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Greenfield's archeological team
Photo by Jeremy Beller

Photo by Jeremy Beller

Photo by Jeremy Beller

Greenfield at the site



by Rhonda J. Prepes, P. Eng., November 19, 2012

The Jewish Foundation of Manitoba ( recently awarded Haskel Greenfield, Professor of Archaeology of the University of Manitoba and St. Paul’s College two grants totaling $6000 to give undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in a large archeological project at Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel [an ancient Phillistine city where Goliath was born] . Greenfield is co-directing the excavation of the Early Bronze Age layers at the site with his Israeli colleague, Professor Aren Maeir from Bar-Ilan University.

“This funding is essential because there is no funding for undergraduates anywhere. Undergraduates want to come over and start getting training and it all has to come out of their own pocket and it’s very expensive,” Greenfield explains.

Jeremy Beller says he worked at the site under Professor Greenfield for two field seasons. “As an undergraduate, it was very expensive my first year (2011) on the project as I was required to pay for room and board, flight and the field course. In 2012, I received an award from the Jewish Foundation which was extremely beneficial. It provided the ability for me to be in Israel and to learn from Professor Greenfield and his colleagues. It solidified my finances so that I did not have to go deeply into debt to obtain the experience. For that, I am extremely grateful to the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba"

"From the perspective of a student surviving on loans, an award like this is greatly appreciated,” he adds. [For more information regarding grants from the Jewish Foundation, go to].

Greenfield says that Israel is an exciting place to work. "It’s exciting to involve students in the research and to train the next generation. From our excavations, I am able to get a sense of how early cities are organized. For me, that is intellectually interesting because I have spent my entire career trying to understand why we do things the way we do today. And in order to understand that, you have to go back to the early cities and see how they are organized. The earliest cities in the world are found in the Near East.”

This Jewish Foundation of Manitoba funding comes on the heels of a very large ($2.7 M) Partnerships Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) that Professor Greenfield received in the Spring. The SSHRC is an agency of the federal government that promotes and supports post-secondary research and training in the humanities and social sciences. The SSHRC grant helps pay for graduate student training, salaries, and fellowships this summer in Israel at the Gath project, and the many other costs associated with the project. This grant will allow work to continue at the site for seven more years.

In addition, Bar-Ilan University in Israel and the University of Manitoba have promised additional funding, bringing the total to over $4.0 M. This is possibly the single largest grant for excavation in Israel that has ever been awarded.

As Greenfield says, “The dig is unique because it combines both macro- and micro-archaeological approaches. So much of the evidence of people’s daily life and activities is usually lost during excavation. We have collected a team of specialists from around the world that will help us analyse remains scientifically. Our work goes beyond simply uncovering architecture. The site is filled with streets and houses and workshops, filled with many levels of debris. They include people’s personal effects, remains of food, ritual and other items that allow the behaviour of the inhabitants to be reconstructed. Also, the remains of the animals that they relied upon are also being uncovered. By scientifically excavating and analysing these remains, we will be able to document the activities of the occupants and the way in which the houses were used over time.”

Greenfield’s mandate is to investigate the earliest cities in the region. He is trying to determine what these early cities and their neighbourhoods looked like and how the people behaved. Greenfield wants to uncover every detail he can about everyday life in this early community, from what chores the people did to the tools they used and foods they ate. It will enable scholars to also get a closer look at the origins of Canaanite culture, which is described much later in the Bible.

“We are focusing on the period from about 3000 to 2500 BC (or almost 5000 years ago). We have been able to date the layers that we are looking at. Gath is a huge site. There are 5 or 6 other teams from various parts of the world working on other parts of the site. But, the U of M team and their Israeli colleagues are working on the earliest occupation at the site. Above them, there is almost 30 metres of occupation levels from later periods that were made by the people who lived there,” tells Greenfield.

Since 1996, excavations at the site have revealed rich finds and noteworthy discoveries. These finds have included thousands of pottery vessels of various kinds, shapes and functions, animal bones, plant remains, as well as, ivory decorated artefacts and metal weapons. These discoveries help provide a picture of the various kinds of objects used in daily life in the Land of Israel during the period of time immediately prior to the Biblical period. The most fantastic find in recent years was in 2011, when a 2,900 year old two horned altar of the Philistines, probably used for incense, oils and small burnt offerings, was uncovered by the Israeli team.

Beller, who has become a graduate student after his successful and exciting summer at the site this year, says that “While the discovery of artefacts was exciting, I was most invigorated by being able to synthesize the information obtained from each excavation square. Essentially, I would acquire and describe the findings, then hypothesize how they relate to each other. It was akin to putting the pieces of a puzzle together in order to see the whole picture; being able to envision how people lived in the Early Bronze Age at Gath and watching the development of urbanization. When a new wall, floor or cluster of pottery was discovered, it was intriguing to ask myself why this is here, what purpose did it serve or how was it constructed.”

During this seven-year project, Greenfield and his team expect to locate and analyse human and animal remains, along with more than 100,000 ceramic and stone artifacts. They will be using leading-edge digital scanning technology, which will enable 3D modelling of the excavation area and preserve the removed layers in a virtual environment. Archaeology is the only discipline that destroys its evidence and this is an opportunity to preserve the evidence far beyond what is traditionally done on excavations.

Recently, St. Paul’s College at the U of M has established the Near Eastern and Biblical Archaeology Laboratory (NEBAL), which is directed by Professor Greenfield and his wife Tina Greenfield, who is a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology and is based at St. Paul’s College. It is a specialized lab for the study of ancient communities in the Near East and surrounding area. Many of the artefacts will be analysed there while they are on loan from Israel. For more information about NEBAL, see this video below of archeological students analysing the Israeli artifacts


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