by Amanda Pumphrey



The hardest days in terms of physical work on Tel Akko are typically the first day and the last day of the excavation. Perhaps the first day is the worst for many reasons but both days have one thing in common: the notorious sandbags. Seriously, anyone who works on excavations in Israel already knows or will come to learn about the (in)famous sandbags because the Israeli Antiquities Authority adopted Tel Akko’s methodology for closing an excavation which means the entire site is filled with sandbags until the next season. At least on the final day of the excavation we are more prepared to sandbag. We are already acclimated to the heat and humidity, the time changes, and the hard work each day. However, the very first day of the excavation may come with a bit of a surprise to those who are experiencing a dig for the first time.

After arriving only a day or two before Day One, jet legged and exhausted, we climb the steep steps of Tel Akko which seem to go one forever when it is 5:30am. We see the site covered in weeds and peeking through the overgrown brush and covered in dirt there they are; the sandbags. So. Many. Sandbags. And each one weighs about as much as a small child and all of these dirty “toddlers” have to be removed promptly from the site before any sort of excavation can take place. During past seasons, completely removing the sandbags from the site usually took about two days. The process is as follows: the team forms a line stretching from inside the site from the furthest most square to the pedestrian path outside of the security fences. Someone – a strong and brave someone – has the tough job at the head of the line that involves using the terea (hoe) to flip over the sandbags that have been lodged into the ground and on top of one another and exposed in various weather conditions for an entire year. This also requires making sure there are no current residents living on or around the sandbags such as scorpions, spiders, snakes, or anything else potentially dangerous before quickly passing the sandbag along to the next person. Keep in mind that Tel Akko was not only previously occupied by ancient communities but the site is home to a contemporary ecosystem that is very much alive.

After the sandbags have been sent on their way, passed down the line, person to person, they reach their final destination which is the pedestrian walkway where someone organizes them in rows, stacked along the fence line that is directly outside of the site. While teams are working to remove the sandbags moving from square to square until they are finished, simultaneously other teams are cutting open the sandbags and putting their soil contents into the wheel barrows and pushing the soil to the designated dumping area. Have you ever tried to push a wheel barrow filled with several sandbags worth of soil for several meters? It is hard!

Typically, the sandbag removal takes at least an entire day. Then on the second day there are usually several stacks of sandbags left outside the fence waiting to be cut open, the dirt emptied, and taken to the dump. However, the start of Season 8 at Tel Akko was different. On the first day of excavation on Tuesday, July 18th – we did it all in one day! That means we not only removed all of the sandbags from the entire site but we also fully disposed of them as well. At the end of the first day, not one sandbag was left on the walk path. We had not only finished sandbagging but started to clean the site after breakfast. Because the sandbags were removed at such an unprecedented rapid pace, the disposal team had to catch up and continue to use the wheel barrows for the sandbag soil removal. So that meant that the team cleaning the site could not use the wheel barrows to remove the excess soil that had fallen from the sandbags or washed into the squares. 

What do you do when you have already broken a Tel Akko record? Become even more hardcore by forming bucket lines. Passing buckets filled to the brim with dirt may be harder than tossing sandbags. At the end of the work day which is usually from 5:30am – 12:30pm the site looked amazing, but we did not. We were extremely hot and sweaty, exhausted and dirty. Some of us were dirtier than others. (Shout out to Justin and JT!) Did I mention that the majority of the group first did a tour of Tel Akko that morning which lasted about one hour and we also had a break for breakfast which lasts approximately thirty minutes.

That means that in less than six hours the entire site which consists of 25 squares, most of which are 5×5 meters, was cleared of sandbags. Oh, and by the way it takes at least 2,000 sandbags to secure the site for the off season. If our team was this productive on Day One, I cannot wait to see what we will accomplish by the end of Season 8! Now that is what I call #sandbagswag.

Amanda Pumphrey
About Amanda Pumphrey
Amanda Pumphrey is a Ph.D. Candidate at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California. Amanda has worked at Tel Akko since 2010 and has been the square supervisor of QQ19 since 2014.

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