Israeli professor to speak at GVSU

Duane Emery

Most people who are familiar with the Bible know the story of Goliath, and although people may never know how large the man really was, the work to uncover this and countless other mysteries is a massive undertaking.

The event “Searching for Goliath? Excavating Biblical Gath of the Philistines” is being held on Tuesday, Nov. 18 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the DeVos Center in Room 136E.

Since 1996, Aren Maeir has been the director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath archaeological project in Israel. Now, Maeir of Bar-Ilan University will speak to Grand Valley State University on the research being done at the site and its significance to the archaeological world.

“The archaeology is really exciting, but the other exciting part is the cooperation,” said Elizabeth Arnold, GVSU professor of anthropology. “With the upcoming event, Searching for Goliath, Maeir will try to show students the value of archaeology in the real world.

“It’s not like it is in the movies. It’s about being a part of an international community.”

According to Arnold, during the four week excavation season, the project has 70 to 100 students and volunteers working to uncover the secrets held within the site.

“We have students from all over the world: Switzerland, Korea, Argentine, Germany, Italy, Canada,” she said.

Maeir said one of the best parts of the project is working with a diverse, international team with multiple perspective and ideas.

The site has been a known archaeological hot spot since 1889, and has been inhabited by numerous civilizations over a period of six millennia.

“It’s a tell site, we refer to them as layer cakes,” Arnold said. “They’re such a good location that for thousands of years people rebuild on the site.”

She said the Israeli site had been inhabited from 3500 B.C.E. up until at least the medieval period.

Maeir added that this site is great because, “With every shovel of dirt that is excavated, there are new and exciting finds.”

A few of the important finds at the site include the oldest known siege trenches and the remains of a crusader-era castle. According to Arnold, new groups didn’t just appear as old ones left.

“The groups overlapped in some cases,” she said. “There is an entanglement of these groups that is being investigated.”

Part of the discussion at the event will be about the different finds from the dig site, specifically those related to the Philistines.

“I will be talking about the Philistines and their culture, how our understanding of them has changed in recent years,” Maeir said.

As for Goliath himself, Arnold said it would be virtually impossible to find and identify the remains of a specific person from so long ago, however archaeology is about connecting lines of evidence. At the site, they found an inscription that mentions an original form of the name Goliath, which was created in the same time period.

“We have inscriptions in writing with these suggestions that Goliath, as a historical figure, may have existed.” she said. “We won’t be able to identify an individual, but the inscription is pretty strong evidence.”

Although the work has been ongoing for 17 years, the site will continue to be a significant source of artifacts for a long time to come.