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Grace Students’ Summer Merged Sand, Studies, and Ancient History

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Summer and sand, for the most part, are synonymous with beach. But for two Grace College students, that meant a dig in the desert this summer. Ben Gruber, a May, 2018 graduate from Harlan, Ind., and Christian Prater, a senior from Sheridan, Ind., spent six weeks excavating Tel Burna, a site in the Sephelah region of Israel between the border of ancient Judea and Philistia. Their summer’s work involved archeology digging by day, and technical archeology lectures by night.

Grace College students Ben Gruber (third from right) and Christian Prater (second from right) spent six weeks in Israel this summer working at the Tel Burna Excavation Project. Photo courtesy of the Tandy Institute.

Most days, Gruber and Prater began digging at 4 a.m.  In the afternoons, they would document and analyze their finds, and then attend evening lectures given by experts in the field.  Lectures provided a technical understanding of archeology, which they could then put into practice during daytime digs.  Everyone looked forward to the weekends, when the group took time to tour the historically rich country.

“The dig gave me a chance to learn in the field, and the lectures and weekend tours gave context and life to the history we were uncovering,” said Gruber.  “There’s really no learning like hands-on learning, which is what we did all summer.  It was fantastic!”

Dr. Jared Burkholder, chair of the History and Political Science Department who helped create the archeology minor at Grace College, called the student experience in Israel “truly incredible.”  According to Burkholder, “Students not only have a unique cross-cultural experience working with people from all over the world, but they dig and discover things that literally contribute to the body of knowledge about the ancient world.”

Grace College student and Sheridan native Christian Prater (bright blue shirt) searches for ancient artifacts on a dig in the Sephela region of Israel.

Grace College student and Sheridan native Christian Prater (bright blue shirt) searches for ancient artifacts on a dig in the Sephela region of Israel. Photo courtesy of the Tandy Institute.

Prater fulfilled a childhood dream of visiting Israel by going on the trip.  “The experience gave me a working vocabulary of archaeological terms and a solid base of fundamentals,” he said. “Our colleagues at the dig were kind, offering a lot of help and insight for the new people. Their enthusiasm for rare or interesting finds was incredible, like opening presents at Christmas.”

Gruber and Prater, both archeology minors, completed the field experience requirement for their minor with the Tel Burna dig.  This is the third summer that Grace College students have traveled to Israel to participate in the Tel Burna Excavation Project with the Tandy Institute, an umbrella organization for the centers, museums, and academic programs that contribute to archaeology and archaeology research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

On the last day of the dig, Grace College students and their peers took all of their finds to a lab in Ariel, Israel, where they will be added to restoration projects like the pottery one pictured here.

On the last day of the dig, Grace College students and their peers took all of their finds to a lab in Ariel, Israel, where they will be added to restoration projects like the pottery one pictured here. Photo courtesy of the Tandy Institute.

“I have seen the way this experience fuels students’ interest in learning more about the ancient world. It expands their horizons, and some will become archaeologists as a result. But for those who don’t, they create memories that last a lifetime,” said Burkholder.

All Grace College undergraduate students are required to complete a cross-cultural field experience like the Tel Burna Excavation Project to earn their bachelor’s degree.  For more information about Grace College’s academic programs and requirements, including the minor in archeology, visit www.grace.edu/academics, or call 800-544-7223.  To learn more about the Tel Burna Excavation Project, visit their blog.

Tagged With: 2018 Archives, Academics, Career Preparation, Department of Humanities, History & Political Science, School of Arts & Sciences, Service