Specialists Team Up for an Israeli Dig

Article excerpt

IN a few weeks, Steven Weiner will be setting up his portable laboratory inside a cave on Mount Carmel, south of Haifa. He'll be helping a team of archaeologists piece together what life was like 60,000 years ago. Although some archaeologists might say a chemist like Dr. Weiner has no place on a dig, he is showing that his craft has many applications outside the lab.

"The Kebera cave excavation began in 1982," Ofer Bar-Yosef says, now a professor at Harvard University. He is one of the two organizers of this French-Israeli expedition. In 1983, the expedition uncovered a 60,000-year-old "almost complete burial of a Neanderthal man," he says.

Dr. Bar-Yosef expects other finds at Kebera to support the theory that "modern-looking hominoids" evolved in Africa more than 100,000 years ago and slowly spread to Europe and Asia.

The project includes four physical anthropologists, three archaeologists, two geologists, and one archaeolozoologist. According to Bar-Yosef, having a wide range of professionals makes for better archaeology. "Questions can be asked and sometimes even resolved at the same time that the field work is taking place," he says.

Bar-Yosef met Weiner during his year-long appointment at the Weizmann Institute here. Weiner agreed to use his lab - a three-hour trip from the cave - to provide same-day analysis of mineral samples dug up at the cave. On most archaeological expeditions, samples are sent out to a laboratory for analysis: The results often don't come back for many months.

Inside the Kebera cave, the archaeologists found many animal bones in one location and none in others. Did the ancient inhabitants of the cave actually put bones only in one place, or were there bones throughout the cave that were later dissolved by running water? …