Dig in

Pupils reconstruct 1,500-year-old Holy Land life in school archaeological dig

Newly uncovered ornately decorated oil lamps served as the heart of family life during the Talmudic era

Deputy Editor Amanda Borschel-Dan is the host of The Times of Israel's Daily Briefing and What Matters Now podcasts and heads up The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology coverage.

Pupils from Benzion Netanyahu school in the West Bank settlement of Barkan hold a piece of 1,500 pottery that was once part of an oil lamp. (courtesy)
Pupils from Benzion Netanyahu school in the West Bank settlement of Barkan hold a piece of 1,500 pottery that was once part of an oil lamp. (courtesy)

A group of elementary-school-aged archaeologists-in-training don’t have to dig deep into their imaginations to visualize life in the Land of Israel some 1,500 years ago.

In an archaeological excavation just meters outside of the grounds of the Benzion Netanyahu school, students in grades one through six from the West Bank settlement of Barkan 25 kilometers outside Tel Aviv have uncovered pieces of ornately decorated Talmudic-era clay lamps.

“I imagined a family living a life different from ours with no light or electricity; I imagined the kids: how they feel in the darkness,” said fourth-grade pupil Yoav Mustaki. He added that finding the lamp pieces was “very exciting.”

Ariel University archaeology doctoral student Ahiya Cohen-Tavor works with the pupils during the ongoing project located near the school in the Barkan industrial zone.

“The lamplight during that era was like a ‘tribal bonfire,'” he said. “Entire families would sit around it from the moment the sun set.”

“This is delicate pottery made by artists. In addition to its practical use, it was also decorative since the lamp was placed in the center of the house,” said Cohen-Tavor of the lamps, adding that these findings prove the area was inhabited during the Talmudic era.

This is the second year of an year-round archaeological excavation project aimed at bringing the classroom outside to physically connect pupils with their Holy Land roots. Initiated by school principal Yael Ayalon and teacher Malka Rothschild, the project is a partnership between the Samaria regional council and Ariel University.

Earlier this year, pupils unearthed a 10,000-year-old hunting knife or spear tip, the first sign of settlement in the area. Other finds include other pottery and glass fragments, as well as mosaic pieces and ancient coins.

Head of the Samaria Regional Council Yossi Dagan told Ynet after a visit to the excavation site that the findings show “the long-lasting bond between the Jewish nation and the Samaria region, a thousand-year-old bond to our land.

“If anyone wants to find our connection to this place, he can just start digging into the ground,” said Dagan.

Archaeologist Achiya Tavor-Cohen (upper left), Samaria council head Yossi Dagan, Benzion Netanyahu School principal Yael Ayalon and a pair of pupils from the Barkan excavation site, April 2018. (courtesy)

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