TROY – A group of Troy University students are going to the dogs this summer.
The dogs were buried during the Persian period in Ashkelon, Israel several thousand years ago, and unearthed by TROY anthropology professor Dr. Bill Grantham nearly a quarter century ago. This summer five of his students are returning to the Leon Levi Expedition to Ashkelon to study the skeletal remains for the first time since they were encapsulated in plaster and removed from their burial places.
“It’s a real mystery as to why the dogs were buried,” Grantham said. “There’s just not a good explanation as to why they were buried.”
Equally perplexing is the fact the burials only occurred over a relatively short time period – perhaps 50 years of the more than 200-year rule of the Persians, he said.
The students will be working with zooarchaeologist Dr. Paula Wapnish, who worked with Dr. Grantham and is the widow of his major professor at University of Alabama - Birmingham, Dr. Brian Hesse, who was also a long-time Ashkelon scholar.
The 150-acre site alongside the Mediterranean in southern Israel, the Ashkelon area is home to at least 20 ancient cities dating from at 3500 B.C. to 1500 A.D. Canaanite, Philistine, Babylonian, Persian, Phoencian and Israeli civilizations are reflected in the strata of the excavation.
“I’ll be a long way from Andalusia,” said John Barbaree, a senior social science-anthropology major. “But the people there (Israelis and Arabs) do things just like we do – they’re people just like us.”
Barbaree and fellow students Joel Jackson, a junior from Millbrook and junior Benjamin Conner from Prattville won’t be strangers in the Holy Land, either. All three worked on the “Ashkelon Dig” last summer.
“(Last year) we were introduced at the site as ‘Bill Grantham’s students.’ Everyone there knew what I was about when that happened,” Barbaree said. “That says a lot about the quality that’s expected of us all.”
Joining the three veterans are Hailey Hillsman, a senior from Sandersville, Ga., and Jared Aquayo, a senior from Stone Mountain, Ga.
“Our students are being recognized as bone specialists and they’re being singled out,” said Hillary Wikle, an anthropology graduate who now directs TROY’s Ashkelon component.
The dog burials, she said, would give a glimpse of the ritualistic life of the ancient Persian people, but more importantly the recognition TROY students are receiving in the field is giving contemporaries a unique view of the University.
“When people think ‘TROY’ they don’t think ‘archaeology,’” she said. “We want to see that change.”
Indeed, the archaeology program is growing, thanks in part to the consortium the University joined this year with Harvard University, Wheaton College and Boston College and its efforts in Israel.
“It’s hard to put a price on it,” Wikle said. “Our students are receiving Harvard training, making contacts for graduate school and Ashkelon is just an incredible draw for students.”
Grantham and Wikle last year took all students who applied for the summer excursion. This year, she said, some 45 students – many from other disciplines – applied and the field had to be narrowed to just five.
As part of the consortium agreement, the University will send five students for the next five years to Ashkelon. Since 1985, the Leon Levy Expedition has been the premier America expedition in Israel, training two generation of students to appreciate the ancient culture and uncover history, said Dr. Lawrence Stager, the Dorot Professor of the Archaeology of Israel at Harvard.
“Over the past two seasons, students from Troy University have become an integral part of this Ashkelon experience. Their excitement about the work at hand, capacity for learning new skills, and leadership among their peers have made them true assets to our team and example to our other participants,” he said. “We are excited to see what new abilities TROY students will bring over the coming seasons and we are happy to know that the excavation will continue to benefit from their integrity and ingenuity.”
For Grantham’s part, he’s enjoying seeing both his students find meaningful study while laying the groundwork for future academic study. He’s also proud of his institution.
“For TROY to part of the formal agreement is very satisfying,” he said. “It brings so many opportunities for our students.”