Archaeological Survey of Israel celebrates 50th anniversary

Nation’s first archaeological surveyors and present-day counterparts to meet at Tel Aviv University to launch online database.

Archaeologists from the Archaeological Survey of Israel at work. (photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)
Archaeologists from the Archaeological Survey of Israel at work.
(photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)
The Archeological Survey of Israel, one of the largest scientific projects ever undertaken in the country, will celebrate its 50th anniversary Thursday at Tel Aviv University by holding a meeting of the nation’s first surveyors and their present-day counterparts.
To honor the milestone, the organization will inaugurate a free, voluminous online database, which for the first time will provide accessibility at the touch of a button to extensive professional information about 15,000 of the country’s archeological sites.
The group, which is overseen by the Antiquities Authority, was established at the behest of former prime minister David Ben-Gurion, who believed that to build a strong connection to Israel, one must first understand its history.
The organization applauded its many archeologists, past and present, who have undertaken the painstaking process of exploring the nation’s grounds “one meter at a time,” covering roughly two-thirds of its entirety.
“The Land of Israel, with one of the highest densities of archeological sites in the world, is also the most surveyed country in the world,” it said. “Approximately two-thirds of its area has been meticulously examined in order to discover archeological sites, and through them, rewrite the story of the cultures that have passed through Israel from the dawn of history to the present.”
According to the organization, existing knowledge of the history of Israel – from the Stone Age to the 21st century – is based primarily on archeological research and data derived from surveys.
“Since the early 1960s, scores of archeologists – some of whom were the most prominent in the country – have embarked on the meticulous and Sisyphean task of surveying the terrain, while documenting every architectural remain, potsherd or flint item,” it said.
“The collection of the data, their classification and chronology provide researchers who understand them a vast amount of information regarding the region’s past,” it added.
Dr. Ofer Sion, head of the Antiquities Authority Surveys Department, noted the unusual nature of the archeologists’ ongoing work.
“To someone looking in from the outside, the picture may seem a bit bizarre: four people walking side by side at equal intervals looking at the ground and picking up pottery shards,” he said. “One must understand that is how we gather valuable data about the history of a place, which when connected together, can form a complete picture.”
Sion cited the dangers the organization’s workers undertake to uncover the nation’s storied history.
“Sometimes the surveyors rappel into ancient caves, or even scuba dive in the sea to gather information,” he said.
“Without the survey we would know nothing about the history of the country.”Who would know about the famous site at Gamla, the monastic sites, the ancient life in the desert or the hiding refuges and the story of the zealots and rebels in Judean Desert caves?”