About the course
This course is led by UBC faculty member Gregg Gardner.
This course will train students in the principles and methods of field archaeology as practiced in the Mediterranean and Near East today by participating in the excavation of Horvat Midras in Israel. This course will also provide students with an understanding of the archaeology of ancient Palestine, with special attention to the Hellenistic and Roman eras (323 B.C.E. to 640 C.E.). It will include fieldwork, guided study trips to other archaeological sites in the area, visits to archaeological museums, and lectures.
Horvat Midras is a site located in Israel approximately 45 kilometers southwest of Jerusalem. Previous small-scale salvage excavations have shown that the site was one of the largest and wealthiest rural sites in the Judaean Foothills during the Roman period. The site features the remains of Jewish, Christian, and Roman communities. It also includes several underground passageways and unique tombs – including one marked by a magnificent pyramid as well as a rare example of a “rolling stone” tomb-like that mentioned in the New Testament.
Settlement at the site began in the Persian era (fourth century B.C.E.). Our excavations this season aim to illuminate the socio-economic and ethnic character of the region just before and after its conquest in the second century B.C.E. by the Hasmoneans. Also known as the Maccabees (literally, “hammers”), the Hasmoneans were a dynasty of Jewish military and political leaders whose victories over the Greeks are still celebrated today in the Jewish holiday of Hanukah. In particular, we hope to clarify the settlement patterns of the Idumeans (pagans who later converted to Judaism) and ethnic Jews in the area. Based on the identification of the site with ancient Drusias, named after Drusus of the family of the Roman Emperor Augustus, scholars have suggested that the site was populated by the Idumean elite, including, perhaps, the family of King Herod the Great – a prominent king of ancient Palestine in the first century B.C.E. who is mentioned in the New Testament and famous for enlarging the Temple and Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Herod may have initiated a construction project in Horvat Midras during his reign. Later and up until the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome (the so-called “Bar Kokhba Revolt” from 132–135 C.E.) the site was a thriving large village with many agricultural installations. The inhabitants actively participated in the Second Revolt and the site was abandoned following the failure of the revolt. Our excavation seeks to help clarify the identities of those who re-settled the site as well as when and why they did so. By the fourth century C.E. the village was thriving again and in the fifth century, the population was predominantly Christian, as the site featured a large basilica church with magnificent mosaics built at its northern edge. The excavation at the site will focus on the remains of the early Roman settlement, a post-Second Revolt public building (possibly a Roman temple), two private dwellings, an underground ritual bath (miqveh) and cistern, and an elaborate system of underground hiding tunnels and caves used by the Jewish rebels during the Second Revolt against Rome. This project will be conducted in collaboration with Dr. Orit Peleg-Barkat of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Students will be doing more than just digging. Rather, students will contribute directly to the research goals and create new scholarly knowledge. By excavating, recording, processing, and identifying new archaeological finds, students will contribute towards the discovery, collection, and interpretation of new sources on the ancient world. Students’ participation in this course will directly enhance our knowledge of the history and material culture of the ancient Near East. Students’ work in this course will help shed new light on questions of continuity and change along with the turbulent history of this region. The coursework will also illuminate the region’s rural settlement patterns – a topic often overlooked and under-studied as scholars tend to focus on urban sites. In many ways, students’ work in this course will shed new light on the history of the region at a crucial moment in the life of the Roman empire and during the formative ages of Judaism and Christianity