While some students spent their summer working and relaxing by the pool with friends, Karl Berg dug up history under the hot Israeli sun and experienced a culture very different from his own.
Berg, a senior from Bow Mar, Colorado, lived in Israel throughout much of June and July. He both dug and recorded findings from Tel Shimron, a site in Northern Israel near the town of Nazareth. Back on campus, Berg gave a lecture on Sept. 21 detailing his dig, showing pictures of sites he visited, and giving a general history of the region to which he traveled.
Berg’s dig in Tel Shimron offered him fresh insights into the Middle Bronze Age. Although Berg cannot disclose many of the artifacts he found — since the dig has not been published yet — he said he was excited about the prospect of some of his finds ending up in museums.
“It was kind of cool thinking, ‘You know, some of the stuff we find here might end up in this museum, and one day, in 10 or 20 years, come by and say, ‘Hey, I pulled that out of the ground,” Berg said.
During his lecture, Berg showed listeners the different types of rocks and dirt they dealt with, how they would stake out a dig, and how they would identify certain objects. He demonstrated the process — from digging with a pickaxe, to sifting the dirt, to polishing off the artifacts.
Berg said that there were, of course, complications while working with the team. Most of the excavators — including Berg — were volunteers with little experience prior to the dig, some of whom needed training or were overzealous.
“It gets stressful working with a lot of volunteers,” Berg said. “Some seem to take to it faster, and you have different personality types. You have some people that are really careful and detail oriented, sometimes they don’t do it very quickly when you’d like to go faster. But then there are people who just take a pickaxe and start picking at stuff without any direction. And so it’s a tug of war between these two personality types.”
Berg said the dig went well and he was able to locate and uncover numerous artifacts.
Senior Elsa Lagerquist, a friend of Berg’s who attended the lecture, said she appreciated the way Berg related biblical knowledge and truth back to real, tangible places and objects.
“It was one of those situations where you get to watch someone talk about something that they love very much,” Lagerquist said, “and there is something so natural and enjoyable about that which makes you want to care about it as well.”
Interested in biblical history and apologetics from a very young age, Berg had long dreamed of doing an archeological dig. When he was 11, Berg began writing articles and devotionals devoted to apologetics. By his senior year of high school, Berg had compiled enough articles about the Bible, history, and Christianity to publish a book. Rather than pursue traditional publication, however, Berg decided to self-publish his articles on a website he created called “fightfinishkeep.org,” which went online June of 2016.
“The goal of the website is to peel back the layers between us and the first century and help us experience Christianity more by getting into the word of God and bolstering it with archeology,” Berg said. “It’s an apologetics website that explores reasons to believe, and why I truly believe that Christianity is the truth.”
Berg’s dig involved careful extraction of artifacts from Tel Shimron, a site that may help archeologists develop a clearer chronological understanding of the Southern Levant — formerly, the land of Canaan, comprising the modern countries of Israel and parts of Syria and Lebanon. Berg explained that nearly every site throughout Canaan had been destroyed during the end of the Middle Bronze Age. Currently, pottery readings linking the Southern Levant to Egypt and sporadic samples of carbon dating don’t provide a complete chronology to contextualize these destructions.
A clear chronology, however, would clarify both historical and religious events such as the Israelites’ entry into Canaan, he said. For that reason, digging in Tel Shimron is exciting because it’s mentioned as one of the cities conquered by the Israelites in the book of Joshua, he said.
According to Berg, the standard model for the region’s chronology is a forced fit: It struggles to explain pottery readings and remains highly debated among archaeologists.
Pottery readings and carbon datings could shift that chronology — but the direction of that shift remains highly contentious, and more work needs to be done, Berg said.
Understanding the chronology of the region is not just important to archaeologists, but also to Christians and Jews interested in understanding when the Israelites entered the region and biblical history began.
Berg’s girlfriend, senior Kylie Diehl, said though Berg was in a sometimes dangerous and different culture, she was not worried, always trusting that he was under the Lord’s care.
While not an archeologist herself, Diehl said it’s exciting to see Berg pursue something he is passionate about and good at. It also enriches their conversations: “His knowledge of historical context contributes to fruitful conversations about scripture, which is a favorite topic for both of us,” she said.
Berg plans to continue pursuing archeology in graduate study after getting a master’s in biblical exegesis, achieving reading fluency in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, while contributing to his historical understanding of the Bible.
“I’m interested in biblical archeology because (archeology) is arguably the most tangible of sciences.” Berg said. “It’s history and it’s science, and it brings these two together in this study that you can see and feel with your hands, you can dig in it and really investigate for yourself whether something is what you’ve been told.”
To Diehl, it sounds like Berg’s findings belong in a museum.
“It’s basically like dating Indiana Jones.”