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UVU Students Map Ancient Archaelogical Site in Israel

4 November 2010 No Comment

November 4, 2010
For Immediate Release

For more information: Darin Taylor (801) 863-8168
University Marketing & Communications: Mike Rigert (801) 863-6807
Written by: Karissa Neely (801) 863-6351

A few very fortunate Utah Valley University students spent several days in October in Jerusalem surveying and mapping a portion of the ancient archaeological site of Beit Lehi.

Beit Lehi sits about 22 miles from Jerusalem, and was first discovered in 1961 by Israeli soldiers. The first excavations of the site started in 1983, and quickly yielded an ancient village and well-preserved mosaic floor of a Byzantine-era chapel. Since then, archaeologists have found various subterranean rooms including an olive press, a ritual bath area and a stable. The finds suggest the area was populated from 600 B.C. until the Mameluke Period of A.D. 1500.

“One of the unique things about this archeology site is the vast amount of installations that are below the ground surface, having been chiseled out of the limestone rock that is prevalent in the region,” said Darin Taylor, chair of UVU’s Engineering Graphics & Design Technology Department. “There is basically an entire village underneath the surface of the earth.”

Excavation of the site continues today, and Beit Lehi is known as one of the most prolific archaeological sites in Israel. Though the UVU students and faculty spent just a few days on the site in October, their efforts, too, were prolific. Logan Gurr, David Nelson, Grant Nixon, Ryan Phillips and Kevin Bishop began surveying and mapping the site topographically, under the direction of Taylor and Assistant Professor Danial Perry.

“The student team was able to lay out a complex survey control grid above ground that all the future surveying, mapping, and design work can be related to. As part of this survey, we met with the lead archeological surveyor on the site and tied our survey grid into theirs,” Taylor said.

Perry led a team of students who performed three-dimensional laser scanning of many of the underground chambers, tombs and tunnels.

“UVU is using a scanning technology that is at the leading edge of surveying technology, and is capable of capturing millions of surveyed points in a matter of minutes,” Perry said.

The work was as unique as the site, challenging, but exciting for the students, as they stepped far out of the classroom.

“This was an opportunity to use the skills I have learned in school in a real-life setting,” said David Nelson, a drafting student. “The work we did forced me to call upon much of what I have learned over the last couple of years in school. As I continue my education, the things I learn now have much more meaning because I think of how they apply to the work I did at Beit Lehi.”

Kevin Bishop, another UVU drafting student, agrees.

“To have an opportunity to practice my profession in Israel and survey the ruins of an ancient city in a current archaeological dig is a chance of a lifetime,” he said. “I wanted to go from the moment I heard this was happening. To see things unearthed that had been covered for hundreds, if not thousands, of years was awesome.”

The students also rubbed shoulders with one of the world’s premier scientists, lead archeologist Oren Gutfeld from Hebrew University. Gutfeld is one of the most recognized and respected archeologists in Israel, and was recently authorized to be the lead archeologist to oversee the newest archeology dig of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

“Oren is as close to an Indiana Jones as you will meet,” said Taylor.

More UVU engineering students will have this same opportunity to work at Beit Lehi in March 2011, and there will be many years of work for future students.

“The Beit Lehi Foundation first approached us because of the unique skill sets the UVU drafting students possess. These students are capable of doing the initial site surveying and mapping, but they can also do the design of the facilities and infrastructure that will accommodate those that visit the site in the future,” Taylor said, referring to a visitors’ center that has been requested by the foundation. “We’re going to be on this project for at least five years, and in the future, it could be a project that involves many of our departments.”

Taylor pooled resources from another UVU department to assist them on the trip. Paul Cheney, assistant professor of digital media technology, brought two of his students, Jacob Van Wagoner and Parker Cross. They will produce a movie that tells the history of the site, and the story of its excavation. Cheney also created a three-dimensional online virtual tour of the site, which will be very useful to the Beit Lehi Foundation for the organization’s Web site and for future presentations to the public. Cheney’s virtual tour can be viewed at http://virtual.uvu.edu/beit-lehi2010.

“Alan and Gary Rudd of the Beit Lehi Foundation were absolutely wonderful in the opportunities they offered the team from UVU,” Taylor said. “All in all, the Beit Lehi archeology project is a priceless engaged learning experience for our students and faculty. You can stand in front of a classroom for days on end and try to explain how to survey a project such as this with only a minimal effect. But to actually take the students to a foreign country and to literally place them on an archeology site such as this is an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

The students paid a portion of the cost of their trip, with the remaining funding coming from a UVU grant and the Beit Lehi Foundation. For more information visit http://virtual.uvu.edu/beit-lehi2010, or www.beitlehifoundation.org, or call Darin Taylor, 801-863-8168. The students can also be reached through Taylor for media interviews.

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