Preserving the Past
The 2014-2017 Field Seasons at Tel Akko
SHARE's "Common Ground" Initiative seeks to promote dialogue, participation and understanding between the Arab and Jewish residents of Akko, Israel. Akko, a UNESCO World Heritage site, lends itself naturally to such a project. The predominantly Arab Old City is separated from the predominantly Jewish New City by a series of fortifications dating to the Ottoman era. Young people from each community attend separate schools and are taught in separate languages. Interaction between the communities is rare, if not discouraged outright. Our Akko program is designed to engage local youth (aged 14-18) in an exploration of Akko’s past and present. In partnership with the Penn State Tel Akko Total Archaeology Project and the International Conservation Center (ICC), fourteen Jewish and Arab young adults were selected to participate in this season’s conservation and archaeological field school. The program consisted of three intensive days of conservation training and practice followed by a week of archaeological training and excavation at Tel Akko.
The ICC is situated in a historic Ottoman house within the old city of Akko and serves both as a classroom and as a laboratory for teaching the latest techniques in archaeological conservation. Building on curriculum developed and refined over the past three years, this season’s conservation training included all stages of planning, documenting and preserving historic structures within Akko’s old city. Participants were grouped into several conservation teams and had to work together at each stage of the process to carry out their projects from start to finish. Under the guidance of professional conservator Salim Amar, participants learned how to perform free-hand and scale drawing of historic walls in the old city; how to mix and use mortar for restoration, and how to precisely measure, cut, and install masonry. They were able to immediately apply all these new skills by helping to restore a section of the historic fortification walls of the Old City. Our students embraced this challenging curriculum, which was originally designed for college students, and once again exceeded our expectations.
During the second week, participants joined the archaeological excavations taking place at Tel Akko, where they worked alongside volunteers and field staff from a number of American universities. This season's projects on the Tel, led by Penn State's Tel Akko Total Archaeology Project, consisted of ground and aerial survey, excavation of historical material ranging from the Iron Age up through the Roman period, and the collection, cataloguing, and analysis of artifacts. SHARE participants received training in and actively contributed to all facets of the excavations.
This year’s cohort of SHARE participants included several students from previous seasons who returned as associate staff members. These students took on a leadership role within the group and actively shared their knowledge of conservation and archaeology, as well as their experiences of building bonds and understanding with the more junior participants. The integration of junior and associate staff positions went hand-in hand with a robust curriculum of activities and workshops. We were very fortunate to once again have the expertise of Dr. Jamie Quartermaine, Dr. Justin Lev Tov and several other experts, who lead workshops on faunal analysis, ceramic reconstruction and 3D mapping using radio-controlled drone aircraft. These workshops proved to be tremendously successful. With four years under their belts, some of our returning junior and associated staff had more field experience than their American counterparts and, on occasion, were even observed instructing them in the field.
As in previous seasons, the interaction between American volunteers and our program participants was vital in three key ways: firstly, the Americans were able to gain a local perspective from members of the community and vice-versa; secondly, the Americans gave our participants a sense that the work they were doing was not only interesting, but also had intrinsic value; and thirdly, by introducing a third party into the discussion, we were able to shift the dichotomy from Arab and Jewish to local and visitor, which helped establish bonds within and between the “local” groups. This participant-driven, bottom-up and mutually beneficial approach in which all parties contribute and benefit from the rewards of interaction lies at the heart of SHARE’s curriculum and philosophy of change.
I worked well with J., a lovely girl that I really had a connection with. She is Palestinian, and I think that makes us closer because we found out we are very similar. Arabic and Hebrew are the same family, which I knew in theory, but with J. I finally realized it.