My favorite day in Israel was when we went to Beit Guvrin Archaeological Park. It is about an hour outside of Jerusalem. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses the ruins of the ancient city of Maresha. By the time we got here, I was feeling a little “ancient history-ed” out since we had been to so many ancient cities and temples and ruins. But, that all changed when we got here. Why? Because we got to uncover pieces of history when we dug in one of the 800+ caves in the area.
I learned that whenever one group of people took over another group’s city, they usually destroyed the city so they could put up their own gods and temples, etc… But, during the reign of a guy named Antiochus, when the invaders came to take over the city, they gave the residents a choice – convert to our faith and be slaves, leave with nothing, or we’ll kill you. The residents decided they would leave, but, before they did, they destroyed their city. They knocked down every building, set fire to anything that would burn, and broke everything they couldn’t carry with them. Like in other cities, the new regime built on top of the old city. Did you know that there are places in Israel that are more than 20 levels deep? That means they have been taken over, torn down and built on top of at least 20 times!
Anyway, we got to go down into a cave called Cistern for our dig. The archaeologists named it Cistern because it used to hold water 2000+ years ago. We dug for an hour or so and we unearthed lots of pottery shards, animal bones and charcoal pieces. After we dug, we made a bucket brigade to get our 23 buckets of dirt out of the cave. Then, we sifted the buckets and found even more artifacts. It was kind of unreal to think that I was the first person to touch pieces of a plate or cup in more than 2 millennia!
After we sorted out all of our finds, we got to go cavecrawling. If you are afraid of the dark, or small places, I do not recommend this part for you. If those things don’t bother you, you should definitely go! Our path through the caves was lit by small candles. We saw the dovecotes, holes people had dug in the walls for their pigeons to live. A lot of the connected caves are unexcavated. Our dig guide said there are thousands of caves at Beit Guvrin. Another cool thing we got to see was an ancient olive press. It was huge. I learned that olives are pressed almost the same way now as they were then.
If you have any chance to go Dig for a Day, go!