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King University News :: Study Abroad Trip Takes King Student to the West Bank in Israel

Lauren Miller is a junior at King University (pictured on the far right). With a double-major in Biology and Chemistry major along with a minor in Security and Intelligence Studies, much of her time is spent studying. However, this summer, she found a way to combine her love for science and security and intelligence with an adventure of a lifetime.

When approached by Dr. Don Michael Hudson, associate professor of Religious Studies and chair of Philosophy and Religion at King, about traveling to Israel for an opportunity to participate in an exclusive archaeological dig, Miller thought to herself, “Why not! I love travelling, and an archaeological dig isn’t something you can do every day. I was feeling adventurous when I decided to go.”

In March 2013, King University was granted acceptance into the Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition, an Israeli-German led archaeological expedition of the biblical site of Tel Azekah in Israel. King joined with 15 other universities from across the globe to participate in the Tel Azekah project.

The Azekah excavation is a joint Israeli-German project that brings together the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures of Tel Aviv University and the Wissenschaftlich-Theologisches Seminar of Heidelberg Universität. The project integrates archaeological fieldwork and theory with contemporary biblical and historical knowledge of the Judahite Lowland Region (Shephelah) to shed light on some of the most intriguing riddles in its history throughout the second and first millennia BCE.

Lauren joined Dr. Hudson and his wife and daughter on the trip to Israel. “I’ve travelled to Europe and Central America before, but arriving in Israel was truly a culture shock. The dig is similar to what you would see in the movies, but there is such a science to it. I’m not sure I was prepared for exactly how awesome it would be. When you realize the timeline you are dealing with, it sets in how amazing it is. When you dig further down and find more artifacts, it sets in – I can’t do this anywhere else. This is a 25-year dig, and I am here on year two. What I find will influence what others find in later years. It was just so much fun!”

Geographically, Azekah was located on the border between ancient Philistia and Judah and looked over the Valley of Elah.  The Valley of Elah was one of the major approaches to Jerusalem; it is also where David fought the Philistine Goliath.  At one point, the valley comes to a very narrow gap; Azekah was strategically positioned at this point.  In many ways, Azekah was a gateway to Jerusalem.  Azekah was destroyed in 701 BCE by the Assyrians.  It is one of the last major biblical sites that has not been fully excavated.  In the late 1800’s, two English archaeologists, Frederick J. Bliss and R. A. Stewart Macalister, spent two years digging at the site.  At the end of the two years, they back filled the area and ceased the dig.  Part of the current Tel Azekah dig will look at the areas Bliss and Macalister previously began exploring.

“If you are walking and look down on the ground, you may find pottery. But, as you go deeper and deeper, the more rare things are,” said Miller. “In the second hole I was digging in, we found destruction layers, which means there was likely a house on that spot that had been destroyed. During the two weeks I was there I found a lot of pottery shards and bones, but nothing of a rare significance. There was a carved stone that was found on the other side of the mountain that will likely end up on a museum, and several gold coins were found in a space next to mine. Teammates found early bronze in my square, which is not usually found in Israel.”

While in Israel, Miller spent an extra week working on a separate project that would combine her knowledge of science and intelligence studies. After spending the morning hours on the dig, Miller spent her afternoons preparing for interviews for the research she would conduct. “For my project, I was investigating the tie between security and healthcare in Israel. There is currently a huge conflict between the Israeli’s and Palestinians. During my coursework in Security and Intelligence Studies, we have spent time learning about this very conflict in class. I was approached by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis, [director of the King Institute for Security and Intelligence Studies], to explore and interview Israeli’s and Palestinians along with healthcare providers in the region to get a general idea about what is going on in healthcare in Israel. I went on a few tours and was able to make connections just by talking to people and asking questions. Dr. Fitsanakis was able to schedule an interview for me with Physicians for Human Rights while I was in Israel.”

The topic Miller honed in on was “Does Israeli security have an effect on Palestinian healthcare.”

Since her topic was fairly controversial in Israel, Miller was careful when conducting interviews. “The Palestinians were all quite open to talking with me about my research topic.

“I know that I do not want to be a doctor in the United States. I’ve always felt drawn to go abroad - whether that is working with the government or some other agency, I’m not yet sure at this point. But, to be able to learn about something in class, then go to that place and see it first hand – it was perfect! It has definitely helped push me in what I want to do for my future. Do I want to get involved? Do I want to go back? I made great connections and hope to go back [to Israel].”

While Miller’s future goals include medical school, she is contemplating the idea of working with a government organization like the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or possibly even the United Nations.

“This trip was different from anything I’ve ever experienced. While in Israel, I took time to go to the West Bank to conduct interviews. I did not feel unsafe at any time while there. I first took a tour of the West Bank, then went back to conduct the interviews. I also had the opportunity to go to Bethlehem and Ramallah. One thing I made sure to experience was to go through a check point. I wanted to experience what it feels like. Every day people in Israel and Palestine have to go through these check points. That was something that really changed my perspective. It made me felt dehumanized. I can’t imagine what it is like on a daily basis. It was a humbling experience to walk where they walk and to experience what they experience daily.”

When asked if she would recommend a study abroad trip to an exclusive archaeological dig and a trip to the West Bank, Miller eagerly exclaimed she would. “I highly recommend anyone going on the dig. I definitely plan to go back. I hope that other students take full advantage of this experience. What you find and the experiences you have are life-changing.”

Once Miller’s research is complete, she plans to publish her results.

For additional information on The Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition, visit http://archaeology.tau.ac.il/azekah/ or contact Dr. Don Michael Hudson at dmhudson@king.edu.

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