The AIA Annual Meeting in Toronto

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) is the oldest organization in North America devoted to the studying and disseminating knowledge about archaeology. In many ways, it’s similar to the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) and American School of Oriental Research (ASOR). All three pursue relatively similar goals, release beautiful magazines, and organize annual meetings that include poster sessions and book sales. The major difference between the three organizations is that ASOR and BAS tend to focus mainly on the archaeology of ancient Near East, whereas AIA is inclusive of all times and regions from around the world. Articles on modern sites from Europe and the US aren’t uncommon for the AIA’s popular Archaeology magazine.

I first learned about AIA back in grad school, which was roughly five years ago. I was researching different conference opportunities when I accidentally came across the name and found out that it would have the annual meeting in Toronto in 2017. Back then, it seemed so far away, only that the time went by so quickly.

Like most people, I wanted to start off this year on the right foot. One of my new year’s resolutions was to start attending more lectures and cultural events. There was no better way for me to begin 2017 than by attending the AIA Annual Meeting that was held at Sheraton Center Toronto Hotel between January 5 and 8.

Naturally, I couldn’t attend all the lectures, as many of them ran simultaneously.  However, I was fortunate  hear talks about the sites of Omri and Huqoq in northern Israel, a few Persian and Mesopotamian sites, and the site of Tel Tayinat in southern Turkey.  I also met Dr. Jodi Magness, a distinguished professor specializing in early Judaism who is also the principal director of the Huqoq Excavation Project.  She had published a number of articles and books on archaeology of the Holy Land.

The book sale and poster session that ran throughout the meeting were awesome. Even though I didn’t end up buying too many items, it felt nice to just walk through rows and rows of beautifully designed books published by the world’s leading academic presses like Oxford, Princeton, and Cambridge. While roaming through the hall, I ran into Dr. Andrew Vaughan, the director of the ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives (CHI), an organization where I currently volunteer as an indexer.  He was very happy to see me, and after a brief conversation, I was allowed to take sample journals from the ASOR.  Now I have a pile of articles to read on topics, ranging from archaeology of Cyprus to issues surrounding heritage preservation.  I’m hoping to start reading them soon.

On the very last day of the meeting, I attended a pottery drawing workshop by Tina Ross, a Canadian archaeology illustrator. Although I don’t plan to pursue archaeology any time soon, I found the session fun and informative. Sometimes, you just have to allow yourself immerse yourself into things you enjoy the most. For me it’s the study of our past with all its discoveries and enigmas that I find inspiring. I use archaeology in my writing extensively, and as a member of the CHI, I’ll never stop believing in a brighter future for the field.


Don’t Forget to Slow Down this Holiday Season!

This Christmas eve, while I was doing some last-minute gift wrapping, my phone buzzed. It was an editing opportunity through one of the companies for which I work. The rate wasn’t bad, but the problem was, the assignment would be due at six a.m. in the next morning. I decided to turn it down. After spending the last few months working on several big projects simultaneously, I realized that I cannot live in a racing mode forever. And so shouldn’t you. Sometimes, slowing down is the best thing you can do for yourself.

The holiday season can conjure a variety of emotions. In the ideal world, it should be the time of pure joy and happiness. For many, however, it’s a very stressful time. Searching for the perfect gifts, juggling family gatherings, and even spending hours in a traffic jam just to get to some major mall during Boxing Week can easily leave you feeling overwhelmed. For students, freelancers, and, broadly speaking, people of many occupations/life paths, the time before the holiday week is often the busiest time of the year, when deadlines, exams, and other commitments can take toll on one’s health and emotional well being. No wonder that the feeling of depletion often sets in once the initial hustle and bustle of holiday preparations is over. The good news is that this feeling is fully preventable.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or any other religious/secular holiday, most likely, you’re spending lots of time with your family members and friends. And this is great! Connecting with people you care about the most is vital. No matter how busy we are, we all strive to make time for those who matter to us the most. However, it’s equally important to make time for yourself. So don’t feel guilty about picking your favorite book, taking a solo walk, or just chilling down on the couch.

Barring some world events and celebrity deaths, 2016 has been a great year for me. After several years of doing gigs on a side, I finally launched my editing business. The journey to freelancing was far from an easy one. I had to learn the ins and outs of web design, social media management, and self-marketing. I also ran into a lot of projects that led nowhere and even had to deal with a few clients who refused to pay. When something isn’t working quite right, it’s easy to allow self-doubt to take over. In the end, I found courage to continue trying, and my efforts paid off. I found lots of wonderful clients, both in my local community and outside. In addition to freelancing, I also published my first book and began working on another (More details are coming soon!).

Wherever you are in your life journey, I’m sure you’ve had some ups and downs as well.  If you fulfilled all your resolutions for 2016, it’s awesome! If you didn’t, don’t be hard on yourself. There’s always another year and another opportunity for growth waiting for you around the corner. Remember to slow down and simply enjoy this special time of the year.

This year’s holiday season is particularly special because two major religious holidays, Christmas and Hanukah, fall on the same date. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the history behind these festivities, I highly recommend an article by James Tabor, a renowned Biblical scholar. You can read it here.

Wishing everyone a happy 2017!

Archaeology Digs as a Form of Travel

Lately, I’ve been feeling very nostalgic. As it’s now summer time, most archaeological digs in Israel and elsewhere in the world are underway. It seems that every time I log into Facebook or Twitter, I learn about yet another fascinating discovery that had occurred either spontaneously or thanks to an organized dig.

For anyone interested in travelling to one of history-rich countries, I strongly recommend signing up for an archaeological dig. The benefits are endless. You’ll get to  travel around the country of your stay, meet interesting people, and possibly, get a chance hold a tiny, two-thousand-year-old shard of pottery. Just make sure you have realistic expectations because if you think you’ll find gold on the first day, you might end up becoming disappointed.

In most cases, your room and board will be covered, so you won’t have to worry about finding a place to sleep or eat. Most dig sessions last somewhere between two-to-six weeks and are quite flexible with the duration of their participants’ stay. Whether you’ve got a whole month  or just a couple of weeks available for a learning vacation, you’ve got a plenty of choice.

My participation in the Bethsaida Excavation Project from three years ago was one the most rewarding travel experiences of my life. I got to be part of the project’s team and to meet many wonderful people, with whom I still stay in touch. To those who know little about the site, Bethsaida is located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and has a prominent role in the Bible. During the tenth century BC, it was the capital of Geshur, a kingdom that encompassed sites from present-day northern Israel and parts of Syria.[1] According to the New Testament tradition, it was a hometown of at least three apostles and a place for one of the healing miracles.[2]

Some of the daily activities at the site included digging and sifting, taking levels, cleaning finds, and reading pottery. On Fridays, the site directors would take us to a small storage room located at the basement of the Igael Aalon Centre in Kibbutz Ginosar, where we were staying, and show us all the findings from past years. Such included storage jugs, bowls, Greek amphorae, and many others.

During the weekend of the dig, our group had a chance to tour the Golan Heights and discover many historic sites, including Gamla, the Nimrod Fortress, Katzrin, and Banias. At the end of the dig, I stayed in Israel for one more week with my husband. Together, we chose to travel a bit more and discover more places around the country.

Many countries, including Israel, Greece, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, and even the United States, have archaeological projects that are actively recruiting volunteer participants. For anyone interested in signing up for this adventure, I compiled a list of some facts about archaeology digs.

Digging in the field can be hard.

If you prefer lying on a beach to hiking, then an archaeological dig might not be for you. You’ll be expected to get up in the wee hours of the morning and work in the field until the afternoon. Surely, you’ll have a few breaks in between, but you might still find the level of work challenging. The Bethsaida Excavations Project had a pottery cleaning for those who weren’t up to digging, but not all digs are the same. Some even require medical assessment to ensure all participants are in a good physical shape. So before signing for a dig, be honest with yourself and determine if that’s what you really want.

In many ways, archaeological digs are similar to hostelling/backpacking experience.

While some digs do offer the solo option, the most popular type of accommodation is a dorm with rooms meant to be shared by three-to-four participants. When digging at Bethsaida, we stayed in a small village known as Kibbutz Ginosar that offered accommodations in both luxury and backpacking styles. I chose the second option because 1) I couldn’t afford to stay in a regular hotel room and 2) I wanted to experience backpacking before having kids.  And I didn’t regret it the least. I got to meet many people from around the world, chat with Bedouin maids in Hebrew, and experience the real life on the dig. For me, staying in the dorm was the way to go.

The big difference between an archaeological dig and a backpacking trip lies in the amount of stuff you’ll need to pack.

While it’s technically possible to travel around Europe with nothing but a backpack, packing lightly for a dig will present some challenges. First and foremost, a water flask, which can take up a lot of space in your suitcase, is mandatory. Working for long hours in a hot weather can be taxing on your system, so you’ll have to remember to stay hydrated.  Since buying water bottles every day can be costly, it’s best to bring your own flask and fill it up with water. Another necessity is a sun hat and closed-toe boots. If you decide to stay longer than two weeks, consider packing extra clothes and toiletries to avoid doing too much laundry or running for a toothpaste to the closest convenience store at midnight. Although these items would be useful on a regular trip too, they are essentially for surviving on an archaeological dig.

Dig participants are incredibly diverse.

Volunteers who sign up for archaeological digs come from varying age groups and backgrounds. During my stay at Bethsaida, I got to mingle with students from the Truman State University who were taking a credit course, independent travelers in their twenties and thirties, and retired participants who had time and resource to feed their passion for archaeology. Most people from the “mature” group were well-seasoned professionals from fields, such as medicine, law, engineering, and higher education. No matter with whom I would end up sitting during lunch or dinner, we would always find something in common. We would talk about our favorite books, artists, and past trips. Even after three years, I still keep up with many of the former volunteers and staff.

Some Final Thoughts

The idea of spending a holiday slaving under the sun can appear daunting to some people. However, it’s important to keep in mind all the benefits of participating in an archaeological dig. Not only will you save money on food and accommodation but will also get a proper exposure to the culture of the country where you’ll stay. When travelling to a particular place, we often chose to focus on the tourist sites only. As a result, we often miss out on experiencing the true essence of that place. The best way to experience the real Israel, Spain, or Italy is to stay in a small village for a few weeks. Barring the Temple Mount Project and a couple of projects in Rome, most digs happen far away from the busy capitals, where it’s much easier to become acquainted with the real culture of the area.  So do at least consider becoming part of a dig!

Israel, My Love

It’s around eleven in the evening. My daughter has been sleeping peacefully for several hours. However, I’m still up, working on yet another freelance project. Suddenly, I hear the unmistakable playback from the morning news on the Radio Lev Hamedina and realize it’s getting late. The Toronto clock has hit past midnight.

Many of my friends wonder why I had decided to learn Hebrew or what on earth is the Kol Israel app doing on my cell phone. I’m not Jewish and have no plans of converting to Judaism. In fact, I’m perfectly happy with my Russian Orthodox heritage and plan on raising my kids this way. I simply find all things related to Israel, both ancient and modern, exciting.

I’ve been fascinated with Jewish/Israeli culture since thirteen and had even received a master’s degree in Ancient Israel. Now that I’m no longer in a grad school, I still keep on reading everything about the topic, from Bethsaida‘s annual field reports to books and articles written by Hershel Shanks. Most of my favorite music artists and talk shows are of Israeli origins. Some may find such fascination a bit strange, as Hebrew doesn’t have the same role in the popular culture as Spanish or French. Well, if a white person can enjoy Luis Armstrong’s jazz songs, there no reason why I can’t enjoy Boaz Sharabi’s ballads.

Before I continue, let me mention that Israel is VERY controversial. News, media, and differences in political opinions can easily turn a simple Mediterranean country into a hot topic. When discussing my last visit from three years ago with Pakistani coworkers over a cup of coffee, I wasn’t sure how to call the Golan Heights. Should I call the region Syria or Palestine? I thought to myself. I didn’t want to offend anyone. Many people, especially from the Eastern Hemisphere, don’t agree with the results of the Six Day War, and I fully respect that. Yet I can’t help myself but feel relieved that the world still has Banias, Katzrin, and Gamla secluded from the Syria’s conflict. Controversies aside, Israel is an amazing country for a variety of reasons.

#1 Israel makes a great tourist destination.

No matter what your interests are, you’ll always find something special to enjoy. Love nature? Try hiking in Ein Gedi or the Timna Valley Park. Are you an archaeology enthusiast? Consider signing up for an archaeologcal dig. Most digs are quite flexible with the duration of stay and can be easily fit into personal vacation plans. By becoming part of a dig, you’ll meet many interesting people from around the world and make an invaluable contribution to the archaeological research.  A thematic tour is another great option. Depending on your religious background and personal preferences, you can sign up for a Holy Land tour, which will focus heavily on sites from the New Testament, a Jewish heritage tour, which will include famous synagogues and historic centers, or even an ecological tour, which will mostly likely take place in the Arava or the Negev desert.  Even if you’re one of those overworked people, who want nothing more than spending an entire holiday on a beach, you can still benefit from a week-long getaway in Tel Aviv or Eilat. Both cities are famous for dining and nightlife, so rest assured you won’t get bored during your stay.

#2 Israel has an amazing entertainment scene.

Neither Sarit Hadad nor Miri Messika is topping the world charts. In fact, most people have no clue about who they are. However, it doesn’t mean these singers aren’t awesome.

Israeli music is quite diverse, as it bears influences of several cultures, including Eastern
European, Yemenite, Mediterranean, and, of course, British/ American. It’s not untypical to hear a rock song with Middle Eastern melody or a nostalgic ballad reminiscent of Russian music from the 90s. One can also hear Mediterranean songs infused with an addictive dance beat, clearly influenced by current trends in the music industry.

Israeli music scene is also very inclusive. Not all Israeli artists are of Jewish origins. Nasrin Kadri who had won a popular talent show two years ago is an Arab from Haifa, while Sharif, a famous mizrahi singer is Druze. Sameh Zakout (AKA Saz), who was born in an Arab town of Ramlah, was presented an opportunity to travel to Los Angeles and participate in the second season of Chai Be La La Land, a reality show that aimed at exposing Israeli singers to the international music. Let this be a mental note to those who believe in the “apartheid state” propaganda.

#3 Israel has made a great contribution to the world technology.

In spite of being relatively young (only 68 years), Israel has become one of the world leaders in science and technology. Many of its inventions, such as Intel, are being used all over the world. You can find the complete list of the technological inventions here.

#4 Israel is rich in history and culture.

This point needs no further explaining. The world-famous Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran, the prehistoric megaliths from the north, and the
Greco-Roman temples from various sites across the
country are a product of thousands years of history. Israel is one of the few countries in the Middle East where archaeological research is actively encouraged by the government and where it’s possible to experience both Egypt and Mesopotamia in a relatively safe environment.