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Jerusalem University College

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Did so much today I don't know if I can get it all down on paper before I forget, but here goes:

Today we toured tels, mounds of ruins built up by successive settlement of the same site over centuries. We started at Tel Bet Shemesh in Wadi Sorek, then went to Tel Azekah in Wadi Elah, Tel Mareshah near Wadi Guvrin, Tel Lachish in the wadi of the same name, and finished at Tel Beer Sheva in the Biblical Negev. Our route over the day was basically the 'Diagonal Road' across the lowlands between the Judean hill country and the coastal plains.

At Bet Shemesh we saw a huge cruciform cistern, then hunted for potshards amidst the ruined homes. I found one with paint still on it, part of the rim of an Arabic-era pot.

We saw a family of partridges scatter as our bus drove past.

At Mareshah we climbed down into a collosal columbarium (underground dovecote), its walls honeycombed with nesting niches. Dave, Kirk, Jesse, and I later climbed the tel itself and explored the underground systems below a house elswhere on the site: a network of caves and narrow stone staircases carved into the soft Eocene limestone. It included another, smaller columbarium and an olive oil factory.

I remember the lizards best at Tel Beer Sheva, sand-coloured beasties that scuttled away before we could call everyone else to see them. I got a few photographs of the less cautious ones, though.

- Jeremy Yoder

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We started today by walking through Masada, the mesa-top fortress at which a small band of Jewish Zealots held off the Romans after Jerusalem was destroyed. We climbed up the siege ramp the Romans built up this stark rock in the wilderness by the Dead Sea, and found it covered with ruins, mainly a palace/fortress built by Herod the Great. Otherwise there was very little life up there, except for the occasional scrubby plant and, for some reason, lots of ravens and starlings. Herod put in a full Roman bath house, mosaic floors (an innovation at the time), and a 3.8 million-litre cistern; we saw them all. The Roman siege left its marks, too: the foundations of camps and an encircling wall still surround the mesa. The hike back down was an adventure, too, since I took the Snake Path, the offical entrance to the fort, which winds back and forth down the cliff face for 1200 metres before landing in the wadi below.

From Masada we went to the Dead Sea to bob for a bit; not long, because after about ten minutes the salty, salty water started to seep into all the half-healed cuts and scrapes we've collected over a week of hiking around Israel, and it burned. The Dead Sea is ten times saltier than the ocean, and it isn't hard to find that out. Even a single drop of Dead Sea water on the tonge leaves one wanting to spit.

It was therefore a pleasure to jump into one of the cold, clear pools at the springs of Ein Gedi, a little pocket of tropical-island greenery in the cliffs on the shore of the Dead Sea. We saw ibex hanging out on the upper reaches of the cliffs, and snails in the water.

Our last stop of the day was Qumran, the site of the Essen community that wrote the famed Dead Sea Scrolls. We saw the remains of their settlement/monastary with its elaborate water systems for ritual bathing, and our instructor pointed out some of the caves where the scrolls were found, away up in the cliffs.

- Jeremy Yoder