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January 24, 2007

 

Kids Dig the Past

The young excavator couldn’t believe it. After digging for more than half an hour under the hot August sun, he finally reached a mosaic floor engraved with Hebrew letters. “Writing!” he shouted, and the other archaeologists rushed over excitedly to pore over his find. Further investigation revealed pottery shards and charcoal, evidence of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.

 

This scene is routine to archaeologists in Israel, but this particular discovery had taken place at the Ramah Day Camp in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, where it was a rare and exotic adventure. Joshua, the “excavator” who had discovered the mosaic floor, was one of several hundred children who participated in a weeklong excavation at the Philadelphia-area camp.

 

The camp program was run by an educational organization called Dig the Past. With its unique brand of hands-on archaeology programs, Dig the Past is making Joshua’s experience more common.

 

Founded in 2004, Dig the Past replicates Israeli archaeological digs in summer camps, schools and community centers throughout North America. Its two excavation programs are based on real sites from the Second Temple Period: a portable dig for shorter projects and a life-size, outdoor site for longer projects. Dig the Past’s staff use real archaeological tools and teach professional excavation techniques.

 

Aaron Greener and Mechael Osband, Dig the Past’s co-founders and directors, are graduates of the archaeology department of Bar-Ilan University in Israel. Greener, a native of Jerusalem, received special permission to leave Israel and conduct the program at Ramah, after spending 10 days in emergency active duty during last summer’s war in Lebanon.

 

Building the Ramah excavation was not an easy feat. Once the order of 400 square feet of topsoil arrived, Greener divided the 20-by-20 foot enclosed dig area into quadrants. He then layered the soil and artifacts in a way that simulated a real excavation. It took Greener more than two days to construct the site.

 

To make the experience as authentic as possible, Greener shipped 400 pottery vessels and coins (replicas, not real artifacts) from Jerusalem’s Old City to the dig. He also buried scroll fragments, olive pits, animal bones, charcoal and beads in the mound.

“This is awesome,” said 10-year-old Melissa, a Ramah camper, as she scooped up dirt with her trowel. “I love digging up all the cool stuff."

 

In addition to digging with trowels, brushes and buckets, campers brought their finds to the Archaeology Lab, where they washed, catalogued and restored them. Next, they learned about daily life in ancient Israel and the artifacts’ uses there. At this station, they also deciphered texts in ancient Hebrew.

“The aim of the project was to expose the campers to a cornerstone Israeli experience,” said Sue Ansul, Ramah Day Camp’s director.

Dig the Past is an outreach program of Archaeological Seminars, known for its “Dig for a Day” program in Israel, Melitz Centers for Jewish Education, and Bar-Ilan University’s Institute of Archaeology.

 

“Dig the Past makes the science of archaeology come alive,” says Dr. Avraham Faust, director of Bar-Ilan University’s Institute of Archaeology. “Participants get to experience a taste of Israel, both past and present.”

 

dig@digthepast.org | 617.945.0326 | Gdud Hermesh St. 16/5, Jerusalem 97545, ISRAEL