Tel Gezer gate discussion archaeology Israel

Israel Archaeology: Volunteer On An Excavation In 2023

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Wondering how you can volunteer on an excavation in Israel in 2023? This post is going to talk about where and how to be an Israel archaeology volunteer, what to expect, and more! Israel archaeology volunteering is easier than you might think, and there are tons of options for time involved, location, cost and more, so read on to make your next trip an archaeological vacation!

So, what is an archaeological excavation really like? How does one go about becoming Indiana Jones? I have a secret for you – Indiana Jones was just an explorer. He wasn’t actually doing archaeology, and everything that happened in the movie would have happened with or without him! So good news – anyone can get involved with archaeology!

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Tel Zippori Arches dig - Israel archaeology volunteer
Digging in the Arches Reservoir at Zippori (Sepphoris), in which we found a wine press

Archaeology volunteering opportunities in Israel in 2023

Sifting for finds at the Tel Gezer excavation

⛏️ Israel archaeology volunteering anytime of the year, any year:

⛏️ Summer digs in 2023 open for Israel archaeology volunteers:

Check each link for up-to-date info like cost, dates and application information!

🌴 Visit or find out about other archaeological excavations: Israel Nature and Parks Authority runs the sites open to tourists. Visit their website for information and to plan your own tour!

Archaeology in Israel for tourists

Tel Gezer Israel archaeology
A group of archaeologists visits Tel Gezer for the closing tour and ceremony

Volunteering on an excavation isn’t the only way to experience archaeology when you visit Israel! There are tours, museums and other volunteer opportunities to explore. Here are all the ways to discover archaeology and how to volunteer:

⛏️ Israel Archaeology Tours

You can go on an organized tour with a tour company. These range from being biblically-focused, large-group tours to small, private tours. You can go on a 2-week organized tour, or even travel with your own group (or solo travel) and go on multiple small tours during your stay!

Here are a few tours you can do in Israel and beyond:

🐪 Go on this Dead Sea, Masada at Sunrise & Ein Gedi Nature Reserve Tour from Jerusalem

🐪 Go on this City of David and Underground Jerusalem Day Trip from Tel Aviv

🐪 Go on this 16-Night Israel Jordan and Egypt Tour

For more tours like these and places to stay throughout Israel, check out my main Israel page.

Sarah filming an Israel archaeology volunteer at the Tel Gezer excavation
Filming an archaeology volunteer at Tel Gezer, Israel

⛏️ Israel Archaeology Museums

Aside from exploring all the archaeological sites in Israel, you’ll want to visit the museums where you’ll find all the important artifacts safely kept and displayed, with information about them! Here’s where to go:

Israel Museum Archaeology Wing – Jerusalem

Rockefeller Archaeological Museum – Jerusalem

Eretz Israel Museum – Tel Aviv

Answers to all your Israel archaeology volunteer questions

Archaeology isn’t something most people learn much about in school. The best way to learn is to get involved and volunteer on a dig, but it’s also good to read up a bit on archaeology first!

⛏️ Here are answers to the most-asked questions for a little Israel Archaeology Volunteer 101:

⛏️ What is archaeology?

Archaeology (the official definition) is the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains.

In other words, archaeology involves studying physical remains from the past to learn about human history. Archaeology involves studying multiple subjects, making it part social science, part history:

  • Anthropology
  • Sciences
  • History
  • Religion

There are specializations within archaeology, including the area studied, time period studied, and subjects such as:

  • Archaeobotany: The study of ancient plant remains like seeds
  • Archaeozoology: The study of ancient animal bones and other remains
  • Underwater archaeology
  • Pottery
  • Lithics: The study of stone tools
  • Bioarchaeology: the study of human remains

Archaeology first came about in 19th century Europe out of antiquarianism. Problems with archaeology include lack of money and interest from the general public, artifact looting, pseudoarchaeology, people opposed to excavating human remains, and more.

⛏️ What is an archaeological survey and how is an archaeological excavation different?

Tel Zippori Mossad Pool Israel archaeology volunteer
An official photo for the Zippori dig

An archaeological survey (also called a field survey) consists of searching a site’s location to gather information about the location itself as a whole. It studies a much larger area than an excavation, and doesn’t include any digging into the ground. A survey can find things like surface objects or walls that can be used in making hypotheses and assessing new projects. Other methods used in surveys include GIS, GPS, remote sensing, geophysical survey and aerial photography.

⛏️ What is the importance of archaeology?

Archaeology is the only way to study ancient civilizations, including ones that existed before the invention of writing (in prehistoric archaeology). Even after writing was invented, ancient writing has been found in excavations which provides new information about even known people from the past. Archaeology is important to help us discover:

  • How ancient people were similar to, and different from, modern people and civilization
  • How ancient people did amazing things like building the pyramids
  • Climate change, which likely caused people to migrate in the past, and to help understand climate change today
  • Answer questions about people that could be misunderstood based only on textual or other evidence

⛏️ What is the purpose of archaeological excavation?

Israel archaeology volunteers at the Tel Dan Archaeological Excavation
Israel archaeology volunteers digging at Tel Dan in the Golan Heights in Israel

Archaeological excavations serve various purposes. They answer questions about past people and civilizations, climate changes and more. Each specific excavation serves its own purpose as well.

Archaeology is a destructive science – it destroys whatever is being excavated. Because of this, sites are not usually excavated in their entirety with academic excavations because future archaeologists will have better tools than we do (and also, money is limited). However, sometimes a site does need to be excavated more completely in certain circumstances to save the data, if it’s at risk of destruction, for instance.

Sometimes an archaeological excavation might take place to find a known city or town, that has been mentioned in texts like the bible; other times, it might be that a site is found where a road or building needs to be built, and it must be excavated to get the information first. This is known as as salvage excavation. Other times, an area might be at risk of natural erosion, or looting might have occurred there.

⛏️ How much do archaeological excavations cost and how are they funded?

Sarah archaeology Masada Dig group
Group photo from the dig at Masada

Archaeology costs vary depending on the dig, location and more factors. People must be paid, and some digs hire workers versus using volunteers. Tools cost, as well as paying people who clean, preserve and store the findings. Usually the government deals with these things. In Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Is the government organization responsible for most of the archaeology in the country, as well as the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA). Funding also comes from private donors and university grants.

⛏️ Can archaeologists keep what they find?

Not generally, because archaeological finds typically need to be studied, preserved and stored or displayed. However, Israel digs usually unearth tons of pottery sherds, and if they’re non-indicative – meaning, not important for telling what kind of pottery, what time period and people, etc. – usually these get disposed into a pile. You’re not allowed to bring them on flights home, but you can ask when volunteering if you can take a piece home as a souvenir!

⛏️ Can archaeologists get rich?

Monetarily, no – archaeologists don’t get rich by doing archaeology! There is enough trouble in getting funding for digs to begin with, that most jobs in archaeology pay minimum wage. So, you have to love what you do or have a side gig.

⛏️ Do archaeologists study dinosaurs?

No, the study of dinosaurs is called Paleontology. This is because dinosaurs preceded human history. Paleontology studies fossils and dinosaur bones, as well as other ancient animals, plants and bacteria. Archaeologists are different because they study the remains of ancient humans.

⛏️ What is the oldest archaeological site in Israel?

Ubeidiya is the oldest archaeological site in Israel. A prehistoric site dating to the Paleolithic period, it’s around 1.55-1.2 million years old and is located in the Jordan Rift Valley, near the Sea of Galilee and Masada.

How Israel archaeological sites are excavated

Tel Gezer Canaanite Gate dig archaeology Israel
Volunteers participate in the dig at Tel Gezer in Israel in the Canaanite Gate

Excavation of an archaeological site is something that has evolved with time, and became more standardized as the field became one of serious study in the 20th century. Here’s some info on the history and methods so you know what to expect when volunteering, but also so you can understand what you’re looking at when touring a site!

⛏️ History of archaeological excavation methods

Ready for a quick (and fun) archaeology history debrief?

Archaeology hasn’t always been accessible or organized. In the past, looters found sites and took whatever they could find of value, leaving no organized record of where things were found, what time period they were from or information about the context of the finds.

It was only in the first half of the 20th century that archaeology became a subject in universities!

Today, when you see or participate in an archaeological excavation, you’ll quickly notice certain things that are part of the accepted methodology, or process, of digging. It hasn’t always been this way – and by that, I mean it hasn’t always been this neat and organized.

⛏️ Archaeological excavation process

Sarah Tel Gezer Canaanite Gate Israel archaeology
My very first excavation at Tel Gezer in the Canaanite Gate!

You’ll notice on archaeological excavation sites that there are equal squares where the digging happens, and there are walls of dirt left in-between the squares. These walls of dirt are called baulks, and they exist to keep the areas and recording clean and free of error.

Most archaeology in Israel (and many other places around the world) takes place on hills, or tels in Hebrew. Civilizations would build on top of each other, and over time it would create man-made mounds. Within each tel there exists the layers of ancient civilizations, all very close (like, mm or cm) together.

When digging, you can tell the difference between them by looking at the differences in the strata, or layers of dirt and rock. Then, as you dig and find artifacts, those can be dated using radiocarbon dating and such to find scientific proof of the time period from which they originated or were last used.

Artifacts, when found, are photographed in situ – without moving them – and the context of the find is recorded. Then, the artifacts are tagged with certain information and stored so they can be cleaned, studied and preserved later on.

Like I said, though, things weren’t always this neat and organized. Even chronological and typographical organization wasn’t always the norm.

William Flinders Petrie is known as the Father of Archaeology, and he developed the system used today of dating archaeological layers based on the ceramic and pottery findings, which influenced Egyptian archaeology significantly.

The grid system of excavation that I mentioned earlier (digging in squares with baulks) was first developed by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the 1920s, and was then improved upon by Kathleen Kenyon, who dug in places like the City of David in Israel.

⛏️ How archaeologists identify sites for excavation

Archaeologists use a variety of methods to find where to excavate. They use written and oral history and records, aerial photography, ground penetrating radar and surveys.

What to expect as an Israel archaeology volunteer

Masada sunrise photoshoot during archaeological excavation in Israel
Sunrise photoshoot at Masada – standard practice at the end of each dig for recording each area

Here’s what to know about volunteering on an excavation in Israel and what to consider.

⛏️ How much does it cost to participate on an archaeological dig?

Costs for archaeological digs can range depending on the amount of time you’ll be volunteering and the specific dig cost. What you’ll pay usually includes your room, meals, guest lectures and field trips on the weekends. Most digs last 4 weeks, and if you volunteer for the whole month you’ll pay between $1500-$5000.

Masada archaeological excavation Western Palace
Volunteers digging at Masada in the Western Palace

⛏️ Time of year and weather for Israel archaeology volunteering

Most archaeological digs take place in the summer, when it’s really hot. This is because it’s dry and doesn’t rain, and it’s also a time when people are on a break from classes. However, some digs take place year-round if they’re salvage digs, for instance, or other times for a variety of reasons.

For instance, the excavation at Masada in Israel takes place during the winter break because Masada gets too hot in summer due to its location.

Summer digs start the earliest and end by 12-1pm to avoid the highest heat, and shade tents are typically set up to provide protection from the sun.

Sarah Israel archaeology volunteer at Tel Gezer excavation in Israel
Digging at Tel Gezer in the Canaanite Gate

⛏️ Length of the dig for Israel archaeology volunteering

Like I mentioned earlier, digs usually last 4 weeks, but you don’t have to volunteer all four weeks – you can usually go for any amount of time you’d like! Just make sure to contact the people in charge and tell them your dates in advance so you can procure room and board and know what to pay.

⛏️ Other opportunities for Israel archaeology volunteering

You can do more than simply volunteer on a dig! Here are more opportunities you can find with archaeology:

I volunteered on digs with a University before going to intern with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority via a Masa program. After that, I got a Masters degree in archaeology through the international program at Tel Aviv University (TAU).

Sarah filming in the Tel Gezer water system in Israel on the archaeological dig volunteering
Filming a volunteer in the water system tunnel at Tel Gezer, Israel

⛏️ Will I find artifacts on an archaeological dig?

Yes, you’ll most likely find many artifacts on an archaeological dig ranging from pottery sherds, to full pottery vessels, to tools and even things like jewelry, coins and figurines.

Typically, most artifacts are found during the last week of the dig. This is because at the end of each dig season, the squares may be filled in with dirt to protect the finds, meaning the beginning of each new dig season consists of setting up and then digging the fill dirt.

⛏️ A typical dig day for Israel archaeology volunteers

Each day on an archaeological excavation, which are usually four weeks, includes waking up around 3-4 am to arrive at site before sunrise. Digging begins with the sunrise, so that once the early afternoon heat arrives, the workday is complete and diggers can leave the site. There is lunch and, usually, a coffee break during the work day.

The work includes pickaxing and lighter digging/sweeping. There’s sifting dirt for finds, pottery wash, and tagging of items. A dig also includes a lot of bucket lines (to empty dirt-filled buckets) and wheelbarrow dumping!

The set-up includes squares that are measured and marked off with string. As the digging happens, it is done in a way to keep the square even and neat. The area in-between squares is called the balk and the sides of the area are called the section. You can see the layers in the section, which is why it must be neat and straight. It also is necessary for photos, which are used to study and research the area.

Tel Hadid archaeology excavation in Israel
Setting up squares to start digging at Tel Hadid

Some excavation sites include areas that are non-traditional. These can include tombs, water systems and wineries, for instance, where you may not see the traditional methods being used. For example, in the water tunnel at Tel Gezer all the digging was in mud, so sifting was not dry. Instead, a system was set up to pressure wash the dirt!

After returning to wherever people are staying, pottery wash happens. Pottery is in buckets marked with tags that have all the information about which area, layer, etc. it was found. The buckets are filled with water and soaked, then volunteers scrub off the dirt with a brush. The pottery is then left to dry and later is “read” by experts.

Tel Gezer Pottery Artifact Tagging - Israel archaeology volunteer
Archaeology pottery and artifact tagging

The main pottery (indicative sherds) includes those belonging to the rim, base and handles, as well as any pieces with painting, writing or engraving, which can tell exactly what time period and what type of pottery the sherd is from. Pottery typology is a study of just that – types of pottery which are made in specific regions and time periods and have defining characteristics.

Tel Gezer Pottery Reading for Israel archaeology volunteers - indicative sherd example
Eli Yannai from the IAA reads pottery at Tel Gezer

⛏️ One example of pottery being used for a major study is Rosette stamp seals on handles found at Ramat Rachel.

After the pottery wash, people can shower and rest, and usually this is followed by lectures and lessons. Students have to go to these for credit, while volunteers can choose. Lectures are on other sites or any topic related to archaeology. Dinner follows these and then the staff works while volunteers and students usually hang out until bedtime.

⛏️ Things to expect as an Israel archaeology volunteer:

  • Getting dirty and sweaty
  • Getting up before dawn
  • A lot of hard physical labor (it is serious and purposeful work)
  • If you’re unable to do all the physical labor, you can do other things like sifting or assisting with finds
  • Excitement when things are found and questions are answered (this includes artifact find, structural finds and more!)
  • Being sore and feel like you’re at a boot camp of sorts
  • Experiencing a lot of fun and camaraderie
  • Making memories to last a lifetime
  • Being proud of yourself
  • Feeling like you’re a part of something bigger
  • Learning a lot
  • Every dig is a bit different

What you’ll need for Israel archaeology volunteering

Sarah in the tunnel at Tel Gezer, Israel archaeology volunteer
In the 180-ft deep water system tunnel at Tel Gezer in Israel

Before volunteering on a dig in Israel, know what to expect – namely, work and heat! Expect to be sore, especially the first week as your body adjusts. Also be prepared to be sweaty and dirty! Here are some things to pack to help you do your best:

⛏️ What to pack for an archaeological excavation

Here are all my recommendations for what to bring on an excavation (I’ve gone on a lot of them, so I speak from experience!):

👉 A really, really good water bottle and/or cover

You’re going to need to drink A LOT of water, and you’ll be buying big bottles of water. You can either get a big cover (buy in Israel) or bring a cooling water bottle to pour the water into. You can also bring this Brita Stainless Steel Water Bottle and Replacement filters for the Brita Water Bottles that filter the water as you drink it!

👉 A Hydrapak Water Reservoir

These are one of my go-tos when it comes to going on an excavation as well as hiking and touring around Israel, because you can easily drink water when you need to without reaching for your bottle! Hydrapaks have a beyond lifetime guarantee, and they’re compatible with a range of backpacks and more benefits – read more with the reviews here!

👉 A daypack that can get dirty

Sarah photographing a colorful street in Amman, Jordan with travel daypack

This daypack packs into a small pouch for a daypack that can get dirty. It’s lightweight, plus it has places for drinks on both sides. I’ve used this on multiple trips and it’s one of the best things I have for travel! Especially for excavations, this is perfect – your carry-on won’t be ideal because it will get dirty, so having a bag you can clean – but also pack away easily – is fabulous!

👉 Apple AirTags for Luggage Tracking

A lot of people experience having to wait on their luggage when arriving in Israel (it’s happened to me before, too), so I recommend Apple AirTags to help you track and find your luggage.

👉 AirTag Covers for the AirTags (these are the ones I have)

👉 Electrolyte packets

You’ll definitely need to replenish your electrolytes between the sun, sweat and water you’ll be drinking!

👉 A proper sun hat

Get a sun hat that goes all the way around to actually protect you from the sun – this is one of those cases where you actually need one!

👉 Hiking shoes

Durable hiking boots or hiking shoes provide safety and make outdoor activities so much easier! Personally, I love shoes vs boots for when it’s extra hot outside (like on excavations). Salomon hiking shoes are top-rated by hikers and companies – check them out below for women’s and men’s:

🥾 See Women’s Salomon Hiking Shoes Here

🥾 See Mens Salomon Hiking Shoes Here

👉 Sunscreen

👉 Durable, cool clothing

Bring old clothes that can get dirty, and that will keep you cool on the hot days!

👉 Cooling cloths

These are cloths you can put water on to cool you down. I have them and have found them incredibly useful!

👉 Earthbreeze Fragrance-Free Laundry Detergent Sheets

You’ll most likely be hand-washing clothes… this is going to be your new BFF!!

👉 Universal Power Adapter

This one works for the US, UK, EU, and AUS:

👉 Protein bars and other snacks

On digs, you don’t eat breakfast first thing, but you do go to work. I have to eat protein first thing in the morning, and I love these Mini Clif Bars for traveling.

👉 A travel coffee mug and instant coffee (or you can buy coffee in Israel)

You might get a mid-morning coffee break on the dig, but personally, I need coffee first thing! Just an expert tip 😉

👉 Bandana

It’s also nice to have a bandana for when you’re in the shade digging, or just to have on hand for dirt and such.

👉 Shekels

You can get shekels ahead of time to make sure you can buy things on grocery trips and all that. Having a bit of cash on hand is definitely necessary in Israel.

👉 Tissues

You can buy these there – Israel doesn’t always have TP at places like rest stops, so it’s a good idea to carry your own.

👉 Good moisturizer

Your skin will most certainly get dry from digging, so make sure to bring good, thick moisturizer!

👉 Sleep Mask and ear plugs

You’ll most likely be sharing a room on the dig, and you’ll need your sleep. I recommend a good sleep mask like this one:

👉 Microfiber Towel

This is the perfect travel towel, because it takes up little space and is quick to dry. You might want it as an extra or for the beach.

👉 Sunglasses

👉 Portable Charger Bank

👉 Photography Gear, if you want: Most of my dig experience was coupled with doing video and/or photography. There are a lot of amazing photo opportunities in Israel and on digs, so if you’re into photography I recommend bringing your gear along!

👉 SIM Card or Other Phone Plan: You can get a SIM card at the airport on arrival, or do an e-SIM or International Phone Plan. A SIM card is the cheapest option!

👉 Travel Credit Card: I wish I had known this younger, but you can avoid foreign transaction fees on your credit card if you get a travel card! I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred and I love it (the free flights from points I’ve gotten way exceed the minimal yearly fee, but there are other options without any yearly fee, too)!

What you’ll need to plan your visit to Israel

👉 For flights, WayAway is a flight aggregator that helps you find the cheapest flights. Use the code MUKI-TRAVELS for 10% off WayAway Plus.

👉 If you rent a car, just be prepared, especially for driving in Israel. You’ll need to be an aggressive driver. To rent a car in Israel, is a great tool to use.

👉 Use the apps Moovit (for public transporation) and Waze (for driving directions).

👉 Find more tips on things like travel insurance, what to pack, and more on my travel resources page.

More Israel Guides, Travel Resources + More

👉 Check out my Guide to Jerusalem & The Four Quarters of the Old City

👉 Here’s my Guide to Tel Aviv

👉 Find out the Best Time to Visit Tel Aviv

👉 Find the Best Israel Day Trips from Tel Aviv

👉 Here’s a list of What To Do In Haifa, Israel

👉 For places to see in Egypt, including more archaeological sites, check out this Cairo Guide.

👉 Here are more guides to international places to photograph and explore.

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