From Lakewood Elementary to ancient Israel

Teacher helps dig into history driven by her love for learning

As Erika Spengler digs and sifts through the history of the city of Gezer, she is helping to retell the story of ancient structures dating back 2000 to 1550 B.C. in Israel.

It’s a starkly different scene from Spengler’s classroom at Lakewood Elementary School, but profoundly in line with her love for knowledge.

“As a teacher, I enjoy learning, a trait I hope to impress upon my gifted students,” she said. “Our archaeological teams consist of seminary professors, PhD students, and graduate students which lends itself to an environment of historical curiosity and discussion.”

This year’s return to Israel was her sixth consecutively as a  volunteer with the Gezer Water System Expedition, an archaeological project of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in partnership with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The seminary has been organizing three-week dig seasons at Gezer each summer since 2010.

“The opportunities for friendship and fellowship are a major reason so many volunteers return year after year,” Spengler said. “On the weekends, learning continues as we tour other notable archaeological and Biblical sites. As a Christian, I have come to appreciate how an understanding of the various time periods of the Bible enhances my Bible reading and Sunday school teaching.”

Spengler said her travels in Israel also help her better understand current events in the Middle East.

“As a volunteer I have helped with digging and moving dirt, sifting dirt and mud for pottery, and washing and preparing the pottery findings for professional analysis,” she said. “All pottery fragments are analyzed on site and important pieces are sent to labs for further study.”

The ancient city of Gezer is between modern day Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, near what was once a busy coastal thoroughfare for ancient peoples traveling between Mesopotamia and Egypt. Spengler said the main goal of the project is to increase knowledge of ancient Israel, as well as to better understand the daily life of people and places in the Bible.

Gezer is mentioned in the Bible in the stories of Joshua and King Solomon.

Egyptian sources also show interaction between the Egyptian Pharaohs and the leaders of the ancient city, she said. Today, the site of the ancient city is void of any modern development, making it an unencumbered place for archaeological study.

At the center of the excavation project is the Gezer Water System, comprising of a shaft 12 feet wide, 24 feet high, and reaching down over 145 feet into the earth at a 38 degree angle to a water pool below.

“This shaft would have been dug out by ancient Canaanite people using hand tools and would have been located within the city walls,” Spengler said. “Whether the water system was used for practical reasons, to reach much needed water in an arid land, or for cultic purposes remains to be seen. The water system is the oldest and largest known water system of its kind.”

Spengler added, “The chance to join an archaeological dig, gain lifelong friends, and explore places and history is an opportunity I cherish and hope to continue in the future.”

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