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.  


Archeology Field Work at Age 63: Challenges & Triumphs – Part 2

You’d think after 6 hours of digging, scraping and hauling each day, we would get some rest. But no! In the afternoon, we wash pottery for two hours. By now my dishpan hands are raw and sore. Then, after the cafeteria dinner, we go to class and listen to a lecture. I’m too tired to take notes and I am hoping there will be no test at the end. It’s 7pm and I should be working on my two required term papers. I have no energy left to give and they will have to wait.

Today is Friday, the 5th day of digging. My body is beat up. It doesn’t get any recovery time to heal.  It is the hottest day so far – easily over 100 degrees. With two hours of digging left, I hit the wall. It is like mile 22 when I ran the marathon, only worse because I had no training for this. For the first time, I wanted to quit; not for the day; for good. It is not just the physical exhaustion, it’s now a mental thing. I don’t have the will to continue.

Fortunately I’ve been in this situation before, when I climbed the Half-dome at Yosemite a few years ago. I follow the same plan as then, pause and move into my “observer” – a version of me that looks at my current physical, emotional, mental and spiritual state. He laughs. “You’re really doing it to yourself this time, RJ!”

I couldn’t help laughing also. This is so insane. But the mental wall is broken. I take a 10 minute break and follow B.J. Fogg’s Tiny Habits advice. I focus on what I could do which is just 6 more inches of wall. Then drink water and rest. Then 4 more inches. Then another few inches, each taking longer. With 15 minutes to go, I start hauling the buckets of pottery and tools back to the shed. I make it to the end!

I wasn’t over heated like the second day, just exhausted, so there is no danger. Back in the dorm, a long, max cold shower renews me. And now just relaxing on my bed, writing this, life feels great.

I did something beyond my limits. I found a new capacity to accept pain – mental and physical – and keep going.

That’s how you get internal strength and fortitude. It doesn’t come by giving up. That alone made this entire adventure worth it. Life doesn’t get any better than this.

A shout out to my roomies Paul and Juan Carlos for helping me to keep at it. Love you guys. You’re the best!


Archeology Field Work at Age 63: Challenges & Triumphs – Part 1

I’m not sure what possessed me to go on an archeology field trip to Israel. As a 63 year old student at Claremont Graduate University, I should be sticking to my Philosophy of Religion courses. Yet, when I was approached by Dr. Tammi Schneider, the Field Manager of the Akko, Israel archeology project, it sounded like a fun adventure. And getting course credit made it an “easy” decision.

Of course, I had visions of an “Indiana Jones” type of adventure. Unfortunately, the reality did not meet those expectations. Not even close.

First off, the dig was in Israel. I’ve never been to the Middle East before and had no idea of the travel requirements. A 16-hour flight started things off slowly. Thanks to the jet lag and only a couple of hours sleep, it was time to head to our first day of “adventuring” at 5:30am.

Oh, we aren’t ready to start digging yet. First, we have to remove hundreds of sandbags and take them to an off-site ditch. I did this for the entire 6-hour day.

The second day is more of the same. It’s 90-100 degrees and I’m wearing a hat and long sleeve shirt (to protect me from some serious UV rays) so I’m drenched in sweat.

The third day we begin our work. There is no journey to an exotic temple to pick artifacts laying right on the ground. Archeologists, students and volunteers have already been digging in Akko for the past ten years. We are just taking it down another level – apparently the Persian era, whatever year that is.  You’ve seen in other blog posts some of the artifacts found. No gold treasures! A jug gets “the find of the day.” About 99% of what we dig up is broken pottery sherds (not shards. I was laughed at for calling them that, obviously exposing my lack of archeology knowledge).

Unfortunately, I try too hard to keep up with the young students and spend so much time in the hot sun pushing wheelbarrows that I get over-heated, almost sunstroke. So, I’m down for the count the rest of day 3. Day 4 on Thursday is another 6-hour day (this time in the pit with shade which keeps me alive). My body is breaking down. I can barely get back to the dorm. But more trouble lies ahead. In part 2, I’ll take you to the dark night of the soul and a subsequent discovery.

By Rebekah Call

The Call to Listen

The Call to Listen

I have heard the Call to Prayer (Adhan) many times in my life. While living in Jerusalem for two years, it was a normal part of my day. I rarely stopped to listen, perhaps because most of the mosques played a prerecorded version of the Adhan over cheap loudspeakers, making the Call a tinny, unintelligible whine. But Al-Jazzar mosque is the largest mosque in the Old City of Akko, and seems to not only use better speakers, but also to engage a real, living Muezzin. I immediately noticed the difference. The Muezzin’s voice is rich and full. I can identify individual words. All of the musical ornamentations are articulated clearly. He has turned the Adhan into a song of meditation. And now, instead of largely tuning it out, when the Adhan starts, I stop (whenever I can) and listen to this beautiful expression.

Since Akko is perhaps the best-preserved crusader city in the world, there has been an emphasis in my studies here on the crusades: what led to them, what happened during the crusades, and their aftermath. The crusades, in all their gory glory, are excellent examples of the danger of harboring fear and contempt toward different religions, races, or cultures. This is not a short-lived danger. True, the crusades ended over five centuries ago. But the effects of the crusades are still shaping our world today. The Crimean War was an ideological continuation of the fourth crusade (in which Western Christianity went to war against Eastern Christianity), and it in turn led to World Wars I and II (which significantly influenced the international scene today). I acknowledge that this is a gross oversimplification of hundreds of years of history. However, the point still stands that we continue to live with the repercussions of the crusades.

Would the tragedy of the crusades have happened if the Eastern and Western churches had really listened to each other? Or if Islam and Christianity had learned to not only notice, but to treasure the beauty of the other? Living in an ancient city and learning its history highlights similar challenges in our own time. But is much easier to identify the mistakes of the past than to create solutions for the future. As I think about the potential trajectories of society, it seems that an important step could be to listen and treasure the “others” among us, regardless of how different their backgrounds may be.


Al-Jazzar Mosque at sunset

The Old City at sunset

By Tanya Nasife

The ‘Art’cheology of Care

It’s easy to get caught up in the dirt storm, both literally and figuratively, of an archaeological dig. You must take caution in not knocking rocks out of place or stepping on pottery. There seems to be a zone sometimes you get into during digging. Maybe it’s the repetition, or just the excitement of finding a cool looking pottery piece or a rock. In digs sometimes, there can be a lack of care for yourself, especially in extreme situations. In hot weather, there are dangers, like not drinking enough water. At this dig at Tel Akko, you can commonly hear people yelling to drink water, or have someone use that parent voice of disappointment when they hear you haven’t drunk any water in the last twenty minutes. You can stretch your legs, drink water and enjoy the wind that finally comes in.  That, however, is only one part of what makes a human body work, the physical part. There is also our mental health with goes hand in hand with physical health.  Each person on the dig adds their own spin on taking care of themselves before and after the dig. This is mine and a few others’ first dig, so I asked a few friends how they take care of themselves during the month.

  1. Naps- Upon first arrival in Israel, many got hit with jet lag. Later during the trip, we were all hit with the tiredness from digging early in the morning. Naps are one of the most common things done here and are commonly mentioned. It is the one thing that can halt a well-planned outing in its track. One person mentioned that they take a nap in the afternoon, after lunch as they wouldn’t be able to pay attention in lecture otherwise. Digging is demanding work and rest is always well appreciated, although naps may not be for everyone; for another friend, a nap leaves them feeling off.
  2. Change of scenery- Dig. Lunch. Pottery. Lesson. Dinner. Sleep and repeat. Day in and out, it can be the same. Same square, same food, same good old dirt in your mouth. Yummy. Just getting out of the building and into Old City or the beach, or one of the other options nearby, can keep you from pulling out your hair. Even if it’s just spending time with friends, which you will be able to make on this trip. Or adopted into a group of already made friends. There are also other options that relate to the dig you can try. You can try other courses other then what you wrote on the paper officially. Want to take photos? Study bones? Dig through small piles of pieces? You can! I recommend bones. You can learn so much from what remains, also they look cool.
  3. Be by yourself- You end up spending time with the same people day in and day out; rooming with others, digging with them, and eating with them. Sometimes it’s great to just sit by yourself and listen to music, play some video games, or just zone out. Your mental health is as important as physical health, even if it doesn’t seem mentioned enough.
  4. Take a break- It’s okay to want to do a half day or miss a day of digging and wash pottery. In fact, washing pottery is highly encouraged. Taking a step back from the toll of digging is fine and recommended. Don’t feel well the day before? Take a break. Wake up feeling awful? Take a half day, come back after second breakfast or even stay back, wash pottery, or help in the other labs. There are many options, and you never feel like you are just sitting around. Taking a break isn’t looked down upon here, and your mind and body will thank you even from a small break. Do what you can, not what you think you should be doing.
  5. Enjoy the small things- A simple shower and clean clothes after the dig can change your mood for the entire day. Or having a drink that you love, like chocolate milk. Maybe some music or video games with friends during break. Watching cats nap on the walls around the city or scurry around the streets. Love the small things in life that make you happy.

We’re human, and this dig really shows that. People here get excited talking about what they love, no matter if it’s mosaics or animals. You learn quickly who’s voice is whose; hearing them call out reminders for water, cheering at the find of the day, or just talking to them in general.  Everyone looks out for each other, making sure that they aren’t overdoing themselves or feeling alone. Little reminders to drink water or even a small “Hey, how are you doing?” at the sifters, are just small things that keep a welcoming feeling around the site. Always take care of yourself, as you are the greatest find anywhere.


By Ruslan Kovtun

The Land That Ages Differently.


Since the first moment that I came here I have been amused at how well things are preserved. My first taste of this was when I got off the bus at Akko and saw this one car. This was not just any plain or bland car but a BMW (E34) 5 series. To give some context this car was produced between 1987 and 1996 making it between 23 and 32 years old. It had an original price tag between 40 and 60 thousand dollars which is equivalent to between 85 and 110 thousand in our current U.S. economy.  Many people would just say “it’s just a car,” or “it’s an old piece of metal on four wheels,” but that is far from the truth to a car guy. I know a few people who would have immediately came and bought it if it was in the USA. As the car is in such a good condition that it looks no more than a few years old and not a few decades old. This car shocked me by its condition and I am crediting two things that has made this car look as good as it is. The first due to the owner taking good care but secondly and more importantly the good environment of this land.
Even though we are by the Sea which isn’t good for cars because of rust/corrosion is caused by water, (especially salt water) the fact that it is sunny here most of the time is what keeps the car from corroding. This factor is important as it doesn’t only affect cars but also any archaeological artifact that still uncovered. As the more weathering there is the more things will corrode, degrade, fall apart. Luckily due to this environment where it does not rain a lot during most of the year and good weather patterns, Israel has less factors than many other places around the world. Hence Israel’s good environment helps many artifacts survive longer. Many people including archaeologists don’t notice, ignore, or even take this factor for granted which it shouldn’t be. Instead we have to be thankful that this country has a specific environment that gives archaeologists more time to save artifacts that have yet to be uncovered.

By Frank Orenstein

The Art of Smithing in Israel

About Blacksmithing

The art of blacksmithing is no longer as common as it used to be.  Just about everyone knows that the modernization of industry and production vastly undercut the need for a local blacksmith in a given community.  Despite this, however, it persists as a hobby, art form, and occasional career all over the world.  I am myself an apprentice blacksmith, though I usually focus on blade-smithing.  It is a small distinction, but an important one since it reflects on the materials, techniques, and other factors in a given smithy.  But I do have some experience as a blacksmith, and it is those experiences that I drew upon last week when the Archaeometallurgy students, alongside a few professors, visited a local forge here in Israel.

The Forge

The forge was almost a community unto itself.  One side of the courtyard held the forge, another held a leather-working shop.  Other buildings were scattered about, but the forge was close to the center.  We met the resident blacksmith and his son, and they taught us a bit about being craftsmen in Israel in the modern era.  Just like in the US, they said, it is far harder nowadays to live purely as an artisan.  Instead, most of their income comes from construction or the teaching of classes around the country.  After this, we were allowed to enter the forge.  As you can see by the picture, this was a pretty packed space.  Two separate forges, one coke burning and the other propane, were present beside a number of anvils, belt grinders, and drill presses.  As a group we learned how to make nails, saw how chains were produced, and even a small knife was made in front of us.

The Reality

As it turns out, forges in the US, at least the ones I have been to, are not so different than the one we visited.  They may be larger, or have different tools, but the underlying atmosphere is much the same.  In the end, it wasn’t all that different from the forge near my own home in Virginia.  Despite the language and cultural barriers that separated us, I felt like I already knew the man teaching us, at least partly.  Not to use a cliche, but experiencing something so familiar in a new environment reminded me how similar people are, no matter where you are.  Plus, hitting hot metal with a hammer is always satisfying.

By Whitney Hall

Baha’i Gardens

While I found the program through my interest in archaeology I have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of religious connection to both the work that we are doing as well as the sites we are visiting. I was slightly intimidated for the program as I thought that I would be the only person whose main area of study was not archaeology. Within the first few days I met tons of other people who also studied religion just like me. This past weekend we visited the Baha’i Gardens that happen to be inside of Akko! As a religious studies major this was a really incredible experience for me. The Bahai Gardens are considered the holiest site for the Baha’i religion, as it is the resting place of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the religion. Not only did we get to visit the beautiful gardens but we were also able to visit the shrine in which Baha’u’llah is buried. This burial site was chosen because the founder lived in Akko before his death. While I, as well as many other members of the group, might not practice the Baha’i religion personally it was still really cool to be able to visit a site that for some is incredibly holy. The Gardens were a lot larger than I assumed they would be. It was mostly manicured hedges and red and white flowers. I assumed it would be more flowers of different varieties but for the amount of space they had there were not a lot of flowers. Once we walked past the entrance we arrived at a large gate. Beyond it a series of hedges leading up to the shrine which we were able to go inside. Inside were several small rooms where members of the faith come to individually pray inside. The site also includes dormitories that house members of the religion that stay there to volunteer and learn. Visiting Akko’s Baha’i Gardens was an incredible way to learn about one of the newest and fastest growing religions in the world accompanied by incredible plants and flowers.

By Jennifer Munro

Where do all the finds go?

Deep in the bowels of the University of Haifa, there is a large storeroom containing boxes and boxes of finds, going back to the seventies – pottery, iron and stone cannon balls and bones amongst other things. There are some restored pots too, which I find an amazing sight. How can those horrible, grubby bits of broken pottery that we all wash turn into something so beautiful? This is the hard work of Rachel Ben Dov and others who patiently piece it all together like a 3D jigsaw. These are the treasures that tel Akko has given up so far. I wonder how many more there are and where they will go! [/vc_column][/vc_row]

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Diet Culture Shock
Am I Actually in Israel?
Archeology Field Work at Age 63: Challenges & Triumphs – Part 2
Archeology Field Work at Age 63: Challenges & Triumphs – Part 1
The Call to Listen
The ‘Art’cheology of Care
The Art of Smithing in Israel
Baha’i Gardens
Where do all the finds go?