Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Great article on excavating Masada

Read it here.

Here's a small sample:

On 11 August 1963, under the headline "New siege of Herod's fort", the Observer published an appeal for international volunteers to join the excavation of Masada, an ancient fortress in the Judean desert. Interested parties had to be available for a minimum of two weeks, fund their own travel to and from Israel, be prepared for harsh conditions, and apply in writing to PO Box 7041, Jerusalem.

"One of the greatest surprises – and delights – of the enterprise, long before we had put scoop to rubble, was the response," wrote Yigael Yadin, the former Israeli military chief of staff turned archaeologist, who was the mastermind, driving force and public face of the dig, in his 1966 book Masada. "We were flooded with applications."

According to Ronald Harker, an Observer journalist who introduced a book on Masada produced by the paper, the applicants were "men and women, rich and poor, young and old, and from 28 countries. None was under any illusion about the nature of the task ... It was made clear that the work would be hard and often boring, the food adequate but not appetising, that the heat of the day would be severe and the nights cold, the comforts (with 10 beds to a tent) would be limited, and recreation primitive if not minimal. Yet ... pleas to join from all parts of the world continued to flow in."

Almost 10,000 people responded to the appeal; many were turned away by overwhelmed organisers. By mid-October the first batch assembled at the desert town of Arad, to be taken by truck to the base of the majestic 2,000-year-old clifftop fortress that was waiting to be uncovered. "They arrived by bus, or hitch-hiked, with rucksacks, suitcases, banjos and typewriters, in shorts, jeans, slacks and skirts," according to a contemporary account in the Jerusalem Post. "Bearded and bespectacled, clean-shaven and clear-eyed, they came from all over Israel and all over the world...

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