The Saga of Sardine Sam: A Mystery at Khirbet el-Maqatir Solved -- By: John J. Davis

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 14:4 (Fall 2001)
Article: The Saga of Sardine Sam: A Mystery at Khirbet el-Maqatir Solved
Author: John J. Davis


The Saga of Sardine Sam:
A Mystery at Khirbet el-Maqatir Solved

John J. Davis

This delightful, fictional, saga was presented by Dr. Davis to the dig community one evening during the 2000 season at Khirbet el-Maqatir. Although written “tongue-in-cheek. “Dr. Davis’ description of the thought processes involved in ascertaining the age and value of artifacts is most instructive.

The Beginning

Little did the crew excavating Tomb T-1 realize that Thursday, May 25, 2000, would be a landmark day in the history of the excavations at Khirbet el-Maqatir.

With perfect stratigraphic control they worked their way through Loci 1 and 2 immediately outside file tomb entrance. As their trowels gently and slowly removed the lightly packed yellowish-red gravel (Munsell-5yr 5/6) and small rocks (6 cm x 8 cm) from Locus 3, an object appeared that left the diggers stunned and bewildered.

There, upright against the entrance blocking stone was a rusted, empty sardine can. “Dr. Davis, what do you make of this?” one inquisitive excavator wanted to know.

“Ah, that is a marvelous find in a matrix that is associated with the modern opening of this tomb,” I responded with appropriate academic flaire. “This might be a clue to whom the tomb robber was and what he was like.”

Bewildered and confused expressions covered the faces of the crew as they attempted to grasp the significance of my assessment. In the scholastic community, superficial observers will, of course, immediately dismiss this find as worthless trash and my interpretation as academic drivel of the worst son.

But the careful analysis of this metallic treasure will go kilometers in untangling the mystery of the tomb robber of Khirbet el-Maqatir.

The Discovery Comes Under Scrutiny

First, morphological indicators are that this can was opened in haste. The indisputable evidence for this is that the lid was left open when discarded and it was not bent all the way back to expose the entire inside. Why was the robber in a hurry? Was he working in daylight and, therefore, compelled to complete the illegal task before someone would show up wanting to know what he was up to?

The curve of the lid is also important. According to a curve metrical analysis done by Professor Achish Featherbelt on sardine cans: “When the cans are made of tin, the curve is usually minimal as compared to those composed of aluminum.” (Featherbelt 1998:2).

The can is relatively small (6 cm x 10 cm) by Mediterranean standards. Its depth (2.5 cm), however, would permit the packing of a sufficient quantity of sardines for a normal lunch requirement as determined ...

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