Originally written by Gary White and published by the Ledger Media Group. Visit the Ledger’s website to view the original article.
LAKELAND — Michaela Sawyer recently learned that the gap between the present and the time of Jesus is only as large as the distance between her knees and her feet.
That, at least, was the case recently as she stood in an archaeological pit at the Shikhin Excavation Project in Israel. Sawyer, a student at Southeastern University, joined two other students and history professor John Wineland for a month at the site, which holds artifacts dating as early as the fourth century B.C.
“It was like, ‘This ancient history from thousands and thousands of years ago is just a little bit below my feet,’” Sawyer, 19, recalled recently as she sat in the Steelman Library on the Southeastern campus.
In addition to Sawyer, SEU students Anna Erekson and Connor Alkass made the trip to Israel for the project, which lasted from May 26 through June 26. They earned credit for Wineland’s class, Archaeology and History of the Mediterranean World.
Sawyer, 19, is a social science major and had no experience with archaeology before the trip. The same was true for Erekson, 20, a psychology major.
“I didn’t really care anything for archaeology or history, but after I went on this trip I have a new appreciation for archaeology and for history,” said Erekson, a junior from Wauchula, “and I might even go on a dig again just because I learned so much.”
Shikhin, located in lower Galilee, is a prominent archaeological site about 5 miles from Nazareth. Colleges and universities send students to volunteer at the cultural heritage site and earn credits during the summer.
Wineland, who is entering his third year at Southeastern, said he has been traveling to the Middle East for archaeological projects since the 1980s. He participated in the Shikhin Project last summer but didn’t take any Southeastern students.
Southeastern offers domestic and international programs for coursework throughout the year, not just in the summer. Other destinations include England, Thailand and Nicaragua.
Sawyer, a junior from Bartow, said she originally signed up for a trip to China, but it was canceled when no other students expressed interest. Wineland then approached her to ask whether she might go to Israel instead.
“I’ve always wanted to travel places; I want to see, like, everywhere in the world,” she said. “It was really cool that I was going to such an important place as Israel. It has a lot of history, biblically, and a lot of history in more recent times. There’s just so much to see there.”
It was the first time outside the United States for both Sawyer and Erekson.
The students soon learned that this would be no leisurely excursion. The Southeastern contingent rose at 4 a.m. each weekday to reach the excavation site by about 5 a.m. Wineland said the Shikhin Excavation Project is perfect for students because it includes an archeological field school.
“A lot of times, students will go to a dig and they won’t get to do much real digging,” he said. “They’ll end up having them push a wheelbarrow and move stuff, but here they’re actually digging. They’re learning how to do paperwork, and there are weekend field schools and we have lectures at night, three or four nights a week.”
The ancient village of Shikhin existed from at least the fifth century B.C. until the fourth century of the modern era. It served as an important site for pottery manufacturing in the Roman period, as its potters gained renown for making durable vessels, including storage jars, bowls, jugs and oil lamps.
The village lay along a major Roman highway about a mile from the city of Sepphoris.
A survey team from the University of South Florida first mapped out parts of Shikhin in 1988, and a team from Samford University in Alabama conducted a second survey in 2011.
The following year, students from Samford and USF opened the first archeological site there.
The Shikhin dig site is divided into squares, each 5 meters by 5 meters, and each student was assigned to a square. Excavators generally leave a 1-foot strip on two connecting sides of the square intact so the geological strata can be examined.
“Most of the groups working at the site dug no deeper than about 5 feet,” Wineland said.
Shikin, like many places in the Middle East, abounds with artifacts, especially pottery. Wineland said small sherds can even be found above ground.
Archaeologists, though, seek intact pieces of the clay pottery, and that requires digging. Sawyer, wearing a T-shirt with “Southeastern University” written in Hebrew on it, said students used trowels, small pickaxes, cups, spoons and brushes to carefully scoop out dirt and reveal items buried for centuries.
Published: July 22, 2018