Katharina steps out of an ancient mikvah that was excavated in the Lower Galilee. Indiana Jones, archaeology professor by day and adventurer by night, explored the world in search of rare artifacts while dodging bullets, boulders, poisonous snakes, and murderous rivals. Why? Because he was searching for the secrets of history and ancient civilizations buried deep beneath the earth.
Like Indiana Jones in the movies, real-life archaeologist Katharina Galor is a professor and courageous explorer. Unlike the globe-trotting Jones, however, she is a Jewish archaeologist who excavates in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), a land whose soil is rich with Jewish history and whose stones she uses to piece together the story of the Jewish homeland. Katharina has excavated in the holy city of Tiberias and in Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts dating back to the 3rd century B.C.E. were discovered. When we spoke with Katharina, we unearthed loads of information about archaeology in Israel.
BABA: Shalom, Katharina. Why is it special to work as an archaeologist in Israel?
KATHARINA: I feel lucky to physically touch the history of my people and to see how old our Jewish traditions are. It's incredible to walk on the floor of an ancient synagogue, or to step into a mikvah, a ritual bath, that Jews used in Biblical times. One place that I find particularly striking is a synagogue on Masada that was built 2,000 years ago, and is still used today.
BABA: What's your favorite part about being an archaeologist?
KATHARINA: I love seeing history come to life. It's amazing to piece together the clues we find to rebuild an ancient city- for example, to see an ancient bathhouse covered with beautiful mosaics take shape. Archaeologists love a good mystery. We reconstruct the fragments and broken pieces into a nearly complete whole- like putting together the pieces in a puzzle.I also love being out in the field, where I can get dirty and enjoy the beautiful landscapes of Israel. I especially love working along the Mediterranean, where the dark blue water and deep blue sky look heavenly.
BABA: Can you describe a day in the life of an archaeologist in Israel?
KATHARINA: Our work, particularly during the hot summer, can start as early as 5 a.m. The job can be physically exhausting, as it consists of hours of digging in search of that one rare treasure. Often dozens of students help, and the site becomes alive with the sounds of laughing and singing as they fill buckets with dirt and push wheelbarrows full of rocks. By the time we get back to our rooms to shower and rest, it is usually late afternoon.Much of the work is technical and repetitive. But there are moments when the explorer in us is overwhelmed with the hunger for discovery and adventure like Indiana Jones. For example, last year I helped excavate a site on the western shore of the Dead Sea, where a lost treasure of coins from a 2,000-year-old sunken ship had been found. One day, someone found a little scroll, protected with a layer of lead, and we were all excited by the discovery. Unfortunately, after careful examination, it turned out that the scroll was a recent one- not an ancient document.
BABA: You're currently excavating in Tiberias. What do you hope to discover about Jewish history there?
KATHARINA: Tiberias was one of the most important Jewish cities. The Jerusalem Talmud, which established many of the social and religious laws that Jews still live by, was written in Tiberias between the 4th and 6th centuries. I am particularly interested in finding Jewish artifacts in this ancient Roman city. It's only the synagogues and other discoveries decorated with Jewish symbols such as menorot, lulavim, and etrogim that offer clues to the religious behavior of the city's inhabitants.
BABA: Why is it important for you to unearth Israel's Jewish history?
KATHARINA: For most of history, the majority of Jews have lived outside of Israel. And yet, there is something about this country, about its past and present, that ties together millions of Jews. It is here that the foundations for Judaism were laid, determining most of the way that Jews think, act, and live to this very day.BABA: Thanks, Katharina. We really "dig" your work!
FINDS OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS
Here are a few of the amazing Biblical artifacts that archaeologists have unearthed:
- Royal Relic. An inscribed tablet from 850 B.C.E. with the earliest-known reference to King David was unearthed near Tel Dan in 1993
- Hidden Blessing. A scroll from the 7th century B.C.E., inscribed with the words of the Priestly Blessing (Bemidbar 6:24–26), including the first-known mention of God’s name outside of the Tanakh, was uncovered near Jerusalem in 1979.
- Tomb Raiders. The Merneptah Stela, a tablet from 1207 B.C.E., was hidden in Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah’s tomb until 1896. In the earliest-known reference to Israel outside of the Torah, the stela indicates the importance of the nation of Israel.
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