By Anna Bidstrup

A Squareless Beginning

My expectations for this dig, and Akko in general for that matter, were completely wrong. I thought that archeology in Tel Akko would mirror my past archeological experience at the San Martino Archeological Field School in Torano di Borgorose, Italy. I expected hours of troweling, sweeping and finding artifacts alongside close companions in a square that I would know like the back of my hand. Last summer, I spent every day in the same square, learning all of the unique features the architecture had to offer and intimately understanding the strata and history of my square. I got attached to that square—and I looked forward to having a square to call home again, but this time in Akko, unfortunately for me, I didn’t find a home for the first week and a half.

The first few days on the Tel were hectic to say the least. Whether we were moving sandbags or cleaning the Tel, it felt chaotic and almost foreign. Rather than a square, I was assigned to an area in which I floated between the squares, only changing course when my area supervisor told me to go somewhere else. As people started to excavate in squares that would become their own, I was still meandering around the Tel, doing odd jobs to seemingly pass the time. I found myself feeling jealous of my friends who were learning the intricate details about their respective squares; while I barely (and literally) touched the surface of the squares that I worked in. Even if I did feel connected to a square, like when I found a worked bone in NN20, it was fleeting since I would never return the following day. In reality, everything I was doing was important or at least a necessary step in collecting the data that allows us to understand what life was like thousands of years ago.

Even though I did not enjoy my time as a nomad on the Tel, there are definitely a few positive things that came along with the job (or lack there of). First off, I occasionally was filled in with brief histories of different squares. These short descriptions gave me a semi-solid background of the Tel, but even now my understanding of the Tel is far from complete. Another positive aspect of the floater life is having the ability to sample different activities, like learning how to trim a bulk or participating in survey. I’ve done survey for the past two days, and it is incredibly rewarding but exhausting (you essentially dig an average of six 40 by 40 by 40 cm holes throughout the course of the day under the hot Israeli sun). Now I know this last one is quite cheesy, but I met a lot of different people and made some great friends and memories through my various squareless adventures on the Tel.
Now I have found what I would call a “half-home” in the sense that I dig in PP19 that I eventually joined later on. However, I’m not expected to go there every day since I also participate in survey and conservation. I don’t get that exciting yet familiar feeling when I’m in the square about to start excavating, but I still enjoy it nonetheless. I love getting updates from my fellow square-mates at the end of the day, but I don’t feel the same square attachment as I did with my square on my dig last year.

It is okay that things are different here and I’m so fortunate that I have the opportunity to experience another archaeological dig. Overall, I cannot recommend the floater lifestyle but I can’t NOT recommend it either. All digs are different, so you will never know what you like until you get out there and try it. 10/10 would recommend going on an archaeology dig.


By Mark Van Horn

No Slacking on Slag

At Tell Akko, any square or area supervisor will be able to tell you that one of the ubiquitous finds is iron slag. Most squares that are undergoing excavation have at least one bag of slag coming out per day. Certain squares from seasons past, such as MM20, RR3, and most recently RR19 have been notorious for their ability to bring up kilos of slag or quintuple the amount of hammer scales that one might expect in a day. This isn’t just metal trash, however. When any object is created, there is a certain waste that is given off. While iron slag is by definition waste, by understanding the amount of slag that is given off we can attempt to gauge how much iron was being processed at the site and where it may have been coming from. In order to give insight to this process, we can track the story of an average piece of slag being recovered in a day of excavation on the Tell.

The first thing that a piece of Akko slag goes through (in the modern period, that is) is its excavation and discovery. Uncovering slag in situ on the Tell is always an exciting experience, because in many cases you are the first person to interact with it since it was deposited there almost 2,500 years ago. When students are digging, we give them a few pointers to help them identify slag accurately and effectively in the field.

The first key to field slag identification is the coloring of what otherwise looks like a normal rock. Although slag often acquires a very rocky look over the years, clear points of oxidation and rust will be apparent around the surface. These bright orange spots are dead giveaways to the true nature of what this so-called rock actually is. If it is not entirely clear by sight alone, and the slag has already fallen from its initial position, then weight is the next major hint. Slag, being comprised significantly of iron, is extremely dense. This means that relative to a rock of the same size, it should weight much more – unnaturally so. If both of these methods still leave the discoverer uncertain, there is one final test: the break test. True iron slag will not break in half from a hand-held breaking attempt; the metal is too strong. Many types of rocks or ambiguous materials will crack under this sort of pressure, however. Given a combination of these three tests, slag can be accurately diagnosed in the field.

Yuki finds a piece of slag in the field. See if you can find it just above the bucket!

A piece of freshly excavated slag. Small pockets of orange and an irregular shape are noticeable.

After the slag is identified, it is collected as excavation occurs around it. It is important to not to get too excited and dig a hole around the slag; rather, natural excavation should occur around the piece. The slag will always come out when it is ready.

From here, it is bagged and tagged for processing in the Small Finds area of the office, located at the academy where we are staying. While living in the pottery office, the slag is documented in our site wide database. Here, anyone working at the site is able to access information about any slag that was collected on any day, since the first day of excavation in the 2010 season. The Tell Akko database is what makes projects like mine, where the goal is to document and map all the slag found on the Tell, feasible.

A cross section and piece of slag in the pottery office. The coloration and porous structure characteristic of slag is clearly visible.

After this, the slag is taken across the Bay of Akko, where it is stored at the University of Haifa and can be accessed in the coming seasons. These store rooms hold information from the current Akko excavations, and even material dating to the excavations in the 70s and 80s. One of the main components to my project is poring over previous slag from other seasons and getting direct quantities and weights for the material coming from certain regions of the Tell. Once these weights are collected, there is one more (digital) step to the process.
GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, are incredibly important in conveying information from a variety of disciplines. Archaeology is no exception. After creating artifact maps for Iron last season, my project this season is to map a slag distribution from this season and all previous seasons. These maps allow a comparison of various regions of the Tell extremely quickly, and gives a compact visual display to represent the incredible amounts of slag that we excavate from the Tell. With an easy to read format, these maps can be examined to determine relationships that might otherwise not be immediately apparent, and they help to increase our understanding of ironworking and production across Area A at Tell Akko.

GIS map showing Iron Artifacts found from stratum A-4 (Persian Period)

In addition to my work on macro-metallurgical remains, we are also conducting analysis of the elemental composition of soils across the Tell. But that is a blog for another time…

By Ross Claar

Surveying, Onions, and Falling

For the past three days–starting on the 19th of July–at Tel Akko, I have been working with Survey. While there I have experienced the full beauty of Tel Akko, seeing the Tel in a way that most of the other excavators would not experience. I had not originally intend to participate in survey, however since that first day of walking around the side of that hill and digging survey holes, I would not missed it for the world!

On the first day, when I first arrived at the excavation site, I was asked if I was interested in joining survey for the day, to which I responded with a yes. And so I set off to the survey area. When I arrived there I was taught how to dig a survey hole—I however ended up digging a few bathtub shaped holes due to the looseness and collapsing nature of certain areas of the site. And that was my task for the entirety of the day.

During that time I managed to uncover various amounts of pot sherds of large sizes as well as a basalt grinding stone! I was happy to manage the feat of digging six holes that day. The strangest thing that I did uncover were the onions the size of human heads— although they appeared very appealing they are poisonous, and their liquid is potent enough to cause a rash on a person’s skin!

On the second day, I spent the entire of the day holding a stadia rod with a prism on top (the rod is also referred to as the “The Staff of Ra”), walking across the hillside. For the first part of the day I was surveying the holes that were dug the on past day. To survey a hole the rod barer has to place the rod at each of the four corners of the square while someone at the total station takes a reading of all four points. After all of the survey holes had been surveyed they were then filled in. Afterwards I moved on to laying grid points across the hillside. Walking diagonally across the hillside and falling down many times.
On the third day, I managed to dig four holes before being called over to help hammer stacks into the ground, while digging the survey holes, I recovered various amounts pottery sherds and onions. After a while I was then asked to hammer stakes into the ground, which I continued to do until the last two hours, where I switched to refilling the surveyed holes.

I am so happy that I decided to participate in survey, as it
has opened up a whole new way of experiencing Tel Akko and learning her hidden secrets.

By J.T.

Drawing Akko’s Spicy Medusas

By J.T. ….

Here at Akko we have numerous specialists at our disposal; an archaeobotanist, zooarchaeologist, pottery experts, etc.  Someone who often gets lost in the shuffle is the humble artist.  While the majority of archaeologists revel in their tedious notes, measurements, and “science”, it’s the artist who puts the creativity back into archaeology.

Akko’s resident artist is Rachel Wynn Moszkowicz.  Rachel’s incredible talents have left us with so much wonder and awe that I felt compelled to share them.  The following are a distinct selection of Rachel’s finest pieces.  Enjoy.



By Daniel Xu

Information about the Tel Akko Total Archaeology Program

By Daniel Xu…

As an Econ major student, I have never imagined myself working on a archeological site in Israel. But, here I am. In this program, I have had so much fun and met so many interesting people. Meanwhile, I also experienced confusions and troubles. I would like to share my experiences here with those future participants who have only limited knowledge about archeology and excavation, and hope this information can help these participates to better prepare themselves for the program. The experiences shared are very subjective, and may be totally different for different people.

  1. This program involves great amount of physical work. Working on the site can be especially strenuous under the summer heat.
  2. There are a number of things you can do on the tel. Although they are mostly repetitive, there is much space for job rotation. Boredom is totally avoidable.
  3. Most people you are going to meet in this program are extremely nice, and you are going to make a lot of friends. However, as the participants are from all over the world, you should prepare yourself for cultural and personal differences and be as open-minded as possible.
  4. Due to the amount of physical work involved, the working environment on the site, the heat and the extremely efficient or inefficient AC system of the dorms, you may experience unfavorable physical conditions, the most common of which are dehydration, cold and allergies, remember to bring some basic medications and pay more attention to your health.
  5. Excavation-related works and lectures would take 70% time of your day, and you will very likely be exhausted. Although fun excursions take place at weekends, they cannot provide a full view of the beautiful culture of Israel. If you want to see more,  travel before or after the program.
  6. The lectures during the program are mostly drastically interesting, but many of them require basic knowledge about archeology and history of the region. They can be confusing.
  7. Life is full of changes and bad things may take place anytime. If you encounter any trouble during the program, you can always talk to people around you and you would definitely get help.


Cross sectional view of kurkar flooring found in RR19.

By Natasha Nagle

The Rocks Remember

by Natasha Nagle

Throughout much of our existence, humans have stood in great awe of the natural processes through which their Earth was objected. The raw power available to these processes have inspired countless legends, myths, and tales behind some of the most influential schools of thought and religion the world over. Indeed, there is little more which has affected the course of human’s long history as violently, as unwaveringly, and with as much of an impact as the steadily altering progress of the climate and environment of the places in which we have settled. As a direct result, humans are as much a product of the landscape of our environment as we are of our varied cultural environments and the rich heritages from which they grew.

Within our history, we serve to record aspects of the history of the Earth itself, particularly through noting the direct effect of events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and coastal movement upon the human populations who lived in the vicinity of their outreaching effects. This is done through the use of personal journals, administrative memos on destruction of property and subsequent rebuilding, records in the very stones of buildings and their maintenance, and even through interaction with our longstanding traditions and stories of peoples long past, all of which correlate to the only true personal connections we may have with them. Through the analysis of these methods, in addition to the utilization of the increasing technologies available to modern archaeology, we are able to learn about, and understand, how the more violent aspects of the Earth’s surface have affected our ancestors and their own personal views of the world in which they lived. However, there are oft many more geological processes and outstanding geological aspects which affect the people living in these areas long before and after the thought of immediate and swift danger passes through their concern.

Through recognizing these larger events, we are able to also focus upon the aspects of the geology and topography which affected humans in a slightly more subtle way, though arguably more so in the long run. An interesting aspect of this subtle influence resides in the characteristics of the bedrock upon which the ancients chose to build their cities, harbors, and contact areas. At Tel Akko, the bedrock is a type of sandstone, created through the fossilization of sand dunes, called kurkar. Kurkar has a medium to coarse grain size and is distinctive in its gritty texture and coral pink and white color, due to its composition of quartz and felspar crystals. Occasionally, the color can appear a slightly darker shade of pinkish red, on account of the presence of oxidized iron minerals included within the stone’s matrix.

These deposits run relatively parallel to the present day coastline, and, due to their deposition in the sandy areas of relatively shallow waters, serve to indicate the past positioning of the coastline in relation to the rest of the landmass. There are five periods of sand accumulation which are connected with the formation of the kurkar deposits along the coastline of Israel, approximately 140, 130, 90, 60, and 50 thousand years ago, thereby connected to the Late Pleistocene epoch of the Cenozoic. Darker colored clays which underly some of the sands were originally deposited around 9,000 years ago, and indicate the presence of coastal marshes. An additional interesting note is that the kurkar ridges along the Northern Israeli coast also contain fossil remnants of the Tethys sea, the precursor to the Mediterranean and formed during the breakup of Laurentia and Gondwana, such as a stony coral known as Cladocora Sp.

Throughout the ages, the kurkar bedrock has been of importance to the people of Akko for a number of reasons. Of course, the elevated portions of the bedrock enables the building of houses, industrial centers, fortifications, and outposts, among many other structures, all of which are able to be observed on Tel Akko itself. In addition, pieces of the kurkar, recognized as field stones, are also able to be used as building materials for walls in buildings or other structures. Yet another use of the kurkar is after having been crushed, it was used to level what would become a portion of a floor, in order that the plaster or floor makeup placed overtop would have increased stability and be more conducive to its incorporation into a home or public building.

Another use of the analysis and mapping of the kurkar ridges themselves is to determine where the edges of past coastlines lay. Throughout much of history, Akko existed as an important harbor site as it is one of the few easily and safely accessible harbors across the Levant’s Mediterranean coast. The existence of this harbor is validated not only through the identification of artifacts connected to the harbor and its extensive trade network, but also through the presence of these kurkar ridges and their locations, which indicate previous coastal ranges. Interestingly, the harbor itself went out of use during and after the Hellenistic period, on account of the silting up of the initial harbor, and which necessitated the movement of the harbor and the city of Akko to the current location of the old city to the west, though portions of the old coast are able to be viewed in correlation to these ridges.

Through analyzing the history of the stone itself, along with the uses which people have found for them, we are able to better understand how the geology of an area can intimately affect people, their movement and trade, and their center of life far and wide as well as closer to home. In this way, our history not just records our own past, but also helps us to better record and understand the past of our Earth and how we may better understand it while moving towards the future. Our Earth’s geology has affected each and every aspect of human history and will continue to do so far into the future.

By Edka Wong

“There’s a First For Everything”

The first time I climbed the steps to the tel felt like the first couple steps I took off the plane at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel-Aviv. I felt a rush of adrenaline and eagerness regardless of the fact that I had no prior archeological experience to speak of. July 3, 2016 was my first time in Israel—well, really the Middle East in general—and July 5, 2016 was my first time on Tel Napoleon where I would spend my next month excavating. My first day in Israel, I heard the word “patische” for the first time and within my first week, I woke up before my 4:45AM alarm for the first time (mainly because of jet lag and not my own sheer will).

As a student on the pre-law track, never had I thought I’d find myself in work pants and boots, knee deep in dirt swinging pick-axes by day and pottery washing by night. There truly is a “first for everything” as they say. Day by day, I’d learn something new and became fascinated by the history of the tel that would gradually be uncovered through archaeological interpretation. I learned about the different strata of time periods that existed under our feet, 5×5 baulks, 4×4 squares, the loci system, and so on and so forth. However, many “firsts” shortly became routine and many once exciting undertakings became commonplace—like sweeping…and sifting!

Once I’d thought I’d seen it all, and even possibly mastered amateur digging prowess (maybe), I learned of a new detail of the dig: survey. Survey was, until that point, irrelevant to my abroad experience. I had heard returning students talk about it—either great or miserable things, nothing in between—but I didn’t have a clue as to what it was. But of course, as this has been a trip for many “first times,” I soon became quite acquainted with survey. It was hot outside and survey was physically demanding, tedious, yet also incredibly rewarding and fun. For the six hours I spent on the tel, I used the combination of a tarea and a big pick to dig four 40x40x40cm holes on the side of a hill and collected ten pieces of pottery (on a good pit). And yes that is the rewarding and fun part. Survey is rewarding because the work that is done helps identify areas of interest and future plans to excavate. Survey is fun because when else would I have the chance to swing a giant pickaxe into the ground with the view of the Mediterranean? Unlike excavating meticulously in a square like I normally do, I got to less articulately dig pits with tools I would otherwise most likely not be trusted with. Survey can be hard work but when has anything worthwhile been easy?

Through my time thus far, I’ve learned much more than archaeology. I’ve learned a few words in Hebrew, local scenes, and even met some of the faces of Akko. However, the most important thing I’ve learned abroad is that there will always be a first experience to appreciate. There will always be something new for you so don’t shy away from it because it could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, just like this study abroad.

Washed pottery sherds

By Dylan Ingram

The side of ceramics you may not know

By Dylan Ingram…

Everyone at the Tel Akko Total Archaeology Project has some experience with pottery washing:  You grab a bucket of sherds from the previous day at the tel, scrub off the dirt, and you end up with a clean basket like the one pictured above.  But relatively few of the students here know exactly what happens afterwards with the pottery.  Fortunately, I had the opportunity July 18 to sit in on a session of pottery reading, and it provided a completely different perspective on the role of ceramics at Tel Akko.

Pottery reading begins with square and area supervisors presenting the washed pottery from their area’s loci to Martha Risser and Jolanta Mlynarczyk.  Both of them work through the pottery from the crate they were given, inspecting a couple of sherds more closely.  Unsurprisingly, they mostly use the diagnostic pieces such as handles, rims, bases, and painted or stamped sherds, which are kept a few inches apart from the non-diagnostic body sherds.

Occasionally they come across a particularly interesting piece of pottery, such as very nice black ware or East Greek pottery (identifiable from the almost glittery appearance of the fabric).  One piece that I saw Martha and Jolanta get interested over was the toe of an amphora, which they identified from its fabric as being of Attic provenance.  Although Attic imports are relatively common at Tel Akko, they said that it is much rarer to find Attic amphoras.  (Sadly, the context where this toe was found was extremely disturbed, likely due to agricultural tilling of the land.)

After Martha and Jolanta have checked out the sherds they’re given, they determine when this pottery was made.  Certain sherds can be dated very precisely—Martha once showed me a piece of a cup the size of my thumbnail with an incised palmette black glaze design, which she said was at the time the single most precisely dateable sherd in the entire pottery lab—but most of the chronological conclusions Martha and Jolanta made during the reading I watched were a bit broader.  Sometimes they would date a box of pottery to the 7th or 6th centuries BCE, other times to the Persian Period.

What most struck me about pottery reading was the pace at which it proceeds.  Each box gets read in the span of only a few minutes; Martha and Jolanta don’t waste any time when they inspect a sherd.  For example, they are so experienced with pottery that they can determine the stance of a piece just by looking at it, whereas I for one still need to use the “smile-frown test”:  rolling around a rim against a flat surface until it lines up flush.

As we have all heard, things are useless without context, pottery sherds included.  Because of this, the square and area supervisors present top plans and give brief oral descriptions of the loci in which they found each box of pottery.  Although this helps Martha and Jolanta to get a better idea of the source of everything they look at, there is still some ambiguity.  That’s why they both went up to the tel July 19:  to see where all these sherds have come from personally, so as to get a clearer picture of the type of soil in and layout of the various squares.  Martha mentioned to me that she wishes she were able to visit the tel more often in person, since it’s so helpful to her.

Beyond the obvious archaeological significance of pottery reading, I found my experience sitting in to be sort of exhilarating.  There is something really amazing in how quickly Martha and Jolanta can work through a crate of pottery and make a declaration about its origins.  Moreover, I gained a valuable appreciation for the significance of pottery—plainly demonstrating the utility of everyone’s favorite time of the day, pottery washing.

By Cassidy Ross

Jamie, Michael, and the Orange Dirt

By Cassidy Ross…Whilst digging a survey pit Michael came across some red dirt.  Low and behold there was something suspicious in this red dirt. this suspicious thing was a small tunnel. Now the red dirt was mud brick and it appeared that the suspicious tunnel ran straight through it. Upon further inspection by both Jamie and Michael it was deduced that the tunnel was in fact a pipe. The pair proceeded to smash through the surrounding dirt chasing the mud brick as it went in a circular patter. After observing the curvature of the brick utter confusion and nonsensical theories it was deduced that this was a mole hole. After further discussion, excavation, and heavy handed pick wielding, it was decided that the mud brick was only debris. The moral of this story: sometimes moles burrow through ancient mud brick debris and in turn this leads to archaeologists arguing on the side of a hill.

1 9 10 11
A Squareless Beginning
No Slacking on Slag
Surveying, Onions, and Falling
Drawing Akko’s Spicy Medusas
Cross sectional view of kurkar flooring found in RR19.
The Rocks Remember
Washed pottery sherds
The side of ceramics you may not know