By William Branson

Tell Akko: Reflecting on the Importance of Teamwork

Participating in the Tell Akko archaeological field school has been a fantastic experience. The program provided is packed full of opportunities to learn. From the actual work up on the Tell to the lectures from many distinguished speakers of diverse backgrounds to the excursions every weekend, opportunities for growth as an individual are easily acquired. While all these wonderful ideas and opportunities are frequently expressed in many places already though, one facet less telegraphed is the opportunity to work here as part of a team with a clear objective.

While everyone will find their own personal friend groups and people they like to hang out with once here, ultimately living together for four weeks at the Nautical Academy in Akko really creates an atmosphere of unity and teamwork. Together at the Tell, we all strive towards the same goal, and we all also share that experience through the constant interaction off the Tell.

Upon arrival you are assigned two other roommates, every meal is set out at a regular specified time, you wash pottery (for many hours) collectively, you travel together on the bus, and you sit together listening to every lecture. Between the newcomers and the staff, almost everyone participates fully in each activity in some capacity. The first day here, Dr. Ann Killibrew explained how the staff attends every lecture because they truly do care about the program. After a month here, I can confidently say the sense you should get from the leadership is that this truly is a labor of love for them, and they work to support the dig and you in any way they can.

While there is certainly some friction occasionally (not everyone will get along with everyone), overall it is difficult not to feel the pressing unity of the program. The dig itself is just an inherently teamwork-oriented process, and the close proximity with your co-workers for the remainder of the day across the month just adds to the total feeling of everyone working towards the fulfilment of this singular goal.

For myself personally, this togetherness and sharing of a goal bigger than yourself eases the burden in a sense, and creates a way to feed off the energy and momentum of others. An obvious but under-appreciated point, the dig here at Akko would not exist if we could not come together as a cohesive unit. Finding success together as a team always feels sweeter, and the teamwork necessary here is an important aspect everyone should be aware of.

By Iraise Garcia

Survey:More Than Big Picks

Wheel barrel…check. Five big picks…check. Five turiyas…check. Fifteen smuggled buckets…check. It’s time for SURVEY!! At first glance, an archaeological survey can look like nothing more than numerous amounts of mysterious holes being dug up all day by individuals seeking grueling labor-intensive undertakings and the ability to swing a big pick. While there is a thrilling sensation in swinging a forged steel tool overhead and hurling it toward the ground, field survey is so much more than just big picks, holes, and brute force. Survey is a type of field research that archaeologists use to collect information about the location and organization of past human cultures across a large area.
First, we start by digging a small pit that is 40 centimeters by 40 centimeters by 40 centimeters on a grid every 5 meters across the site. In the first top 20 centimeters, we collect materials such as pottery sherds, shells, bones, glass beads and tabun ovens (if you’re Bryn), loom weights and cannons (if you’re Sugerman), rocks and walls (if you’re Iraise), pendants and Egyptian beads (if you’re Bret), and more pottery sherds (if you’re John Michael). A separate collection is made for the bottom 20 centimeters. These pits help archaeologists to get a general idea of which parts of the sites were occupied at specific periods. Through examining the pottery and unique finds in the pits, we can determine which material was used in the Bronze Age, Iron Age, or Persian Period.

Tel Akko started this process nine years ago, and every year a slice of the site is surveyed. In more recent years, the survey team has been able to understand what happened at the site after it was abandoned. The top 40 centimeters reveal how the site was used in the last 2,000 years after people moved away from the Tel. We get a sense of what people did on the Tel after they moved toward the coast and there was not a town directly on it. For example, there are traces of farmlands, vineyards, fruit orchards, and watchtowers, which are all discovered through hundreds of small holes in the ground.

After digging over 200 pits as a team, I would also add that not only does survey discover patterns in the distribution of materials in various cultural regions and historical periods, but when you survey you become part of a family. Every day we worked alongside each other, not just digging holes and discovering the past, but also sharing our life stories, joys, hardships, and plans for the future. I want to thank Michael Sugarman, Bret, and John Michael for inviting me into this incredible welcoming family. We dug, we laughed, we surveyed!
As stated by Jamie Quartermaine (the survey master), survey is not about building big muscles, but a revolutionary field that gives the world greater access to the discoveries of archaeology… and I would add, a time for long-lasting friendships.

By Paul Wilson

The Single Thing


“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
– John Muir

My life has been a journey in and of itself, traveling the world, learning, listening, and absorbing all I can with those who walk similar paths. This trip has multiple facets I have experienced before, yet not altogether like this. The early mornings, gear checks, manual labor, and even the Middle Eastern weather. Tel Akko has taught me more though, and left me with curious questions that I do not plan on leaving unanswered. I started this blog with a quote and believe it to be true with Akko. Everything we uncover in this ancient soil lets us put together a query, to which no one is quite surety have a perfect answer. But each artifact shows us that Akko is indeed attached to the rest of the world in so many ways. I remember the first few days. I was a little hesitant towards liking this area, exploring my new temporary home. When I arrived here, I knew no one except some staff from Penn State University and I knew even less about the country or detailed history. Now as I plan to depart, I leave with friends, acquaintances, and a new perspective on the people and region of Akko and Israel. I am glad I tugged on that single thing, and I am even more humbled to see it attached to not only the excavation but the people on this amazing journey. They have come from all over and are willing to share their knowledge with each other. As a non-archaeologist on this dig, I feel I have also found a greater love for archaeology being in the field; not only seeing the history of it, but feeling it physically and metaphorically. I hope to return one day to this country, it’s people, and get more questions and fewer answers (as life has), which would only drive me more and more to follow through again and again. I hope I will be able to tug again at that single thing and learn how it is attached to the rest of the world here at Tel Akko.


By William Branson

The Taste of Dust & Smell of Dirt: Participating in Two Archaeological Field Schools 5500 Miles Apart

Last year during the summer of 2018, I took part in a four-week long dig over July and August, excavating on historic Huguenot St. in New Paltz, New York. The site where we dug was about 45 minutes away from my home, so every morning, Monday to Friday, I would leave my house around 5:45am and not return until nearly 3pm. This summer, I have been participating in a similar four-week long program over July in Akko, Israel, where the digging begins at a similar hour and ends just past mid-day as well.

Other than the time slots though, not much has been the same. While I certainly expected the two experiences to vary significantly, the differences in both feel and actual work differed almost completely and this caught me off-guard. While the proper techniques of the archaeological work varied of course, the most visceral difference between the two field schools I have felt has been in the experience of my senses, namely in taste and smell.

When I think back to the work I did last summer, one of the foremost things that comes to mind is the smell of the cool, fresh, and damp soil. I bought gloves for the dig, but hardly found myself using them. The dirt itself became a protective and hydrating layer over my hands. It became less of a nuisance and more of a comfort somehow. It was damp in such a pleasant way that few things achieve – and it is the smell of that dirt that stands out most in my memory of that time.

Conversely, for Akko, I find the taste of the dust is the easiest thing to recall, and expect this to be true for the future as well. At the sift, in the square, anywhere on site, the dust and sand blow everywhere. Upwind, downwind, with my head turned away, the dust always found its way into my mouth and across my face. As most people reading this will know, getting a face full of sand is about as unpleasant as it sounds. Given we excavate in one of the driest and hottest places on earth, during one of the driest and hottest times of the year, this should have been completely expected by me of course, but sometimes you just can’t prepare for everything.

That being said though, this was an experience I would never want to give back (face fulls of sand included). While the dust may be one of the first things that comes to mind in the future when I recall the dig here at Akko, the second, third, fourth, fifth and so on things I recall will be about all the great people I met and the times shared across the city, dining hall, pottery cage, lecture room, beaches, restaurants, field trips, and up on the Tell itself with all the dust. So while the smell of dirt will remain a comforting memory, the taste of dust will always be bittersweet.




By Casey Sennett

Finding My Home at Akko

I have always struggled with homesickness. Whether I am away from my parents for a night or a month, I typically suffer from separation anxiety. I thought, however, that I had outgrown that anxiety when I spent spring break this year studying abroad in Paris. Since I suffered no separation anxiety in Paris, I thought I could manage a longer study abroad experience this summer.

I managed to fly to Israel with no problems and spent hours in the Ben Gurion airport with no signs of anxiety; however, when I arrived at the Nautical Academy, I began to feel the separation and struggled to suppress my anxiety. I spent the first couple days at Akko missing my parents and American food dearly. I was not optimistic about my stay at Akko, I wanted nothing more than to go home to my parents and my cats. I knew, however, that I could not leave. I had committed to the program and I knew that I would never be able to travel the world and pursue my career aspirations if I could not spend time away from my parents.

I began to cope with the distance with long phone calls home and promises of taking me to Chili’s and to see Spiderman: Far From Home when I got home.  As the days went on, I began to feel more comfortable with the other students, participants, and faculty at Akko. I had been worried about coming to Akko and not knowing anyone, but most of the students and participants were in Israel for the first time and did not know anyone else in the group prior to coming to Israel.  I met a majority of the group at the airport, but I slowly began to meet and interact more with others at meals, on the Tel, during pottery washing, and on excursions in Akko and Israel. When you spend six hours a day in a square with someone or at least two hours a day washing pottery with someone you tend to learn a lot about them.

I was worried about not finding my place at Akko, but it found me. After the first couple of days I had not anticipated to be comfortable at Akko. I thought I had resigned myself to counting down the days until I could go home. I, however, reached outside of my comfort zone and began to meet and learn more about the other people in the program. Those interactions slowly began to make me feel less lonely and foreign. Although I do still miss home on occasion, I have become comfortable with everyone in the program and feel good about being away from home.

By Whitney Hall

Perfectly Imperfect Pottery


When I first began excavating I was told that one good way to tell pottery from rock was from the ridges on the inside. These ridges come from the artists fingertips as they shape the inside of the clay. I remembered the ceramics class I took in highschool and the way that our fingers would make impressions in the clay as we molded it on the wheel, making it pretty recognizable. Today most things, like glass bottles, and plates, are not handmade. This means that a lot of what we make today bears no personal touch. Because the pottery we found was made with hands, even if it was on a wheel, the artist leaves his or her own signature. A lot of this personalization can be seen in the pottery handles (photos attached). A technique for making the curved handles on pots was to pull and stretch the clay into a curved shape. These handles differ from a lot of handles that we find that have perfectly smoothed handles. While these smoothed handles are more aesthetically pleasing, the more imperfect ones have more character. The artifacts that we find are from a time that was very different from the one we live in now. This can make it hard to connect with, as it is not from a way of living that we necessarily understand. A lot of the pottery we find is broken as has been discarded, similar to the way that plastic is thrown away today. As we excavate for scientific purpose, we also take a more removed viewpoint. While we find lots of different artifacts on the tel that can be hard to connect with, I think that the more imperfect pottery is the artifact that I can connect with most. The imprints of the artist hands allow me to imagine just who made the artifacts that we excavate and wash.

By Bryn Hudson

A Hole New World


I’ve taken many archaeology classes, but this was my first summer excavating. Articulating, pillaring, brushing, sweeping, and bagging artefacts etc were new experiences for me. If I’m honest, I struggled with the monotonous work. Thankfully, I was allowed to participate in photogrammetry, GIS, survey, and archeozoology – all of which were fascinating! I photographed the squares, constructed digital maps and 3D models, pick axed and dug pits, and identified animal bones. I honed important career skills and developed new academic interests which I hope to study soon.

By Bryn Hudson

A Whole Lot of Bull


During the last few weeks, I’ve been privileged enough to travel all over Israel. Accompanied by the Tel Akko field school professors and students, I’ve visited Akko, Sepphoris, Magdala, Capernum, Qastrin, the Sea of Galilee, Caesarea, and Jerusalem. Although I’d studied all of the sites at Trinity, no article could have prepared me for the wonder I experienced. However, Professor Risser’s classes did prepare me to teach at Caesarea.

In approximately 10 BCE, King Herod the Great of Judah finished constructing Caesarea Maritima. At the time, it was the largest artificial harbor every built. During Caesar’s Civil War, Herod had supported Marc Antony and Cleopatra. When Octavian (who later renamed himself Augustus), defeated Marc Antony and became the first Roman Emperor, Herod built the harbor to appease his anger and express his gratitude for his continued survival and rule.

During our visit to Caesarea, Professor Sugarman challenged me to lecture about Mithraism. Apparently, jumping up and down gave away my excitement to visit the cult’s site… So I did.  Initially I was terrified to speak in front of our group, but sharing my knowledge brought me incredible joy.


Professor Risser, I could not have done this without you. Thank you for originally lecturing about Mithraism and capturing my interest.

Professor Sugarman, thank you for trusting me to speak.

Iraise, thank you for videotaping me and allowing me to share your video.

By Andrew MacDougall

Diet Culture Shock

Before I had even committed to the excavation at Akko I was in the process of losing a significant amount of weight. In late January I was  a staggering 272 pounds, and by the beginning of May I was already down to 240. Through a mixture of OMAD (one meal a day as opposed to several smaller meals) and Keto I had managed to slim myself down. However, I was still encountering problems.

Primarily, the fact that my impulse choices of food were too easy to get, were cheap for a college student, and oh so gratifying, at least temporarily was to blame. So while I was still losing weight, the fact that my choices in food had not become more healthy, meant that whenever I stopped my plan, I would quickly regain the weight. For the weeks leading up to the Total Archaeology program, I had hoped that I could slowly wean myself off sugar and processed food and maintain a healthy, ketogenic diet in Israel.

To my fellow Americans who wish to do the same, I say this:

Abandon your quest, or pick a god and pray. 

This country has a food culture of a magnitude older than your diet plan, and it does not care if your keto diet is 50% meat 50% cheese, that ain’t kosher. You like clams? Oysters? Lobster? They are not in any restaurant here. Even if you choose to abandon your plan and seek the comforts of American fast food, be prepared for a long walk, as they are few and far between. The only groups spared from this are pescatarians, vegetarians, and vegans, although the sheer amount of dairy presented may severely limit some of their options. 

So what is a diet-illiterate American to do?

Improvise, adapt, overcome!

The first thing I did was keep a few granola bars in my luggage. In the rare scenario wherein I would be completely unable to find anything appetizing to me (such as this lovely egg lasagna), I would be able to sustain myself for a bit. That being said, the only food I encountered that I didn’t like was cottage cheese, which has been the case since before I came to Israel.


Second: If you are not used to eating vegetables with every meal, you may experience a rough first few days. Physiologically, your dependence on sugar may cause symptoms similar to withdrawls. There is sugar available, mind you, just in far lower quantities than most are used to. It may take some getting used to; a few days to a week maybe, and in that time you may experience headaches, moodiness, and some lethargy. Do not despair, and know it will pass in time. Additionally the increase in fiber may shock your gut flora, leading to some uncomfortable evenings. Do despair, but know it will also pass in time.

Lastly, steel your resolve. Travel is a multi sensory experience, if you wanted to just see the sights you could have used Google images. There will be american food awaiting you when you return. So should you be dreading your next meal of something you can not pronounce, know that the adventure, and the possible disappointment are all part of the experience. 

Also know that a portion of falafel is 10 shekel in the Old City. 

By Liam Corr

Am I Actually in Israel?

Where am I?


Three weeks into the dig and the digging, sweeping, and pottery washing continues. Every weekday feels as though I am in America, while every weekend feels as though I am in a foreign country. I am caught between feeling like an American student in America and an American tourist. 


What is American about Tel Akko?


Most of the local people I interact with speak some level of english, and I spend most of my time with other Americans. I live on Long Island, and I can go to different areas with multilingual people and people I do not understand, so to hear different languages is not a new feeling for me . At the same time, in these areas most people also speak English, which is why my interactions at the gas station, the mall, and 7 Days feels as though I am in America. It is as though I am simply in a town with many immigrants or the descendants of recent immigrants. The lectures and pottery washing make me feel as though I am just doing regular classwork at school, though in more of a hands on way than in my other classes at SUNY Binghamton. I do a lot of yard work at home, so digging and sweeping is not too foreign a concept for me, though I do it much more intensely here. Going to the beach here reminds me of going to Jones Beach as a kid, even though the Mediteranean is very different from the Atlantic. Going out with students or staff reminds me of going to restaurants in my hometown with my friends there. Aside from the calls to prayer and the Hebrew receipts, not much gives away that I am not in America during the week. The Old City hints at the fact that I am abroad through the architecture and the locals, though seeing American products in the bazaar brings me back to the idea that I am still in America. 


The Weekly Realization that I am Abroad


The things that jolt me back to reality and make me realize that I am abroad are the excursions on weekends. Long Island obviously does not have Crusader or Roman ruins. The kind of devotion at the Wailing Wall or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre cannot be equaled on Long Island. Even though I am only an hour away from museums in New York City, the museums are refreshing and they make me feel as though all of the sweeping may actually matter someday. Visiting Galilee, Caesarea, and Jerusalem reminds me of where I am, and this contextualizes everything I have learned and taken part in here. 


Why it Matters to me


The weekdays make me feel very sheltered here, as though I am in any other program in America, but with a very diverse population surrounding us. Simultaneously, the trips on Saturdays always make me feel as though I am landing in Tel Aviv again. The Americanized setting keeps me on track of my work, learning, and writing. The tours engage me with multiple cultures and sites and make me feel like a tourist and a foreigner. I do not feel as though the Nautical Academy and the tel have become a home for me in Israel. Rather, I feel as though I am entering a different country again when I go to the Old City or anywhere else in the country, and coming back to America to go to class and sleep.  

1 2 3 4
Tell Akko: Reflecting on the Importance of Teamwork
Survey:More Than Big Picks
The Single Thing
The Taste of Dust & Smell of Dirt: Participating in Two Archaeological Field Schools 5500 Miles Apart
Finding My Home at Akko
Perfectly Imperfect Pottery
A Hole New World
A Whole Lot of Bull
Diet Culture Shock
Am I Actually in Israel?