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Of Tells and Piggy-Banks: An Interview with Dr. Ilan Sharon
Sam: How old were you when you became an archaeologist?
Dr. Sharon: I started excavating in when I was 16, but did not turn this into a career till I was 25.
Sam: What got you interested in archaeology?
Dr. Sharon: I started working on excavations as a summer job, to earn some extra money--and then gradually started to develop an interest in the subject.
Sam: What training or education has helped you most as an archaeologist?
Dr. Sharon: Before I started studying archaeology at the university, I took a degree in mathematics. I find it has taught me how to think logically and how to look at problems and solve them. I think it's very important to study something else besides archaeology.
Sam: What kind of archaeological work or what field do you work in?
Dr. Sharon: I am a mid-eastern archaeologist, and I excavate "tells," which are large mounds, made by the rubble of successive construction and then destruction of several ancient cities, which stood on the same spot.
Sam: Can you tell me about any interesting field experiences you've had?
Dr. Sharon: Some years ago, one of the volunteers in our excavation was picking in the dirt and found a small bowl. When we picked it up, a small hole appeared beneath it, as if it covered a cavity. As we gradually excavated, we found out that the bowl was covering a jar, stuck into the ground. Inside the jar was a hoard of silver (about 10 pounds of it) in tiny little pieces. At that time (about 1000 BCE) there was no money, so people paid for things with pieces of silver, which they carefully weighed to reach an exact amount. Apparently, this jar was someone's piggy bank, which they buried in the corner of their backyard, and every time they made some money, they would remove the bowl, and put the pieces of silver in the jar. They must have been pretty rich, because ten pounds of silver was worth a lot back then (it still is...) We don't know what happened to make them leave all their wealth behind and never come back to take it.
Sam: Where have you found your most interesting artifacts?
Dr. Sharon: Almost any site has interesting artifacts, if you can find out or speculate about the stories and lives behind them.
Sam: How many hours a day do you work at a dig?
Dr. Sharon: We usually work in the field (in the summer) from 5:00 AM till 9:00 AM, take an hour for breakfast and a swim (the site is on the beach) and then work again from 10:00 to 1:00 PM. In the afternoon (from 4:00 to 7:00) and evening (7:30 till whenever we finish), the volunteers and students have lectures, and the staff (except those giving the lectures) sort the finds of the day or do their paperwork.
Sam: What tools do you use?
Dr. Sharon: We sometimes use picks and turiahs (like a flat bladed hoe), and sometimes small patishim (like a geological hammer) and trowels or even dental tools for delicate work.
Sam: What would you say to a child who was thinking about archaeology for a career?
Dr. Sharon: I think sixth grade is a little early to think about a career. I would never have imagined, in sixth grade (or even at the beginning of college, for that matter) that I would end up a career archaeologist. I think the reverse is true, too--so give yourself a chance and don't get locked in on one option too soon.