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Israeli archaelogical dig gives students international field experience

Friday, July 31, 2009
Israeli archaelogical dig gives students international field experience
By Katie Land, news editor

Mike Pytlik and Richard Stamps led nine students on a trip to Israel and to work on an archaeological dig.
Nine students from Oakland University are expanding their worldview both culturally and academically, as they return from an archaeological dig and two-week stint in Israel.

Led by lecturer Mike Pytlik from Oakland’s department of religion and Richard Stamps, associate professor of anthropology, undergraduate students from across the religion, anthropology and sociology departments traveled to the Middle East.

Participating in a course that ran January through April, students researched and analyzed how archaeology, culture and the Bible work together, culminating in the actual trip that put theory into real-world terms.

“The goal was to increase our presence in Israel and to build new relationships in that area. It
OU students work on an archaeological dig called Khirbet Qeiyafa, located in the Elah Valley.
was a tremendous experience for our students and for me. The dig was impressive and our students made a great impression,” Pytlik said.

The first week of the trip immersed students in the historical, cultural, religious and educational sites of the region, including a visit to the Dead Sea. The second week took them outside Jerusalem to participate in an archaeological dig.

“For the spirit of the class and the spirit of the intentions of the school, we believed the most important aspect of the trip was to see the historic and religious sites we covered in class. And every experience we had was important in leading up to the dig,” Pytlik continued.

Senior Michael Denyes came away with a completely new sense of the Israeli culture and the Israeli people. “The entire trip was amazing,” he said. “When I would tell people I was going to
Israel, everyone would tell me not to get into trouble. But it was very safe. This place is completely different than what everyone thinks.”
A team of Israeli archaeologists help OU students get international field experience at an ancient city.

The week spent in the city of Jerusalem made an impression on the students, with its eclectic mix of old and new, tradition and change.

“The atmosphere in the city is totally different there. You see people with very specific religious dress and then you have young people that are very current. It is an interesting mix. It covers both ends of the spectrum,” Denyes explained. “It is the years of history and tradition – you can feel it in the air.”

This excursion marked the first international field work opportunity for anthropology students at Oakland. Complementing the current program, this course offers real experience at the ancient site of Khirbet Qeiyafa, more commonly known as Biblical Sha'arayim, meaning "two gates."

Located in the Elah Valley, Pytlik’s students joined a team searching for the second of two gates that could prove the site to be the famous location associated with the Biblical story of David and Goliath.

The dig is a small but important site in the area, which provided students with more personal attention from archaeologists and allowed them to jump in and get more hands-on experience, according to Pytlik.

The students made a positive impression on the Israeli site leaders and were praised as great ambassadors to the region, Pytlik said. An avid traveler, Pytlik has been to Israel 15 times.

“I was amazed watching all of these first-timers to Israel,” he said. “They were very adaptive and experienced everything with their eyes wide open. The students were amazed at how modern and progressive the country was, and how friendly the people are there.”

Through research grants and outside funding, the trip was very affordable for students. Future plans for another excursion involve reducing costs even further by staying out at the dig site longer and taking cultural side trips on the weekends.

“I want to go back very badly,” Denyes said. “It was an amazing trip and a great opportunity. It was incredible to physically be in a place that I learned about in class just a few months before.”

The Archaeology and Ancient History of Israel course will be offered in the 2010 winter semester. The accompanying excursion to Israel may be offered again, based on available funding and student participation. Contact Pytlik at for more information about the course.

Visit Oakland’s religious studies department Web site or anthropology department Web site to learn more about these programs.