By MYRON LOVE At the age of 69, Haskel Greenfield, Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Manitoba and co-director (with his wife, Professor Tina Greenfield) of the university’s Near Eastern and Biblical Archaeology Lab, says that his days of leading excavations into the past are behind him.
“If you excavate for three year, it takes on average ten years to complete a dig from start to finish,” he remarks.
He adds though that that doesn’t mean that he is abandoning field work. Rather, he will be providing his analytical expertise to other professionals’ excavations.
In that regard, after having worked from 2008 to 2017 excavating at and analyzing findings from Tel es Safi – in ancient times known as Gath (the Philistine city that was the home of Goliath who fought David nearby)– between Ashdod and Beth Shemesh – Greenfield is now turning his attention to other sites in Israel (such as Tel Beth Shemesh and Tel Shiloh) as well as to Turkey, where he will be working on a site in west central Turkey called Catalhoyuk, a site that was first settled about 9,500 years ago.
Greenfield had worked on the site for a short period in 2009 – at the same time that he and his team had begun work on Tel es Safi. “We were working on a different part of Catalhoyuk than before,” he recalls. “We will be excavating and analyzing material from an area that dates back to 6000 B.C.E. The team has already uncovered sculptures, figurines, idols. Private homes, a feasting house and a charnel house where the people brought their dead have been uncovered.”
Greenfield reports that Catalhoyuk in its day was “a massive town” with a population of as much as 5,000.
The buildings have been well preserved, he points out, because they were built of mud brick. “Every 50 years or so, the people would have to rebuild their houses, he explains. “They would build on top of their old homes. Laying fresh floor on top – thereby beautifully preserving what lay below.”
The excavation team taking the lead on the dig, Greenfield notes, is from the University of Poznan in Poland. “I am involved as a specialist working with the Polish team,” he says. “My specialty is in zooarchaeology, or the analysis of animal bones from archaeological sites.”
Greenfield and his team actually finished their excavation at Tel es Safi in 2017 and are still analyzing the material they uncovered He reports that he and his colleagues are also studying some material from an excavation near Bet Shemesh near Jerusalem.
As noted in an earlier article in the Jewish Post & News, Greenfield’s first archeologically-related visit to Israel was in 1973 when he was involved as a student at an excavation at Tel Gezer. He joined the teaching staff at the Universoty of Manitoba in 1989.
His initial archaeological work was in the Balkans, Romania and Greece – work that was cut short when conflict broke out in the region ion 1992.
Rather than focusing on a specific region in his studies, Greenfield noted in that previous interview, he has always pursued “the big picture” – how we have come to be who we are today from our earliest origins to growing our own food, domesticating animals, developing towns and cities and adapting new technology. One of his special interests has been researching the beginnings of metallurgy and its effects on daily life.
“We can tell by the microscopic marks on animal bones when people started using metal tools instead of stone tools,” he explains. “We have sampled 25 sites around Israel and the larger region. We can state that even in the Early Bronze Age, after 3500 BCE, when bronze becomes available, people continued to use stone tools to build houses and butcher animals for over 1000 years. It was only after 2000 BCE., in the Middle Bronze Age, that bronze metal-working begins to appear in every day life. Even then, it takes a thousand years until it becomes the dominant every-day tool of choice.”
Another area of research for Greenfield has been the domestication of animals. He reports that livestock (goats, sheep, cattle and pigs) were originally raised for their primary products (meat, hides and bone) when they were initially domesticated beginning around 7,000-8,000 BCE. – and not for their secondary benefits (giving milk, wool, as a means of transportation or for pulling a plough). Ploughs, wagons and woolly sheep only developed after 4000 BCE., while goats were milked from soon after their domestication.
In 2015, the U. Of M. recognized Greenfield by bestowing on him the title of “Distinguished Professor” – an honour only conferred on no more than 20 professors at any given time.
Greenfield describes archaeology as “a lifestyle more than a job. “Part of the excitement is being involved in the process of discovery. I could spend my life in a lab, but it is more fun in the field, especially where I have been able to take students with me and introduce them to the excitement of field work and research. It is gratifying that so many of my students have become professional anthropologists and archaeologists in their own right.”
Next summer, he is looking forward to being back in the field at Catalhoyuk with the University of Poznan team and some of his University of Manitoba students.