The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

August 13, 2013

Holding history in his hands

Daw visits archaeological dig in Israel

Herald-Banner Staff

GREENVILLE — Randy Daw is no stranger to world travel.

Daw, who is minister at Johnson Street Church of Christ in Greenville, has journeyed on church-planting mission trips to Russia, Ukraine, Mexico and Guyana.

Recently, however, he returned from a month-long stay in Israel where he took part in an archaeological dig in the Ngev desert, unearthing artifacts dating back to the time of King Solomon (10th and 11th centuries B.C.). He also visited the ancient city of Petra in Jordan as well as doing “some touristy things,” but his primary purpose was to excavate.

“I wanted to hold history in my hands, and I got to,” he said.

Daw has long been a student of history, but this trip came about because of his association with Old Testament scholars in the U.S., with whom he had been working as music editor on a collection of songs from the Book of Psalms.

“Several of them were planning this archaeological expedition, and I showed such interest that they invited me to go,” he said. “I am neither a scholar nor an archaeologist; I was invited because of friendship.”

He flew from DFW to Tel Aviv  on May 10, accompanied by his 16-year-old niece, Katie Daw, who is also interested in archaeology. Her trip was a high school graduation gift from the family.

The site of the primary dig that the Daws visited in Israel was at Tamar, about 50 miles south of the Dead Sea.

“The Old Testament scholars were joined by archaeologists under the direction of the Israeli Antiquities Authority,” Daw explained. “That dig has been active since the late 1980s, and there are nine levels we know of so far. This was an outpost and a fortress located at a spring and was in almost constant use since probably before the time of Abraham,” he explained.

In a blog written at the site, Daw said, “Dr. Tali Erickson-Ginni, the primary supervising archaeologist for this site this year, came this morning and we had a good dig. We split into two teams. Three interesting artifacts were discovered in two hours’ time. The first was found with the very first stroke of my pickaxe — charcoal from a fire, which could be used to date this level. Second, but possibly of most importance, is the corner of what appears to be an inscribed tablet. Not enough was there to tell what was written on it, but more may yet be found. Another is a small carved bone (carved to a point, not ornamented).”

Artifacts may be dated in three ways, he said. “One is by inscription, which is rare. The second is by pottery remains, and the third is by radio carbon-dating which is accurate to plus or minus 3 percent.”

The group also found evidence of copper and copper processing. Copper was one of King Solomon’s sources of wealth, Daw said, adding that his niece found the first piece of copper at that level of digging.

“Everything gets documented,” he said. “Broken pottery is the most common find. Some is assembled back at a lab, and some is assembled on site.”

One enjoyable aspect of the dig was bonding with the others working at the site. A group of college students were there from Austin, Rochester, N.Y., Malibu and Kansas. “They did most of the heavy lifting and carrying,” Daw said.

“Our dig was a ‘poor man’s dig,’” he explained. “Everything was done manually.” Daw saw a larger dig in Jerusalem and said it looked like an industrial site in comparison.

Facilities for those working on the dig were well organized.

“There were bunks and a dining hall on the site, so the 18 of us digging during the day didn’t have to leave the site,” he said. “The lady cook was from Michigan. She had learned some Israeli dishes but mostly we ate American food — chicken, steak, casseroles.  Breakfast was Israeli style with bagels, all kinds of  breads and cheese. They also had Fruit Loops for people who couldn’t  take anything else,” he added, grinning.

“The weather was very hot with the highest reading at the dig 121 degrees, and normal was closer to 100-105. A cool day was only 95,” he said. “We wore khaki gear, tropical weight. It became so filthy we just threw it away when we left. Steel-toed boots were required, and heads had to be covered.”

On site Daw saw what are called camel spiders, “bigger than tarantulas,” but they were welcome because they ate scorpions which are also commonplace.

In addition to his time at the dig, Daw also worked as part of a film crew documenting recent discoveries about the times of David and Solomon. They interviewed scholars and visited other sites.  

“I was along as a driver and also as sound man for the filming.” Daw explained that he has had a little experience in sound work, but added with a laugh, “This tells you they were desperate.”  

The Negev desert is another world entirely, an unforgiving place, he discovered.

“In searching for Khirbet en-Nahas (King Solomon’s copper mining site), we split into two groups, but our groups got separated in the desert,” he recalled. “My group made it back to base fine, but the other was out in the heat with 20 mph winds for over three hours, lost. When our Bedouin guides found them, the three were out of water and very glad to see them.

“Neither group found what we were looking for. However at the end of the day one of the Bedouin drivers told us he knew where mine shafts were, so we had almost an hour in two hitherto unexplored copper mine shafts that give every indication of being about 3,000 years old. One was a vertical shaft, and we didn’t send anyone down (because of safety concerns). The other was a horizontal shaft, much larger, and you could walk in. We were the first archaeological team to document it.”

Reflecting on the trip after his return, Daw said, “I walked the sites where Jesus walked, along the shore line of the Sea of Galilee at Capernaum, Jesus’ hometown for about two years. This is the shore just about 25 yards from the synagogue where Jesus himself worshiped, looking very much as it must have in His time. There is nothing I have more desired for this trip, and the experience does not disappoint. To stand where you know He stood when He was teaching was just,” and here he paused, “... a shiver-up-the-spine event.

“The Bible is reliable,” he continued. “Repeatedly, archaeologists search for things and places mentioned in scripture and find them. We interviewed more than one eminent archaeologist who demonstrated how information in the Bible leads to discovery. The things we learn in archaeology confirm biblical events.

“I learned more in a month than I’d learned in all my years of study,” he said.

Daw is conducting an informal class  titled “Archaeology Confirms the Bible,” each Wednesday from 7 to 8 p.m. at Johnson Street Church of Christ, 3401 Johnson. The classes will continue into September and are open to all interested persons.