Williams Students Travel to Israel to Participate in Archaeological Excavations

IMG_0091In June 2013, eight Williams students traveled to northern Israel to excavate at a 1st century B.C. Roman temple site there. This was Williams’s second season of involvement in the project, initiated in the late 1990s by archaeologists from Macalester, Carthage, and Queens Colleges.

Although there is some evidence of habitation around the temple as early as the Iron Age, activity there picked up in the late Hellenistic period, when locals erected a small temple, probably dedicated to a Semitic deity. A few decades later, this shrine was partially razed and a new, larger temple built on top of it. Archaeologists at the site believe that this temple was dedicated to Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, and that the temple was one of the three erected by King Herod the Great in the region of the Galilee. The temple underwent an additional major phase of renovation in the late first century C.E. that expanded the temple’s facade and updated much of its architecture.

Excavations in the temple itself concluded in 2010, and digging has moved into the areas north and east of the temple. The population living around the temple seems to have reached a peak in the early and middle Byzantine periods (4th-6th centuries C.E.), and much of the digging conducted in the last two seasons has focused on revealing the 4th and 5th century domestic and public buildings north of the temple.


Four wind-blown and sun-scorched Ephs at Bet She’an, a major seat of Roman power and administration in the Galilee region. In the background is the amazingly well-preserved Roman theater and the city’s main street, called the cardo. From left to right, Sam O’Donnell ’15, Amy Berg ’14, Lydia Heinrichs ’15, and Elvira Miceli ’13.

Having dug at Omrit during the 2012 season, five of the Williams students (Connor Dempsey ’13, Elvira Miceli ’13, Khanh Nguyen ’14, Amy Berg ’14, and Lydia Heinrichs ’15) returned to the site as assistant square supervisors this year. The 2013 season also witnessed the addition of three new team members, Sharona Bollinger ’14, Emily Loveridge ’13, and Sam O’Donnell ’15. These Ephs joined undergraduate and graduate students from Carthage and Queens Colleges, and well as Duquesne University and the University of Texas.

In addition to their hard work on site, the group took advantage of their weekend free time to explore Israel’s famous archaeological sites. In particular, the students enjoyed their trips to Akko (Acre) on the Mediterranean seaboard, particularly famous for its Crusader defense remains, Bet She’an, an incredibly well-preserved Decapolis city south of the Sea of Galilee, and Caesarea Maritima, built by Herod the Great at around the same time as Temple I at Omrit. The month concluded with a two-day trip to Jerusalem, where the students spent time wandering the Old City, visiting holy sites such as the Via Dolorosa, the Dome on the Rock, and the Western Wall, and touring the Herod exhibit at the Israel Museum.

To find out more about Omrit, please visit sites.williams.edu/williamsinomrit.