Zinman Archaeology Institute Head Digs for the Future

Fourteen seasons may seem like an exaggerated amount of time to spend excavating an archeological site, but to Assoc. Prof. Arthur Segal, the new head of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, it is barely sufficient time in which to uncover the foundations of a small 2nd century BCE fortress and a “marvelous underground water supply system” from the Hellenistic period.

The fact is that this dig, which he has been undertaking all these years on the edges of Kibbutz Shaar Haamakim some 20 minutes southeast of Haifa, has actually lasted less than a year and a half in total. Segal can devote just one month each summer to the project.

In a way, this undertaking epitomizes Segal’s joy and yet frustration with the new offices of the Institute he was recently named to lead. With his excavation, there is delight in revealing a Herodian site mentioned by Josephus Flavius in his history of the Jews’ Great Revolt against Rome in 66 CE. There is frustration, though, in the restricted amount of time that he is able to spend in the field on this activity.

Similarly Segal is gratified at the Zinman Institute’s refurbished quarters in a different University building, with its individual laboratories for each period being researched— Pre-historical, Biblical, and Classical—as well as laboratories for geology and for palynology. Although these offices and workshops represent a great improvement over what had been available to the Institute, he is frustrated at not having still more room--for a photo lab, for draftsmen, for storing archeological finds so that members of the Institute may more readily analyze their finds, much of them now scattered in storage places off-campus, in and around Haifa.

Segal wants to make the Institute the central address for archeological undertakings in all of northern Israel. He would like to have the means—and space—for Institute members to carry out several large excavations simultaneously. The Institute, he says, should provide all the tools for staff archeologists to perform their research. But he would also like it to provide a service to graduate students to learn the profession. The lack of funding, for doctoral students in particular, hampers the preparation of a new generation of trained archeologists.

“Archeology,” he contends, “still occupies a popular place among youngsters.” He points especially to Druze and Arab students, who have been showing a growing interest in the field in recent years. Previously archeology had held no appeal at all for students from these communities.

The Zinman Institute is one of five academic-based archeology research facilities in the country. Its task, as its new head sees it, is not to set a research agenda, but to provide a proper work/study environment for scholars and students as well as the required physical tools to carry out field excavations. The Institute recently renewed a three-year agreement for joint activities with the Center for Mediterranean Archeology of Poland’s Academy of Science. There have been talks on the possibility of cooperative ventures with the University of Ankara, Turkey.

“There is so much to dig here [in Israel],” Segal sighs. He explained that each researcher decides on his or her own where to dig and then must do two things: one is to receive a permit from the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is in charge of all archeological excavation in the country, and the second is raise the funding for the dig. At present Zinman archeologists are involved in ten different excavations, almost all of them in the North of Israel.

Segal, who came on aliya as a boy from Warsaw in 1965, said that he has been interested in archeology as long as he can remember. Besides his work at Shaar Haamakim, he has been researching the history of architecture in the eastern Mediterranean. He would like to ascertain the extent to which Roman culture became the source of inspiration for local traditional architecture in Syria, Jordan, and Israel.

Both his own office and the various laboratories of the Institute contain models of famous edifices that archeologists have uncovered, especially in the eastern Mediterranean area. Their precise reconstruction by students acts as a learning tool better than a written report, Segal believes. He only wished he had more room for students to do more such projects.

Back to Table of Contents