By Abigail Zahoroiko

Barren Beauty

by Abigail Zahoroiko.


The definition of insanity is doing the exact same thing over and over again, expecting a different outcome. That. Is. Crazy.

One of my earliest memories in school is writing out a “Who I Am” worksheet at the beginning of third grade and putting “archaeologist” for my future career. This has been a dream of mine since early grade school and it all started with dinosaur oatmeal. As a kid, I would make my oatmeal but make a little “nest” for the dinosaur eggs by “excavating” them from the packet. Every packet had fun facts about dinosaurs and I thought I could be a paleontologist when I grew up, but I always called it archaeology as a little kid. Not until one of my morning packets of dinosaur oatmeal had the fun fact that a person who studies dinosaurs was called a “paleontologist”, not an “archaeologist”. So little me had to find out what in the world archaeology was if it wasn’t digging up dinosaurs.


Before I even knew what archaeology was, I loved history and I loved the dirt. Little me would go into my yard and collect fossils from around my house and in my woods and keep them in a box. I constantly saved toads and frogs and worms to get them to a safe place while doing my own busy work. Another early memory is sitting on my couch at home watching National Geographic episodes one after another after another. I clearly remember a documentary about King Tut and a separate episode about castles in Ireland. Everything interested me and I couldn’t get enough.


Archaeology had then been a passion of mine for years before I even discovered anthropology when I was in middle school. The study of humans and everything about them just broadened my horizon and strengthened my love of the subject. I was set on anthropology from then on, yet always had a soft spot for archaeology.


In college, studying abroad was a must in my academic career and I found the Akko program during my first semester. I went to meetings and actually had the strength to apply for the program during my second summer semester. I was afraid to spend so much money and I was uncertain about whether I was choosing the right thing for me. But I decided to go for it.  I never felt shocked that I was going on a place for the first time this summer, that I was leaving the country for the first time this summer, that I was going to be an archaeologist this summer. The plane ride came and went and I acclimatized to the new scenery without a problem. I didn’t experience jet lag as I just stayed up for the whole 10 and a half hour plane ride and went to bed at 11 pm, four hours after I arrived in Akko. And I didn’t experience this cultural shock. Nothing felt real. I was just in a different place and I got used to it rather quickly. There was no “this is so new”, “this isn’t right for me”, or even a “this is right for me”. I felt like I was just in a dream going with whatever flow was taking me.


So that’s how I ended up here in Akko and doing what I am passionate about for basically 24 hours a day. A perfect happy ending, right?


Yes, actually. I have become a part of Area Black, a newly opened area where I opened my very own square. Starting completely fresh and working to find something beneath the layers of dirt that have already been stripped away in other areas from seasons prior. Except, my square is nothing but dirt. NOTHING but dirt. Three separate squares surround mine, all riddled with amazing finds and even architecture but weeks into the dig and mine is over a meter deep into the ground with absolutely nothing to see. But every day I come back with positive energy and a simple love of what I am doing.

Beginning in week 3, I was moved to a different square in Area Black that has far more interesting material and every day I wish I was back in my home of NN-9. That’s how I know I’m on the right path. I have been doing the same thing over and over for weeks expecting something new, knowing my square is nothing but a disturbed pit of dirt, but that square is my home. My new placement is just an apartment I’m renting from a friend until I can get back on my feet again.

This profession is my home and Akko is now a part of it. Israel will forever be the place where I found exactly where I belong. I have since realized the realness of this experience and my heart breaks to return back home. I’m doing something that I never want to not be doing and soon my euphoria will shatter until I come back home again next year.


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.

Barren Beauty