Israel Stories

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Digger and the Sifter

The sea lapped gently at the crag, to paraphrase Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and the sun gently settled on the horizon of Caesarea beach. Channa Senesh would have been proud of the way that her beloved Caesarea had been lovingly restored. I stood with my kids looking out to sea, it was quite idyllic. But we had a mission. To collect as many useless bits of broken pottery and if we were lucky to find a handle to add to our mounting collection of antiquities. As we turned to go we saw sticking out of a rubbish pile a small but perfectly formed handle from an ancient jug (it didn’t say Aroma and wasn’t plastic so I reckoned it must be old). We all fell to ground like a team of Indian Joneses, digging at the rubble, wiping away the sand and exposing our treasure. And then it was free, our prize. We held it up and admired its form, its curves and its fine workmanship. Soon this piece of ancient history would be assigned a place in a shoebox, protected for all time, forever a tiny piece of the Holy Lands history.

The new road and junction construction works by Eshtaol, just outside Bet Shemesh came to halt while the department of antiquities sifted through the rubble in a vain and last ditch attempt to find something of historical significance before the tarmac covered the site sealing its secrets forever. Now from my limited knowledge of the history of the area I know that Bet Shemesh and Eshtaol has millennia of history associated with Samuel, Samson, Saul and David, the Ark of the Covenant, the Philistines (no relation) in fact it’s a pretty important place, historically. So when a road is laid or a house is being built the department of antiquities are first on the scene.

The workers were digging a sifting under their sun protective canopies. The area had been divided up into small sections each manned by two men, one digging and one sifting. I wanted a closer look as I have a small penchant for archeology and history. I asked one of the worker if they had found anything. They looked at each other and towards the foreman.

“Nothing,” they told me, “Nothing”.

“Not even a hard of pottery, a handle, nothing. They must have suspected something was here in the first place, what did they originally find”?

“Nothing,” they told me, “Nothing”.

“Very strange”, I said but left it, after all who am I to interfere with their important work. I knew the score. If they found anything significant it would delay the road project. If they found anything really significant it could jeopardize it altogether.

Then I saw one of them pick up a large piece of pottery and cast it aside.

“What was that,” I asked, hoping that of they didn’t want it I could take it.

“Nothing,” they told me, “Nothing”.

“Then can I have it?”

“Its just a piece of roof tile”.

“No its not its got a handle.”

“It’s a milk jug then”. He looked up at me nervously.

“It must be very old.”

Then the foreman walked over.

“This area is not open to the public, please leave it could be dangerous”.

So I had no choice. As I left I gave the digger a long hard stare, he looked down and as I turned to leave I heard a whistle.

Flying through the air for me to catch was an ancient jug handle.

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