JEFFERSON CITY — A child-sized ring, measuring only about one centimeter in diameter, tells the story of a distant past, but also the future of a university program.
The gold circular object inlaid with a turquoise stone, is one of several items discovered during an initial groundbreaking excavation project in the northern Judean Desert — more specifically, the ruins of Herod the Great’s desert fortress, Hyrcania.
Carson-Newman University, in support of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archeology and in collaboration with the American Veterans Archeological Recovery (AVAR), united this summer on the site. The effort is already yielding significant results.
The earliest phase of the fortress date to the late second or early first century BCE: the Hasmonean dynasty. It was later rebuilt and enlarged by Herod the Great. No methodological or scientific archeological excavation had ever taken place at the location until now.
The reality of excavation excites Carson-Newman’s David Crutchley and Marshall King.
“It puts us in the know — to have Carson-Newman linked with Hebrew University is huge,” said Crutchley, who serves as dean of C-N’s School of Biblical and Theological Studies. “This is the citadel of archeology.”
Sharing in the historic summer dig were four Carson-Newman students led by Bill Hild, an adjunct professor at the university. No stranger to getting his hands dirty, Hild has followed his passion for archeology on more than 40 visits to the Middle East.
The opportunity stemmed from a new archeology minor at Carson-Newman. Though the University has a history of introducing students to archeology digs, most recently in southern Jordan, this is the first time of offering a minor to students.
King, who Crutchley credits as the minor’s architect, drew on his love and background in the field when helping develop the new offering. “There’s a lot of connection with archeology in the liberal arts setting,” said King, assistant professor of biblical studies.
The Carson-Newman professors believe the archeology minor has the potential of drawing students from disciplines across campus — whether they are studying history, sociology or computer science.
“It’s a melting pot not only of expertise, but also cultures, and that’s why I think there’s no replacement for archeology. There’s nothing like it,” King said.
“I want our students to leave Carson-Newman knowing that the sky’s the limit and archeology gives them a view towards the limitlessness of their future.”
For rising senior and dig team member Jacob Easterday, the archeological experience uncovered unexpected personal potential.
“I suppose my takeaway is that it helped me mature, it helped me become more well-rounded and much more confident,” reflected Easterday, a biblical studies major, who is also minoring in Greek and archeology.
Matthew Setsor, a C-N graduate student pursuing a master of divinity degree, said that what drew him was the opportunity to see the land connected to his Christian faith.
“It was incredible that I got to participate in this with some really neat people, but it was also overwhelming in a way too, because of the magnitude of where we were,” Setsor said.“The geography of everything doesn’t make sense until you go there and see everything unfold before your eyes.” B&R