dig. A layer is an occupation level, each of which is separated by an accumulation of soil. A latrine indicates that the archaeologist has reached a new occupation level. An archaeologist tries to remove the soil between occupation layers to uncover each such layer.
Says Briscoe, "I hope we find one of those [latrines] in our square."
Little does she know that her group would also have to process the finds inside the latrine. "It may seem bizarre, but some important information has been brought to life from the discovery of a latrine in Jerusalem from the time of the Babylonian siege," Manor says. "An analysis of the latrine contents revealed that people were eating weeds just to stay alive."
The purpose of a latrine may be self-explanatory, but that is not the case for all the objects.
Manor has a yellow bucket of artifacts in class, some of which have come from Beth-Shemesh. One is a piece from the roof of a mud-brick structure from a real excavation, another is a piece of kurkar, which is concretized shell conglomerate.
Food processing was the subject of the last reading assignment, so he brought in the kurkar as an example of a tool for grinding grain.
He relates the artifact to an Old Testament story in Judges 9:53 of the woman who throws an upper millstone piece at Abimelech, cracking his skull. Joab, when relating that Uriah was dead, planned to remind David of the millstone episode that had killed Abimelech (2 Samuel 11:21). A biblical mandate forbids a person from taking a millstone from a poor person, because it is essential for survival (Deuteronomy 24:6).
"By the way, there's some of this out there," Manor concludes rather ominously. "I'm not telling you where."
If he can keep up that mysterious air and secretive nature over the next few years, Manor, the archaeologist and professor, may prove to be even more like Indiana Jones, the adventurer.