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Rutherfordton woman participates in an Israel archaeological dig

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Caroline King sitting on a wall in Machaerus, Jordan. The Dead Sea is in the background.

A Rutherfordton student was among a team of college students and specialists who spent five weeks on a Huqoq synagogue dig in Israel from May 28 to July 4.

Caroline King, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill and daughter of Bryan and Kristi King of Rutherfordton, joined other university students from Chapel Hill, Austin College, Brigham Young University and the University of Toronto, on the dig to the 1,600-year-old synagogue at Huqog.

According to University Communications, the dig was the 11th and final season of excavations in the synagogue at Huqou.

Led by UNC-Chapel Hill professor Jodi Magness, the team has uncovered a spectacular mosaic panel in the late Roman (ca. 400 C.E.) synagogue at Huqoq, an ancient Jewish village in Israel's Lower Galilee. The panel, which identifies the mosaic donors or artists, decorates the floor just inside the main entrance, Magness said in a news release from UNC.

The excavation revealed a panel with an inscription commemorating the donors who funded the mosaic or the artists who made it, Magness explained. An additional panel discovered featured a dead Philistine horseman and soldier continuing the story of Samson first discovered in digs in 2012 and 2013.

"The newly discovered mosaic consists of a large panel, in the center of which is an enigmatic Hebrew inscription framed within a wreath. To the sides and below the wreath, an Aramaic inscription lists the names either of the donors who provided funding for the synagogue's mosaics or the artists who made them, asking that they be remembered for good. The wreath is flanked on either side by lions resting their forepaws on bulls' heads. The entire panel is surrounded by a decorated border showing animals of prey pursuing other animals," she said in the press release from UNC.

The summer's excavations also exposed additional sections of mosaic panels that were discovered in 2012 and 2013, which depict the episodes of Samson and the foxes as mentioned in Judges 15:4 and Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders referenced in Judges 16:3.

Caroline attended the dig in relation to her studies at UNC as an archaeology major. She is getting a double major in medical anthropology and archaeology with a minor in chemistry.

She hadn't been outside of the United States before the Israel trip, "So everything I was experiencing was brand new to me. Growing up Christian it was difficult to try and wrap my head around the fact that I was in the same place that I have read and heard about all of these years."

During the first days of the trip, Caroline said she had difficulty being accustomed to waking up so early in the morning.

"We had to be on the bus to go to the site by about 4:30 a.m. and we would work until about 11:45 (with multiple water and food breaks, of course). After a week or so, though, I got used to it and I really enjoyed my time there."

Caroline returns to Chapel Hill for the first day of fall classes on August 21.

"School is going great. I have been really enjoying Carolina and the friends I have made up there. I've been active in the Newman Catholic Community and have found a home with those people. I spend most of my spare time there hanging out or studying with my friends. We definitely do a lot of CookOut runs during finals season."

National Geographic photographed the dig, but Caroilne says she doesn't have access to the photos.

Although an awarding winning horseback rider prior to college, she hasn't been riding as much as she once did.

"But I still get a ride in here and there. Even though I am not really riding right now, it is something I am definitely going to keep up and get back into once I am done with school," she added.

More about the dig from UNC's press release

Excavations in 2022 uncovered a panel in the southwest aisle divided into three registers (horizontal strips) that depict an episode from Judges chapter 4: the biblical prophetess and judge Deborah under a palm tree, gazing at Barak, who is equipped with a shield; and the Kenite woman Jael (Yael) hammering a tent stake through the temple of the Canaanite general Sisera, who lies dead on the ground with blood gushing out of his head. These are the earliest known depictions of the biblical heroines Deborah and Jael. 

The sweeping archaeological project at Huqoq has left an extraordinary legacy of historically significant finds, including:

• A Hebrew inscription surrounded by human figures, animals and mythological creatures including putti, or cupids. 

• The first non-biblical story ever found decorating an ancient synagogue -- perhaps the legendary meeting between Alexander the Great and the Jewish high priest. 

A panel depicting two of the spies sent by Moses to explore Canaan carrying a pole with a cluster of grapes, labeled "a pole between two" from Numbers 13:23.

• Another panel showing a man leading an animal on a rope accompanied by the inscription "a small child shall lead them" (Isaiah 11:6). 

• Figures of animals identified by an Aramaic inscription as the four beasts representing four kingdoms in the book of Daniel, chapter 7. 

• A large panel in the northwest aisle depicting Elim, the spot where the Israelites camped by 12 springs and 70 date palms after departing Egypt and wandering in the wilderness without water referenced in Exodus 15:27. 

• A portrayal of Noah's Ark. 

• The parting of the Red Sea. 

• A Helios-zodiac cycle. 

• Jonah being swallowed by three successive fish. 

• The building of the Tower of Babel. 

• The 2022 and 2023 excavations also brought to light an enormous stone paved courtyard surrounded by a row of columns known as a colonnade to the east of the synagogue. In the late medieval period, the courtyard was reused, and a massive, vaulted structure of unknown function was built on top of it.

With the conclusion of this final season of excavations, the excavated area will be turned over to the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Keren Kayemet Le'Israel (Jewish National Fund), which plan to develop the site as a tourist attraction.

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