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A cow's jawbone and teeth, 2008
photo by Rhonda Spivak

My son with an archeologist on the site, 2008
photo by Rhonda Spivak

my son pointing to an ancient jar at the dig he found
photo by Rhonda Spivak

My daughter resting in a wheelbarrow 2008
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Holy Cow- A Day with Haskel Greenfield

by Rhonda Spivak, October 17, 2013

I have spent time at the  the  ancient Philistine city of  Gath with my children , a  where Dr. Haskel Greenfield (now the co-ordinator of Judaic Studies at  University of Manitoba as of Sept 1 )  has been excavating since 2008. The site is famous because it is now considered to be the Biblical site of Gath, which is one of the major Philistine cities that are described in the Book of Samuel and the Book of Kings.
When we first went to Gath ( which  is the hometown of Goliath who was champion of the Philistine army that the biblical King David killed with his slingshot) in 2008 my children were 8 and 9 years old. They used to ask me what it was that Greenfield did as an archeologist. Now, it wasn't that easy to answer them.  At Gath, he was the project zooarchaeologist, a specialist in the study of animal remains from archaeological sites. But,that was a mouthful for an eight and nine year old.
I explained to my kids that  Greenfield  liked to spend the day finding and looking at old animal bones and figuring out  which animal they belonged to , and why they were found where they were, and what poeple at the time did with these animals.

"What does he do with the bones, when he finds them?," they would ask me.  I would answer that he would take them to his lab and study them and if he couldn't figure out what they were, he would "throw them into a big pot and make soup.!"
My son, who was always interested in the financial aspect of things, would ask if Greenfield got paid to find these bones. I would answer "Yes absolutely." Who pays him? my son would ask. "Good question. The Bone Fairy," I'd answer. "She's sort of like a Tooth Fairy but she deals in bones."
Then they kids would run off and see what they could find.
My son had been on digs with Greenfield and his family before--He had found all sorts of bits and pieces of  pottery shards, glass, and fossils that Greenfield and his wife Tina, (also an archeologist) would identify. They had explained to him what  Roman glass looked like. He had found a piece of pottery that they had explained was the handle of a jar , or the lip of a bowl, from the Roman perieod 2000 years old. When he found a piece of old pottery that had green on it, they explained how it was different from the pottery he had found from the Roman peried , and that it was from the Islamic period. I could tell he was absorbing the information--it was opening up worlds for him.


I remembered too, that when my daughter and son had found purple snail shells off the coast of Netanya, ones we had never seen before, Greenfield had explained that in the ancient world the purple colour from these snails was used to make purple dye.
On our day at Gath, which I can picture as if it was yesterday,as  the adults were touring around, our children went off to play with Noah and Boaz Greenfield, and we could see them in the distance hanging around some tree.

When they returned, they were full of excitement, and their hands were full of all sorts of rigid who knew what.

"Holy Cow," I said.

That's essentially what they have found, Greenfield said.

What? I asked .

He explained to the children, who listened attentively,  that they had  more or less found a bunch of cow bones and a skeleton of a cow's head.

My son  was holding up a very large something or other. "You've found a cow's jaw with its teeth. It's a great specimen," Greenfield told them. [Good for making stew !, I was thinking to myself. Start boiling the water.] 

They had also found a skeleton of a cow's head.[see related photo]

Greenfield identified one of the other bones, as having come from a donkey.   The bones were all " modern," most likely from a cow that had died within the last 20 years or so from a  nearby Arab village.
My children took the lot of bones to our apartment and insisted that they wanted to save them all [We compromised and still have the bone of the cow's jaw and teeth,which we have saved as a momento of our day. [ See related photo].

Later that very summer, the archeological team at Gath uncovered the complete skeleton of a domesticated ass, approximately 4500 years old, in the fill of an Early Bronze III house. As Greenfield explained to us at the time, "It was very  unusual to find a complete intact skeleton and it tells us that people were transporting goods by asses long before camels were domesticated. During earlier periods, oxen would have been the only beasts of burden. At Gath, they have found not only the remains of households, but also a variety of industrial workshops for olive oil making, weaving, and bone tool production."

On the day we were  there, the  Greenfields showed the children the part of the Gath site where archeologists were uncovering pottery.  They went under the dark canopy where the archeologists were.

My son looked over and saw something with a handle under the sandy earth. He went over to see it and pointed the archeologists to it [see related photo].

He watched with eyes open wide as they delicately pulled this complete in tact vessel from out of the earth.

What's that ? my son asked.

It's where we're going to store the left over cow bone soup  once it is made, I answered.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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