ROCKINGHAM — For the past two summers, Hamlet native Austin Glock Andrews has worked with a team of fellow college students excavating in the ancient Jewish village of Huqoq.
This summer, again directed by Dr. Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences, Andrews is digging a little deeper.
“This was the third season that I participated in the excavations at Huqoq,” Andrews said. “My involvement has been unique in that, over the past three summers, I have worked in all three sections of the dig, each with its own set of research questions. My first summer, I excavated in the ancient village of Huqoq, working to understand the daily life of the people who lived there during the early Byzantine period.”
Last summer Andrews’ work focused on “more modern levels” of the site, including an Arab village which existed on the same location as Huqoq.
“Yakuk was depopulated in the 1940s and there is dramatic evidence of the village’s subsequent destruction,” Andrews said. “I worked here to document that destruction within one of Yakuk’s homes.”
This summer’s work has taken him even deeper into the mysteries of the ancient cultures of the region, bringing back his initial excitement over the 2011 discovery of elaborate mosaics paving the floors of a synagogue once lost beneath the sands of time.
“The team that I worked with this summer helped to answer the question of how long the synagogue is,” he said. “The Huqoq synagogue may very well be one of the largest of its type. In addition to the field work, I worked closely with our phenomenal mosaics specialist, Dr. Karen Britt on research regarding the techniques and processes engaged by the artisans who created the mosaics at Huqoq.”
In addition to learning more about the two villages and the synagogue, the team discovered Greco-Roman images intertwined with the symbols of Judaism throughout the dig site, including putti (appearing as chubby male infants, sometimes having wings) “holding roundels” (circular discs) with theater masks, muscular male figures wearing trousers who support a garland, a rooster, and male and female faces in a wreath encircling an inscription.
Putti and masks are associated with Dionysos (Bacchus), “who was the Greco-Roman god of wine and theater performances,” according to Magness.
“In terms of the discovery of the putti and masks, I can’t say that I’m altogether surprised,” Andrews said. “The villagers who had the floor made would have been steeped in the iconographic norms of their day. This includes what we might think of as related to ‘pagan’ religion; however, such images took on a variety of meaning for the makers and viewers of the floor.
“A similar example that comes to mind is what’s called a Helios-zodiac cycle, a motif that occasionally appears in mosaic within synagogues of this time period and region. While the Greco-Roman sun god Helios and the signs of the zodiac might at first appear out of place in a Jewish synagogue to a modern observer, it simply indicates that they were using the visual vocabulary that they had at hand to depict the heavens above or the passage of time.”
As Andrews prepares for senior year at UNC Chapel Hill, he intends to return to Huqoq, pending funding.
“My time at Huqoq has been the most impactful experience I’ve had at university. Not only has it exposed me to new places, different archaeological practices, and research methods, but it has afforded me the opportunity to gain close connections with my peers and professors in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise,” he said. “It’s the folks who I dig with at Huqoq who make the experience that much more amazing and the reason I always go back. They really mean the world to me.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.