Dr. Shay Bar, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa and a scholar of Iron
and Bronze Age artifacts, found an unlikely research partner last week –
13-year-old Rana Kabha, a student at an Arab school in Umm al-Qutuf.
was running a communal archaeological dig for local students of an ancient
fortress in Tel Esur, an area near the coast about a 30 minute drive south of
Within an hour of learning how to use the brushes, brooms, trowels
and axes, Rana uncovered a rare artifact: An Egyptian scarab from the 13th
Century BCE, the late Bronze Age. The scarab, no larger than a halfshekel coin,
depicted intricate hieroglyphs of the Egyptian god Amun, holding hands with a
pair of creatures with falcon heads and human bodies.
The discovery of
the amulet was perhaps the archaeological highlight at the dig site.
for Bar and his team, finding artifacts at the Tel Esur site was only part of
the goal. Since 2010, the Haifa archaeologist has brought more than two thousand
teenagers from local schools – including schools for Arabs, Jews and at-risk
teenagers – to learn about the ancient communities that used to inhabit the area
and the importance of archaeology. The site is active for three weeks each
The Tel Esur dig is the largest communal excavation in the country,
“It’s a project of the community, for the community, for the
education of the children of this community,” Bar said last week at the dig’s
makeshift headquarters. He said that different skills involved in archaeology –
from the meticulous digging required to unearth artifacts to careful record
keeping – allow the teenagers to discover their talents.
“Here they open
like a flower,” he said. “They are flourishing.”
On a typical day in Tel
Esur, 150 children from four different schools work at different areas at the
dig site, supervised by 20 staff members, volunteers and the students’
The teenagers don’t necessarily mix with students from other
schools, in order to simplify the logistics, Bar said. Still, students from Arab
and Jewish schools “can work five meters from each other” on a common project
under the supervision of researchers from a variety of backgrounds, he
At points throughout the day, students take a break from digging to
hear short educational lessons about archaeology. Instead of discussions about
who recently owned the land, the archaeologists attempt to instill an
appreciation for the craft of the research.
“They have to understand the
value of history before they understand the relationship to different
ethnicities that existed here,” said Netanel Petrushka, one of the
The dig is the result of a partnership between the Haifa
archaeologists and a local non-profit organization founded in memory of Itzik
Dori, the secretary of Kibbutz Metzer who was killed in a 2002 terrorist attack.
His friends have worked to carry on his passion for friendship among the
different cultures that live in the Menashe region. The dig also receives
funding from the Menashe Regional Council, according to the council’s mayor,
Ilan Sade. The researchers work off of a land survey conducted by Adam Zertal, a
wellknown Israeli archaeologist.
Compared to professional excavations,
the pace at Tel Esur is extraordinarily slow, and the researchers need to
balance the educational mission of the dig with the research objectives of Bar
and his team. In particular, the researchers aim to understand the relationship
of the fortifications and buildings here to other encampments in the area and
how different buildings were used several thousand years ago.
some of the students had their own ideas.
Standing in “Area D,” which
researchers believe once housed an administrative building, Nizan Hanan told a
visitor that he found bones from livestock.
“We’re guessing it’s a
kitchen,” said the 13-year-old student from Emek Hefer school in Kibbutz
After a classmate uncovered a neck bone apparently from a
sheep, Hanan revised his assessment. “It could be a slaughterhouse,” he
Back at the site of the scarab discovery, Rana flashed a shy smile
when asked about her reaction to the find. She said the object looked different
than its surroundings, which were mainly composed of stones and broken
For his part, Bar said he will be sending the artifact to a
specialist on Egyptian scarabs to learn more about its origins.