“It’s not going to be a banner year,” says archaeologist Eric Meyers about this summer’s excavation season in Israel. Volunteers play an important role in excavations mounted by American and Israeli archaeologists, explains Meyers, president of the American Schools of Oriental Research, the organization that oversees American involvement in Middle Eastern archaeology. But this year, at about the time volunteers usually make their summer plans, there was a war on.

“It was very difficult, with Scud missles falling on Tel Aviv, to try to get parents to say, ‘Oh yes, my son or daughter can go on this excavation in Israel,’ ” laments John Laughlin of Averett College.

Averett and the four other American schools participating in the excavation at Banias (called Caesarea Philippi in the New Testament) scrubbed their plans for this summer. The excavation will have a limited amount of Israeli participation and will try to get back on schedule next year.

Tel Mikne, a joint U.S.-Israeli project on the site of the Philistine city of Ekron, was canceled completely. Work continues at Caesarea, the port city created by King Herod on the Mediterranean coast, and at the ancient Philistine port of Ashkelon. Officials of both projects reported their U.S. volunteers number about half of what they had last year.

Last year an Ashkelon excavator turned up a 3,600-year-old, four-inch-tall silver calf idol. Does this year’s volunteer shortage mean it is less likely something as memorable will be uncovered? Perhaps, say experts. But archaeology is not the kind of science that advances on a regular schedule.

“You can be digging for weeks and the only thing you accomplish is the loss of a few pounds,” explains Pat Kilcoyne from the Harvard University headquarters ...

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