Waybright and students celebrate 25 years of archaeological projects in Israel

July 26, 2018

Study Abroad students - Israel 2018

Jonathan Waybright, instructor of religious studies and internship coordinator, has connected VCU students to archaeological projects in Israel for the past 25 years. Since 2009, VCU School of World Studies students have participated in Hebrew University archaeological field schools at Khirbet Qeiyafa, Tell Lachish, and recently, Khirbet Arai, Israel, celebrating a decade of partnership. Waybright and his students just finished their first season at Khirbet Arai, which was led by Dr. Yossi Garfinkle of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Waybright says he looks forward to continued success in working with their partners to uncover the ancient remains of past civilizations lying in the ground in this rich soil for millennia. "Without the collective and enthusiastic efforts of the volunteers who perform most of the work on excavations, the ancient story of Khirbet Arai could not be revealed." 


archaeological dig site in Khirbet Arai, Israel

More about Khirbet Arai

Khirbet Arai ("the ruins of el-rai") are situated approximately 45 miles southwest of Jerusalem in the low hills of ancient Judea overlooking the main east-west roads in the region. Its location is only two miles east of the ancient city of Lachish highlighting the strategical border planning between ancient Judea and Philistia in the 12th-century BCE, the dawn of the rise of the biblical kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon. This is a period when the peoples of ancient southern Israel including Canaanites, Philistines and other Sea Peoples, Israelites, Arameans, and eventually Edomites and Moabites would form the critical mass for their respective kingdoms. Thus Khirbet Arai not only fills in a twelfth gap in the sequences of cultures in the region, but also offers a glimpse into the acculturation processes that blend peoples together in antiquity as they reach for statehood.

While many other historical periods are witnessed by the three-acre mound representing occupation from the Middle Bronze period throughout the Persian and early Hellenistic periods (approximately 2000-400's BCE), VCU volunteers focused on one main period, the Iron Age I (12th-11th c. BCE). This transitional period after the enigmatic demise of the Late Bronze city-state system represents the initial settlement of the Philistines, a group of "Sea Peoples," migrating from the Aegean, well-known from the Hebrew Bible and Egyptian sources.

Perhaps the catalyst or merely a symptom of the collapse, the remains at Khirbet Arai, including monumental architecture, destruction layers and pottery, provide a material cultural witness to the migration and eventual settlement of the Philistines alongside their Canaanite neighbors.