What started in 2009 with one student and a professor's prior field experience reaches a culmination this summer in Israel as six Troy University students will take part in the final archeological dig of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon.
Troy University's consortium with Boston College, Harvard University, Wheaton College and the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon officially ends this summer, as the final "dig" of the expedition closes in the ancient Philistine city overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
One of the five major Philistine cities mentioned in the Bible, ancient Ashkelon was occupied mainly from the Bronze Age through the Byzantine Period and is, today, surrounded by the modern city that shares its name, said Dr. Bill Grantham, professor of anthropology and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
In 2012, TROY officially joined the Leon Levy Foundation, Harvard's Semitic Museum, Boston College and Wheaton College in a consortium to continue an ongoing excavation that began in 1985 that teamed professional archaeologists with students and volunteers to conduct annual excavations of the ancient city about 35 miles south of Tel Aviv.
"In 2009, a student, Ms. Hilary Wikle, expressed to me her interest in working at an archaeological excavation in Israel to gain hands on experience in the field of archaeology. I provided her with the necessary contacts and helped arrange for her to participate in the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon," Grantham said. "Ms. Wikle returned to Troy University in the fall very enthusiastic about her experiences and encouraged other students to return to Ashkelon with her the next summer."
The following year, student Daniel Lowrey, from McCalla, joined Wikle on the trip. Both returned with enough enthusiasm about the expedition to convince other administrators at the University to expand the opportunity for other students.
Undergraduate Dean Dr. Hal Fulmer quickly became a fan and, with his wife and Director of Sponsored Programs Judy Fulmer, developed the concept to formalize TROY's participation in the expedition.
"With generous financial support, encouragement, and support from Chancellor Jack Hawkins, Troy University quickly joined the Leon Levy Foundation, The Harvard Semitic Museum, Boston College, and Wheaton College as a supporting institution of the excavation," Grantham said.
Since Wikle's first trip in 2009, some 23 TROY students have participated in the excavation, several returning multiple years. One year focused Grantham's students on the work that Grantham himself had begun more than 25 years prior when he worked as zooarchaeologist at Ashkelon identifying and analyzing animal bone remains from the site that included a large dog burial compound.
"To the person, the experience has been described by the students as a positive, life changing experience," said Grantham. "Many of the students who have participated have pursued or plan to pursue graduate degrees or now work in the field of archaeology as professional archaeologists."
Lowrey, who works as a project manager and staff archaeologist for TerraXplorations, Inc., a cultural resource management firm, affirms that.
"I don't think that I would have kept pursuing a career in archaeology were it not for my experience at Ashkelon," he said. Dr. Grantham's and Troy University's support of me, sending me to Ashkelon, has had a profound effect on my academic and professional development. Having worked at Ashkelon opened a lot of doors for me, demonstrating that I was a serious and committed student."
In addition to his work at Ashkelon in 2010 and 2011, Lowrey worked at the Petra archeological site in Jordan.
Kassandra Williams was part of the student team in 2013 and now manages a plus-size fashion store in Boulder, Colo. and plays trombone in The Mile High Freedom Band, but credits her field experiences for giving her the drive and confidence to succeed on fronts rather than archaeology.
"Digging with the Leon Levy Expedition empowered me as a person, and especially as a woman," she said. "Working in the hot sun for long hours at Ashkelon was a true test of character, and after enduring the season, I had no doubt that I could accomplish much that I put my mind toward."
This year's six-member team consists of: