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Excavations Continue Despite Cutbacks
Financing for archaeology in Israel has been slashed by the Israeli government, but excavations planned for this summer with U.S. volunteers will continue largely as planned.
The budget for archaeology in 1997 has been reduced for the second year in a row, to $16 million, down from $24 million last year and $35 million in 1995. The cutbacks have slowed or halted large-scale excavation and renovation at such sites as Caesarea, Sepphoris, Bet She'an, and Acre. In one week alone recently, 1,000 workers were furloughed.
The ongoing excavations had been heavily supported by the government to provide jobs for the large flood of immigrants in recent years, as well as to increase the sites' attractiveness to tourists.
But each year about two dozen separate excavations of various sizes are mounted by teams of scholars from Israel and other countries, including the United States. They are not expected to be affected by the cutbacks. "They are funded by student volunteer fees, private and government foundations," says Seymour Gitin, director of Jerusalem's William F. Albright Center, operated by the American Schools of Oriental Research.
University of Maryland professor Ken Holum directs an excavation at Caesarea, the ancient port city built by Herod the Great. "We are planning the largest season yet, in terms of sheer number of volunteers and staff, in 1997," Holum reports.
Some blame the cutbacks, in part, on the ascendancy of ultra-Orthodox groups in the newly elected Netanyahu administration. The ultra-Orthodox have vigorously opposed and demonstrated against a number of archaeological excavations, claiming they disturb Jewish ancestors who deserve to rest in peace.1