A year ago, 19-year-old Austin Glock Andrews of Hamlet embarked on a journey to the ancient Middle East to uncover mysteries buried in the sands of time.
This year, he returns to continue his excavation work as part of a group from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill led by Dr. Jodi Magness, who taught the class on the archaeology of the Holy Land that changed Andrews’ life.
“This was my first taste of archaeology,” Andrews said. “I know for a fact now that I have chosen the right field of study.”
Andrews entered UNC Chapel Hill as a classical archaeology and religious studies major, and chose to apply for the dig because it perfectly reflected his interests. Each year, a consortium of universities send volunteers to work on the dig.
“The bulk of them are undergraduates coming through study abroad and receiving course credit,” Andrews said. “Grad students work as supervisors and we always have a staff of professional archaeologists and professors.”
Located northwest of the Sea of Galilee lies the village of Huqoq, now in its fourth season as an excavation project. Andrews left Wednesday for his second season on site at the dig. His first stop will be in Jerusalem, where Andrews will participate in a seminar on classical archaeology before arriving in Huqoq.
The project’s goal is to bring ancient artifacts lost to time into the light, and to learn more about the daily lives of the people who lived in the late Roman Byzantine era village.
“As you go down through each layer of time, those layers represent from the top down recent to more ancient times,” said Andrews. “So when you excavate, you go very precisely through each step of each process.”
Among the great discoveries at the dig site are a synagogue that may have been the center of life in Huqoq, and the discovery of its well-preserved mosaics.
“One of the most spectacular moments of the trip (last year) was when we were all called over for the mosaics,” Andrews said. “As our site conservator crouched down in the square, we all watched in wonder as she wiped off the final remaining layer of dirt to expose the beautiful mosaic floor of the synagogue.”
Andrews’ interest in archaeology and love of ancient civilizations began in early childhood. He hopes to become a professor teaching the same topics he studies now, and to engage in professional research when he’s not teaching.
“Even when I was a kid, I used to tell Mom, ‘I’m going outside to dig in the yard,’ or ‘I”m going to read a book about ancient Rome,’” Andrews said. “It wasn’t typical child stuff. I literally dug holes all over the yard.”
Andrews will be in Jerusalem from Friday through June 1, then at the dig site in Huqoq for the entire month of June before returning to the United States.
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-997-3111, ext. 15.