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
pore over his find. Further investigation revealed
pottery shards and charcoal, evidence of the Roman
destruction of Jerusalem.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
aim of the project was to expose the campers to a
cornerstone Israeli experience,” said Sue Ansul, Ramah
Day Camp’s director.
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.
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.”