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UPIKE students reconstruct artifact from biblical period

January 26, 2018 12:00 AM
Pikeville, Ky.
When the president of the University of Pikeville Alumni Association began sharing his love of biblical archaeology with the campus and community he never imagined his hobby would create an opportunity for students and faculty at his alma mater to restore pieces of history.

In 2017 Tommy Chamberlin worked with the university, the Associates for Biblical Research, and the City of Pikeville to bring Khirbet el-Maqatir: A Journey Through Biblical History to his hometown. The exhibit’s success went beyond the walls of the historic York House that housed more than 250 artifacts for display.

Since the exhibit was located within walking distance of campus, UPIKE faculty joined Chamberlin to take full advantage of the opportunity to incorporate unique experiences into their courses.

James Browning, Ph.D., professor of religion, developed two special topics courses including “Archeology Reconstruction” and “The Bible and Archeology.” During the class students studied, examined and researched pieces of pottery as they worked to assemble a 3,700-year-old pithos [large storage jar] that Chamberlin recovered during an archeological dig in Shiloh, Israel, last summer.

Chamberlin knew the potential significance of his find when he discovered the rim of a pithos. The rim is indicative since the shape and style of the rim are distinctive to the time period the piece was created.

While part of the excavation team at Shiloh, Chamberlin received permission from Shiloh’s directing archaeologist, Scott Stripling, to bring the pieces of the pithos to UPIKE’s campus to aid in student research and incorporate into the classroom experience.

“How many opportunities does an undergraduate student have to hold a 3,700-year-old artifact and put it together again?” asked Browning. “The opportunity to experience these artifacts; it really makes history and the history of the Bible come alive. This is an opportunity that would normally take place at a major research school.”

Abigail Leavitt is among the students enrolled in the “Archeology Reconstruction” course. She enrolled at UPIKE in fall 2017 after meeting Chamberlin on the archeological dig at Shiloh sponsored by Associates for Biblical Research. Leavitt, a field trained archeologist, shared her knowledge with her fellow students having been a member of the team that recovered the artifacts and packaged them to ship to the university to be used as educational tools. Leavitt is a freshman history major from Lewiston, Idaho. Interestingly, some of the pieces Leavitt recovered during excavation at Khirbet el-Maqatir were on display at the biblical archeology exhibit in Pikeville.

To identify the time period of the rim of the pithos, Leavitt used a previous excavation report detailed in a book, “Shiloh: The Archaeology of a Biblical Site” by Israel Finkelstein, renowned archaeologist who excavated at Shiloh in the 1980s. She determined the pithos dates to the Middle Bronze II period. That discovery was significant since several Middle Bronze III period artifacts have been recovered at Shiloh but until Chamberlin made his discovery, no one had ever found a restorable complete pithos from the Middle Bronze II period. The Middle Bronze II period is the earliest occupation settlement and is associated with the Canaanite period.

“The time period is significant because it dates the piece to the time when Shiloh was founded by Canaanites,” said Chamberlin. “Shiloh is most prominent in the book of Joshua. Joshua sets it up as the permanent home to the tabernacle.”

The “Archeology Reconstruction” course was co-curricular as art faculty included the project in several of their classes including 2D design, art appreciation, basic drawing and sculpture. Ben Clayton, Ph.D., professor of chemistry, made a chemistry lab available and worked with students to learn how to use adhesive on the pithos reconstruction project.

During the reconstruction course, students, along with a few volunteers, worked to match pieces of pottery sherds before beginning with the actual assembly.

“One of the things that Dr. Browning was discovering was that students had to take into account the curvature of the pottery,” said Pat Kowalok, MFA, professor of art. “As they were gluing some of the small sample pieces together, they were laying flat, and a sculpture needs to be thought about in the third dimension. A lot of the assembly depends on markings, how the coils were added, thickness, visual observation and texture. Students had to think spatially as they rotated and handled the pieces, seeing in three dimensions ultimately.”

Once fully assembled the pithos will stand approximately four feet tall and be displayed on campus.

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