Accidental Archaeology -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 06:3 (Summer 1993)
Article: Accidental Archaeology
Author: Anonymous

Accidental Archaeology

Nothing in life is accidental.

He who believes in accident

does not believe in God.

(Alexander Yelchaninov)

On a recent flight home from Israel, I noticed an article in El Al’s inflight magazine ISRAELAL on the discovery and excavation of Ashkelon’s “Wine city.” The paragraph that intrigued me the most stated: “Ir Hayai’in - The Wine City - the most significant find uncovered by chance and one of the most significant archaeological finds of the last decade, was discovered by blind luck when Ashkelon contractors skimmed off two million cubic meters of sand north of Barnea as land fill, for a low-lying tract of land in the middle of the city, slated for building. Underneath the sand lay the Wine City - one of the largest and most prestigious wine-producing complexes in the ancient world: Gaza-Ashkelon Wines.”

Due to the mass immigration into Israel from the former Soviet Union, numerous areas in Israel have been hurriedly prepared for housing sites. In this case, bulldozers leveling a site three kilometers north of Ashkelon uncovered the residue of the ancient wine producing community.

As I finished the article, I pondered the words, “uncovered by chance...” and “discovered by blind luck...” I wondered just how many archaeological discoveries have been made by sheer accident. Upon returning, I put in a call to Vassilios Tzaferis back in Israel. Dr. Tzaferis is the Director of Excavations and Surveys for the Israel Antiquities Authority. It is his department that directly handles the identifying and surveying of all Archaeological sites in the country. His task is to protect sites that may be exposed during building activity, road construction and the like. For some fifteen years now the Antiquities Authority has been conducting surface surveys, and have logged over 14,000 sites into their computer.

Dr. Tzaferis told me that some 40 percent of all the sites that come to the Antiquities Authority are the result of the “accidental” discovery!

That may seem like an amazing statistic - that almost half of all the sites in Israel under archaeological survey have come to light due to sheer luck and good fortune. Perhaps more amazing is the reality that some of the monumental archaeological discoveries of the last two centuries have been the result of just such chance and good fortune. A soldier’s shovel here, a farmer’s plow there, a Bedouin shepherd roaming the barren hillside - and the results are a matter of archaeological history!

So just what has been uncovered accidentally you ask?

Well, the list is quite impressive. In fact, it reads as a so...

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