• Recent Baylor grad takes leadership role at ancient Israel synagogue dig site

    Nathaniel Eberlein

    For the last five years, explorers from Baylor and three other colleges have painstakingly uncovered a puzzle in Huqoq, Israel. Buried underground for centuries, an ancient synagogue filled with elaborate mosaics has emerged from the rubble, and amazingly, many of the 1,500-year-old artifacts have been found mostly intact. This summer, the excavation team uncovered even more ancient mosaics and clues — with the help of a Baylor grad taking a leadership role.

    Educators and students from North Carolina, BYU, the University of Toronto, and Baylor have been working at the Huqoq Excavation Project since 2011. As they dug, experts from a variety of disciplines interpreted clues that revealed the structure to be a synagogue, built in two segments — one in the 5th century, another in the 12th or 13th century. There, they found stunning mosaics of Biblical stories like Noah’s ark and the parting of the Red Sea.

    Dr. Nathan Elkins, a Baylor associate professor of art history, has been a part of the excavation over the years, sharing his expertise in ancient coins (many of which have been found at the site). Along with him, numerous Baylor students have traveled to Israel to participate in the dig.

    For the last two years, Nathaniel Eberlein, BA ’17, has been one of those students. Upon graduating as a University Scholar in May, he couldn’t pass up the chance to return to the excavation site to build on what he learned last year. This year, that return trip paid off more than he might have imagined. When a “square supervisor” had to leave the project early, he was elevated to become the square supervisor himself. Assigned a segment of the building, he was in charge of instructing others where to sweep and dig, and charged with documenting not only what was found, but the conditions and locations that provide researchers with more information about the discovery.

    Fish swallowing soldier mosaic

    What they found this summer confirmed their convictions that the building was indeed a synagogue. Discoveries over time have included coins and numerous mosaics, including a zodiac cycle image, Greco-Roman gods, a Tower of Babel scene, and images of Jonah and the whale.

    Eberlein is back in Texas now, preparing to begin his career as a fourth-grade teacher in San Antonio. Thanks to his experiences in Israel, with one foot in the modern day and the other in an ancient underground world of synagogues, whales and intrigue, he’ll have stories that few other teachers can share.

    Sic ’em, Nathaniel and the Huqoq Excavation Team!

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