Collecting Artifacts and Knowledge

August 19, 2015
Kaitlyn Justus
Kaitlyn Justus, 2015 Dean's Summer Internship Award recipient

This summer, thanks to several generous gifts in support of Dean David N. Hempton's campaign initiatives, HDS launched a new effort to provide students with financial support so they can serve communities locally and abroad through organizations unable to offer paid summer experiences.

The inaugural Dean's Summer Internship Awards are $4,000 stipends that enable several MTS students to make positive contributions through internships with nonprofit or public service organizations, and then take those experiences with them back into the classroom in the fall.

Below, one of the award recipients, Kaitlyn Justus, explains in her own words how the stipend allowed her to work for the Jezreel Valley Regional Project in Israel, and how working closely with scholars abroad helped her grow personally and professionally. Previously, Erez Golan, a fellow award recipient, wrote about his work with the New Israel Fund in Newton, Massachusetts.


With the generous funding that Harvard Divinity School provided, a few archaeology classes under my belt, and my first-ever international plane ticket, I spent two months working as the registrar and office manager on an archaeological excavation at the Roman site of Legio, Israel.

The Legio Excavation is one of the main excavations of the Jezreel Valley Regional Project (JVRP), an archaeological organization whose goal is to gain a complete understanding of the history of the entire Jezreel Valley region from the Paleolithic through the Ottoman period. The JVRP is cutting-edge in the sheer scope of their inquiry, their techniques, and their being the first archaeological project to have full cooperation from both Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

I was excited to partner with this archaeological organization in particular because of their commitment to an integrated and holistic approach to understanding not only the most ancient, but also the more recent aspects of the history of the human settlement of the Jezreel Valley.

When I arrived in Tel Aviv on May 25, I was greeted by a city that looked eerily like my hometown of Los Angeles, California. There to meet me at the Ben Gurion Airport was Dr. Robert Homsher, a college fellow in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard. Dr. Homsher also serves as assistant director of the Jezreel Valley Regional Project, and is the person who helped me every step of the way to make it to Israel.

Those familiar aspects of the situation alleviated some of my anxieties. As we drove out of the city toward Kibbutz Mizra, where we would be staying during the excavation season, I listened as Dr. Homsher and another staff member discussed previous seasons, other archaeologists, and recent articles. It was clear that I would be learning more from the people I was surrounded by than any field school could ever teach me.

On the first day of work, my alarm loudly announced that 4 am had arrived. An hour later, I was hiking through dense forests, my eyes fixed on the ground in search of evidence of ancient human settlement—and also for snakes.

Before the rest of the staff and volunteers arrived for the regular digging season, a small group of us were conducting a survey of nearly 7 square miles of the Jezreel Valley. Systematically, we searched, discovered, logged, and GPS-marked every ancient human installation in previously unexamined forests.

These finds were frequently the holes for vineyard stakes, wine presses, quarries, and occasionally cisterns and caves. We also took samples of pottery from the surface of agricultural fields for some indication of what might lay below the produce or livestock.

Once our excavation season began, we focused solely on our site at Legio. Every morning the team would pile onto a bus and take the short drive to site, beginning work just as the sun began to rise over Mount Tabor.

This was the first full-scale excavation at Legio and the first excavation of any Roman legionary base in the eastern half of the Roman Empire. The second and third century C.E. Roman architecture that we were looking for was not far under the earth, and many of the architectural stones we uncovered were scored by the countless plows that had been used in the field for the past 2,000 years since the military camp went out of use.

We uncovered extensive pipe works, the remains of several buildings, and what may have been the roads that cut through the encampment. We also found innumerable roof tiles, sometimes stamped with the name of the VI Ferrata Legion.

My time was primarily spent dealing with the artifacts that came out of the ground. As the registrar, I was responsible for making sure every artifact was accessible to both the field archaeologists during the season and to researchers who will study the finds later down the road. I assisted our small finds specialist with the preliminary analysis of objects and spent a great deal of time registering objects in the JVRP’s new computerized database.

After the season ended, I moved from Kibbutz Mizra to the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in East Jerusalem. For two weeks, I continued processing the finds from Legio, preparing certain groups of finds to be sent to specialists for further analysis, and exploring the Old City and the rest of Jerusalem.

The Albright Institute is a hub for many archaeologists who are either about to begin, or have just concluded, excavation in Israel and other nearby countries. Rubbing elbows (or eating Jell-O) with so many scholars in such an informal setting was a little surreal and extremely helpful as I began to discern my next step toward a future in archaeology and academia.

The two months I spent in Israel laid the foundation for an ongoing relationship with the JVRP and my career development. I am grateful to so many people who made my summer one of immense personal and professional growth.

Thank you especially to Matthew Adams, Robert Homsher, Melissa Cradic, Jonathan David, Yotam Tepper, and the rest of the Legio staff for being incredible teachers, mentors, and examples of ethical archaeologists. My unending thanks go out to Harvard Divinity School for giving me the opportunity to partner with the Jezreel Valley Regional Project, a truly groundbreaking archaeological organization.

–Kaitlyn Justus is a master of theological studies degree candidate at HDS. You can view photos of the JVRP Legio excavation on their Facebook page.