Pre-Season Interview with Christophe Nicolle

Why Kiriath-Jearim?christoph 1

The site is in a strategic location at the top of one of the highest Judean highlands near Jerusalem. It is mentioned several times in the Bible, in particular as the temporary repository of the ark of covenant (before it was placed by King David in the Jerusalem Temple), as a border town between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, or in a list of people of return from exile. Obviously, it was an important place from a political and religious point of view. An impression archaeologically confirmed by its five ha. size making it one of the largest sites of the highlands.

how does one approach a site such as Kiriath-Jearim, when we know so little about its archaeology?

There are several ways to document a site before you begin to excavate it. These may include research of mentions and references in ancient texts (here the Bible), travelers’ stories. Surface survey is also useful. In the case of Kiriath-Jearim collected ceramic surface during surveys indicate a long span of occupational time with a densely populated period during the Iron age II (according to the numerous shards already collected). You can also study the morphology of the site (aerial photographs) trying to locate in the actual relief the traces of ancient ramparts, access ramps or terraces. The combination of these various investigations helps the archaeologist to decide his excavation areas location in the most optimal way according to his scientific problematic (in the search of a temple for example). But despite this combined approaches surprises are always possible from the very beginning of the excavations. Without doubt, this is what makes archaeological research so attractive.

How is Kiriath-Jearim different than other projects you have worked on?

The main difference with excavations were I usually participate in the Near East concern the high level of professionalism of the staff’s members and technical and analysis means. Otherwise, in Mesopotamia or Levant, the working conditions are often rather rudimentary and make difficult to record excavations’ data according to the latest technologies using for example “Total station”, photogrammetry, Numerical Surface Model and so on. There is also the number of participants (about 60 people are expected at Kiriath Jearim). On other sites in the Near East where I used to excavate there are most part of the time about a dozen people but we dig with the help of much more local workers (about 40-60 workers sometime more). In fact, the excavations in Israel are similar to the excavations carried out in France.

Knowing all that you know now about the world and about archaeology – if you could go back in time, would you tell your younger self to pursue a different field of work?

No, the choice I made when I was younger to persevere as archaeologist was a carefully considered choice after a brief period in the “traditional work world”. No doubt about not earning a lot of money, the low number of available jobs, the physical pain of archaeology. All these is counterbalanced by different pleasures as learning more on ancient civilizations, the meeting of people of different faiths and cultures, the discovery of beautiful landscapes, the excavation of vestiges of the past that no one has seen before you for hundreds of years. Even for those who don’t wish continue to work in that direction, these pleasant and less pleasant experiences represent valuable life achievements that you will kept in mind throughout your all life. So “come and dig”

 

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