Wednesday, July 25, 2007


You can almost see the city of Hippos coming to life again.

We have a main street, the decumanus, now open from the main city gate all the way to the forum.

We also have that quintessential urban fixture — a street corner. A cross street or cardo is cleared of destruction fill. It leads to a church.

We have tombs, which give us tantalizing glimpses of the people who lived in this mountaintop town.

We call the latest burial site Vicki’s tomb — though Vicki Mesistrano is scarcely ready for such repose. Indeed, she’s quite animated after leading the excavation of the burial at the city gate and now leads a team digging in the forum — her foremost scholarly interest.

She took a few minutes to show me her ashlar-lined burial chamber, which yielded the remains of 20 or more individuals, stacked one atop another — all women except for an infant, two or three other children and one man, according to preliminary analysis.


We have at least two other tombs at Hippos, both in the North East Church. There an American team from Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn., found human remains — but no artifacts.

From the North West Church under excavation by a Polish team came gorgeous artifacts — but no human remains. What appeared to be tombs were empty.

Vicki topped both. She has human remains as well as grave goods. “So it’s very special,” says the Argentine who is studying for her doctorate at the University of Haifa.

Her prize find is a green-blue glass vase with a delicate handle, reassembled by our on-site conservator Ewa Radziejowska of Warsaw. Vicki calls the vessel a “pilgrim flask” in which travelers to sacred Christian sites collected holy oil.

Vicki also found glass beads and a double flask that she says held eye makeup. The eye-shadow vessel and the holy-oil receptacle place this tomb solidly in the sixth century CE, she thinks.


On the way back from Vicki’s tomb I found Ran Abramovitch in his office — an open-air desk on the decumanus maximus.

For a total of 70 days over the last three years, Ran has supervised excavation of Hippos’ main street.

With the help of a tractor, students and volunteers working in the merciless sun, he has exposed a full 250 meters from the main city gate to the forum.

One blistering midday this week, Ran stood on his decumanus welcoming weary volunteers from other squares who were heading to the bus to return to the kibbutz where they stay.

Ran invited them to walk the decumanus all the way to the city gate, rather than taking their accustomed route — a dirt path that runs parallel to the original street. “The decumanus is open!” he called out with the verve of a carnival barker.

If residents of Hippos were to return, they might contact City Hall about the street collapse over their aqueduct and the lost paving stones near the city gate. Other than that, the decumanus is in beautiful shape.

What was the hard part? “The powder,” says Ran. “All the day we work without shade. All the day, sun and dust.”


Many days it was just Ran and the tractor driver. They worked together for two weeks this year before the excavation proper began.

Wherever Ran saw a building corner fronting on the main drag, he had the tractor take a one-meter bite.

As a result, he has some interesting prospects for future excavation, including one with Hellenistic stones — possibly reused, as is always the case in Byzantine cities, but intriguing nevertheless.

If you follow Ran’s decumanus for about 200 meters to the west you will find a cross street opened by a team under Mark Schuler of Concordia, assistant dig director.

This cardo leads to what Mark believes is an urban monastic complex where we found the other burials.

The collapse of rock and dirt in the cardo was dismaying, but the tractor and hardworking students and volunteers cleared the street from the church’s atrium to the decumanus.

When the street was finally open, the little group celebrated with a ribbon- cutting ceremony.

So Hippos is stirring.

The tombs give us glimpses of its residents. You can almost see them hurrying past the street corner. “Somebody should open up a lemonade stand,” quipped a hot, weary volunteer. “They’d clean up.”

With a little imagination — and thanks to diligent staff archaeologists and dreamer volunteers — Hippos of the Decapolis is coming to life again.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Every so often someone who lived in the ancient city of Hippos steps right up in front of us.

It happened against last week.

As a result, we could almost hear Roman legions on the march.

The Roman soldier trod much of the world, enforced the Pax Romana and defended the Empire at its height.

He was fiercely loyal to his commander and helped decide who would be emperor.

He could fight hand-to-hand with unsurpassed courage — but he also sometimes fled in terror.

He stood long, lonely hours of guard duty dreaming about retiring to a small farm where he could live peacefully with his wife and children.

And this is the footgear he laced on daily.

It doesn’t put a face on him. It does, however, give him — well, a sole.


Ranin Noufi, a graduate student at the University of Haifa, wasn’t even sure she was seeing what she saw. She swept off the dust — and there he was.

Yet like a good scientist she asked for another opinion. She called for Micahel Eisenberg, assistant dig director at Hippos.

He agreed it was a footprint. “My first big find,” says Ranin quietly.

Slow work becomes standard at this stage of the season, and Ranin was going slowly. “I was brushing the head of the wall plaster,” she says.

She discerned some order in the dust — two rows of dot-like impressions. “I asked someone, ‘Doesn’t it look like a footprint?’” she says. The other observer agreed. “I cleaned it some more and then I called Micahel.”

It’s a little hard to see. You have to look carefully. And yet amid the monumental architecture of Hippos, this footprint stands out. It’s very human. “Yes, it is,” Ranin agrees. “And it’s almost my size — two centimeters longer.”

It means that someone atop the city wall at Hippos — probably a soldier, perhaps a soldier-builder — stepped toward the Sea of Galilee to the southwest. It would have been during or after the first century BCE, when such footgear came into use for soldiers.

We have only one certain footprint — as though our soldier quickly realized the plaster was wet and pulled back.


These nailed soles conquered and held an empire — but failed a centurion on the smooth stones of the Temple floor in Jerusalem.

In his Wars of the Jews, Josephus writes that in the siege of Jerusalem of 70 CE a Roman centurion named Julian was shut up with his commander, the future emperor Titus, in the tower of Antonia.

Julian launched a one-man counterattack against the counter-besieging defenders.

Julian “of himself alone put the Jews to flight, when they were already conquerors, and made them retire as far as the corner of the inner court of the temple,” writes Josephus.

“From him the multitude fled away in crowds, as supposing that neither his strength nor his violent attacks could be those of a mere man.”

But Julian’s shoes had “thick and sharp nails, as had every one of the other soldiers, so when he ran on the pavement of the temple, he slipped, and fell down upon his back with a very great noise, which was made by his armor.”

Julian fought heroically but the city’s defenders overwhelmed him, says Josephus.


That’s our footprint. Ranin’s find, however, changes nothing about the plan for excavating along the southern fortifications.

She has no room to dig further back from the wall just here because the ridge of earth her excavators have already taken out of the mountain is too near and the tractor has no time to come and haul it away this season.

At Hippos, others who have stepped out of the mists include the beloved Antona, a deaconess honored in an inscription in the mosaic of the North West Church. Excavation of that church by a Polish team is nearly complete.

We know nothing else about Antona. It’s tempting to think she’s the tiny old woman afflicted with osteoporosis who was buried in a sacred place in the nearby North East Church under excavation by an American team. But we don’t know.

Another inscription carved into a column found in the Forum reports that a rich couple — a man and his “synbios” — his “life-together,” his wife — provided the funds for something in this remarkable city, also called Susita, in about 230 CE.

We wonder if someone else will step out of the mists of time. “Maybe we’ll find a handprint,” muses Ranin.

It’s the last week of our short, four-week season here — and archaeologists hint darkly that interesting things tend to happen at the very end of the season.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


The basalt fought back Thursday. I was moving heavy stones away from the balk where they lay after we had muscled them out of the the massive collapse in the cardo that leads to our church.

We keep the balk clear a meter or so back from the square for better access to the square. Moreover, our balk is weak. We don’t need a landslide.

But a defiant 100-kilogram building stone clunked me against its neighbor — middle finger, right hand.

“Ouch,” I breathed.

I walked away. I didn’t know exactly where I was going. Toward water. I hoped I wasn’t trailing blood. I didn’t want a fuss.

I found the water jug, took off my glove and washed the finger. Not too bad, I thought — bleeding freely from under the nail. That was good, to flush out infection.

But I knew I needed help. Andrea Chandler and Jess Tewes were in the church nave, where Jess draws our mosaic. I sat under their shade.

Would Andrea get gauze and tape? I didn’t want to bleed on the first-aid kit.

Andrea went. I rose to follow. Jess also acted quickly and instinctively. She pointed a spray bottle at the mosaic where I had been, spritzed it — and wiped off the blood.


Mosaic does get to be an obsession. Mosaic workers spend long hours sitting and tending these invaluable shapes and images of long ago.

Wide use of mosaics began during the 300s BCE in areas controlled by Greeks and later spread throughout the Roman Empire. By the time of our little church about 600 CE, mosaic was the Byzantine Empire’s major decorative art form.

Mosaic artists create images by setting colored stone and glass in wet mortar. Some of their work is incomparable. An image in a Roman villa at Sephoris 50 kilometers west of here is known as the Mona Lisa of the Galilee. The soft shadings of her face are remarkable, especially considering that she is made of colored stone cubes not quite a centimeter on a side.

She gazes from the floor of a banquet hall just where the host would see her best. Is it an image of his helpmate — reminding him to behave himself at parties? My wife thinks so.

The mosaic at the Susita excavation’s Northeast Church is in relatively poor condition. Rocks fell on it in the great earthquake of about 748 CE, splashing tiles and destroying images. Yet we have geometric shapes and animal legs still intact.

So mosaic is always on our minds as we scrounge toward the floor through dirt and rock — a few cubes together, a slash of color, maybe a complete image? Who knows?

These cubes, or tesserae, are everywhere in the destruction fill. I found an intact section along the wall in our church in 2003 — and straightaway it began to fall apart.


So I prefer not to work with mosaic. It takes patience and a delicate touch. “Don’t let me near your mosaic,” I tell Ewa Radziejowska, a Warsaw conservator working with us. “It will fall apart if I even see it.”

“You have that devil look!” she says in her merry Polish accent.

Mosaic restorers face a variety of problems as it is. At our Northeast Church, the base is thin for a floor, says Ewa. Artists used about half a meter of base, sometimes mixed with ash to draw still more moisture away from the tesserae.

Our church has only about 10 centimeters of base, and the basalt floor below doesn’t absorb moisture at all. So our tiles loosened over the centuries and our mosaic is in worse shape than, for example, the mosaic in the Northwest Church 100 meters away.


Plant roots and animals wreak havoc as well. In 2004, a South Dakota farm woman working on mosaic at our church offered to shoot any mole she could find. The burrowers had undermined her carefully cleaned and restored tile. Eventually, says Ewa, mosaic defenders managed to find and block the mole holes. So far, no more moles.

Some people take quickly to the painstaking work, says Ewa. Who can blame them for enjoying it — even obsessing?

Like the original artists, they put a lot of sweat into their craft, maybe even a few tears. And now some blood. Albeit mine, not theirs.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


High atop the mountain called Susita, at about 6 a.m. on July 18, we buried them — again.

Sunrise tinged the excavation and the Sea of Galilee loomed below in its incomparable splendor.

With the delicacy of a careful supermarket produce manager, Mark Schuler emptied two cardboard boxes of human bone into a great sarcophagus a meter and a half down.

Archaeologists often want to restore sites to some semblance of the way they used to look. So does Mark.

But the Lutheran pastor also wants to restore his site spiritually and theologically. So there was no question in his mind that these dead he had exhumed would be reburied with respect and in the right liturgical context.

And where better than the place where they lay to begin with?

We found the first hint of these saints in 2003, troweling across the altar of this small, 12-meter-square church. I happened to hit an upright flat stone — barely a speed bump for a mouse. But something was down there.


The next season, we opened the sarcophagus and carefully took our saints out bone by bone. Glenn Borchers, a retired soil scientist from Fargo, N.D., did most of the work. “Tomb raider!” I called him in a screaming Web headline for 1,000 schoolchildren who were following us in 2004.

These dead had been treated with great reverence. Their final place of rest was sacred — beneath the altar of this little church in the ancient city of Hippos.

Now, after three years in a laboratory and careful analysis by a good physical anthropologist, they rest again beneath the same altar.

We have both sexes. Two individuals were quite tall. Another was an infant.

Early Christians often buried their dead this way, adding bodies to the same tomb over a period of years.

So there they lie — bits and pieces awaiting the bodily resurrection of Christian belief.


Mark, who teaches theology at Concordia University in St. Paul, has excavated at Hippos since 2001 and has led the church dig since 2002. His wife Rhoda, a liturgy specialist, prepared a ceremony from Greek Orthodox sources.

At sunrise, in the little church, we sang and prayed and read from the Gospel of John.

A few of our Israeli friends looked on, perhaps musing about Christian mysteries — or perhaps pondering their own. Dig director Arthur Segal attended, as did Micahel Eisenberg, assistant director.

The Polish team came over from the bigger church they are excavating 100 meters away. They stood above the sarcophagus on the half-circle of our apse wall — just where angels would have floated at the earlier funerals.

I was an usher, handing out programs. Linda Miller, a California church worker and like me a repeat volunteer, briskly tried to separate the sheep from the goats — worship participants from worship observers.

There was no point. We’re all participants. We all face the same end. Glenn, who had spent so much time with these dead, left the day before. His mother-in-law had passed away. Was she among the Polish angels?


Down in the hole, Mark put the stone slabs back over the poor old bones. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” he recited, pouring soil in the sign of the cross. “Dust you are and unto dust you shall return.”

I stepped up with a few others and dumped in a ritual bucket of earth. After Eden, Adam would serve the dirt, says Genesis. And here we were — fulfilling the prophecy.

As I emptied my bucket, Yolanta Mlynarczyk gently dropped a few plumeria blossoms atop the basalt slabs of the sarcophagus lid. Their exquisite deep pink mingled with the earth. Then they were gone in the poured soil.

Life is beautiful and delicate — and it is dust. Death always startles us. Yet we know it will come. Today the Holy Land rooted death and interment in centuries of context.


My mother asks again and again why I come here. Finally, looking at the picture over her bed, I tell her it’s because this is where Jesus was.

That keeps her quiet for a while. But the questions always start again.

And I have the same questions. Why do I come?

Last year Linda found a coin and proudly held it up for a photo. “Good shot,” I said, peering into my digital camera. Then: “Uh-oh. I can see Darryl’s butt.”

Darryl, a plainspoken retired cop, gave me a look.

“Not that you don’t have a nice butt,” I said apologetically.

His look altered. “If you think I have a nice butt,” he intoned carefully, “you’ve been on this mountain waaaaay too long.”

Maybe so. But that’s why I return. For such moments — the secular and especially the sacred.

Monday, July 16, 2007


The soil was loose. I lay against the slope, feeling like nothing so much as a one-man, half-mile landslide waiting to happen.

But Michael Eisenberg seems quite at home on this steep incline 1,000 meters up — even under tons of rock ready to fall if you so much as look at it the wrong way.

The last time an enemy managed to breach these walls and conquer ancient Hippos was probably 2,200 years ago.

Now, however, time and the elements are undermining the formidable defenses of this mountaintop city.

At a western extremity, the endmost of the 1.5-meter-long basalt beams supporting the wall remain implanted only about 10 centimeters into the Roman support matrix — most of which has long since fallen away.

This gives us a great look at how the Romans built walls — but Eisenberg knows he’d better get that corner shored up fast. One little earthquake will collapse it, he thinks — or it may even come down with a few winter rains.


Eisenberg, assistant director at the Hippos dig, leads excavation of the city walls ringing the mountain fortress like a headband.

Its defenses mirror the city’s history: Sturdy Roman walls cut earlier Hellenistic fortifications. In turn, later and flimsier Byzantine walls overlay the Roman defenses.

Hippos is such a forbidding mountaintop you wouldn’t think it would need fortification. Nevertheless, for centuries it had sophisticated defenses.

“It would have been almost the perfect choice to locate a fort or a city during the Hellenistic period,” says Eisenberg. “But such natural conditions could be easily bridged by the enemy. The plateau on which the city was established must have a surrounding wall.”

Its defenses worked, for the most part. Hippos was captured only once that we know of, according to Josephus — in about 100 BCE by the Jewish leader Alexander Jannaeus. We think we have a well-stratified burn layer at about that time.

Historical sources say the city was seized by Jannaeus the Hasmonean king during his second conquest expedition to the region in around 83 BCE.

The cities of the Decapolis, one of them Hippos, fought to keep their freedom and their pagan culture. At Hippos, however, Jannaeus prevailed — and probably forced the losers to convert to Judaism or get out of town.

At that point, probably, many inhabitants departed. But the conquerer left his mark: In 2006, we found our first coin of Jannaeus at the site.


All this was before the Romans entered Judaea and muscled up the city’s defenses. Excavators have exposed a 6.2-meter wide vaulted chamber on the southern wall, its only access facing outward. Eisenberg’s guess is that it’s a catapult garage.

These stern Roman defenses relaxed over the centuries. In fact, luxury-loving Byzantines took out part of the Roman fortification to build a bathhouse on the south city wall.

Why a bathhouse here? “Consider the view!” says square leader Ranin Noufi of the University of Haifa with a sweep of her arm. The city’s southern wall overlooks the hazy blue of the Sea of Galilee.

In its later phases, Hippos may have barely risen to the level of a fortified city. “We have towers, so I wouldn’t go as far as to say during Byzantine times the city wasn’t fortified,” says Eisenberg, “but the fortifications were much less sophisticated.”


The big mystery for Eisenberg is the plan for the fortifications in Roman and Hellenistic times. He has glimpses but not the big picture — and it doesn’t help that the businesslike Romans rooted out Hellenistic walls to build their own sturdy fortifications.

Clues may come from ongoing excavation at the south wall — and new squares on the northern side of the city just opened last week.

The northern approaches are even steeper and more formidable than the south. If you want to excavate these walls — you’d better not be afraid of heights.

A prankish volunteer christened a northern square this week by throwing a 15-kilo lunk of limestone into the abyss below.

It shattered on the first bounce and we watched the pieces bound down the fearsome slope until we could no longer see them.

It seemed like a very long time before we heard the final, sharp stone-on-stone crash from far, far below. We hope they’re careful over there.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


A great heap of soil in the Jordan Valley has yielded fascinating glimpses of the civilization that Joshua and the Israelites felt they must destroy.

The invaders never took this city. It remained a thriving, exotic center of Canaanite civilization — a snapshot of the wealth and organization of the culture into which biblical leader Joshua led the Israelites.

And so today Amihai Mazar is a busy man — leading tours, doing his own photography, mediating a dispute among his workers about whether soil in a square washed in during the winter or is part of the archaeological context.

“Everywhere I go,” he sighs, “there is a problem for me to solve.”

That means the Hebrew University scholar has a terrific excavation underway. It’s Tel Rehov, a Canaanite center in the Jordan Valley five kilometers south of Beth Shean.

The 10-hectare Tel Rehov where Mazar has excavated since 1997 rises from surrounding agricultural fields. It yields a wealth of information about the 12th through eighth centuries BCE.


The Bible doesn’t mention Rehov, but we know it from Egyptian documents. It was a center of the chariot-building industry in the late 13th century — a key city-state with a local king.

“This was a thriving, important city, which is not the case in many other mounds in this country where there were gaps between the Canaanite period, the late Bronze Age and the Iron Age,” says Mazar. “Here we have no gap — just continuity.”

In its lush agricultural valley near vital trade routes, Rehov grew rich — and the Israelite invasion never touched it. “This was the heartland of the Canaanite civilization,” says Mazar, “and the Israelites even according to the Bible didn’t manage to conquer, to settle, in this area.”

Continuity is the site’s great feature at this point. “The city,” says Mazar, “was built and rebuilt and rebuilt and rebuilt consistently.”

Mazar and his diggers have found a long continuous sequence from the Late Bronze into the early Iron Age, without any gaps. For centuries, the city didn’t suffer invasion or abandonment.

The long period of tranquility means some buildings are empty of artifacts. “When people have luck, a chance to leave the building and go away, we archaeologists suffer,” he tells a tour group, pointing to an example. “Here the floors were empty of finds.”

The Tel Rehov sequence is complete enough that it provides a valuable calibration for hotly debated dates for the Bronze and Iron ages.

Rehov’s relationship to Megiddo about 50 kilometers west in the Jezreel is clear: The assemblage of pottery in Rehov’s Strata V–IV is identical with the pottery mix in Megiddo’s Strata VB and VB–IVA, according to a Rehov excavation report.


Mazar has a well-organized, carefully designed city consistent in its design. “It appears to be a large city all built in the same style,” says Mazar, “which is very unusual. You don’t find such constructions anywhere else in this country.”

Some of its buildings were of an extraordinary mud-brick construction, without any stone even for foundation. In fact, some structures had wood foundations and in one case even a wood floor below beaten earth.

About half the wood was olive, the rest from other local Jordan River valley trees, says Mazar.

Long before Joshua, Rehov and other Bronze Age cities went without fortifications for a period of about 300 years — perhaps at the insistence of then-dominant Egypt.

In one area, Mazar has excavated to the very western foot of the tell — exposing an 11th century building bounded by a street — and no fortification. “I thought we should find city walls,” says Mazar. “Nothing.”

He did find a surprise in 2003, however: Beehives. Microanalysis showed that mysterious small structures were lined with beeswax. Mazar believes beekeepers harvested the honey and the wax, which was used for medical purposes and also in casting small metal pieces.

The centuries without invasion came to an end eventually. Rehov encountered violent episodes twice within a few generations.

One great conflagration dates to sometime between 934–894 BCE. Another destruction happened between 877–840 BCE. Some of the devastation may stem from the raid of Shoshenq I of Egypt (1 Kings 11:40 and 14:25; 2 Chronicles 12:2), say the excavation report.

In the destruction at Rehov, excavators found a “cultic corner” — a pottery altar or “cult stand,” a painted “petal” chalice and a number of chalices and bowls. Another room yielded a shrine decorated with a “bull or feline figure” holding two human heads in its claws.

The Israelite desert tribes must have been awestruck by the wealth of such places as Rehov. No wonder they sometimes strayed from worshiping their fierce deity alone.

Monday, July 9, 2007


It’s like the best cut in an autopsy: a clean incision through the dead polis, laying bare the city’s vital places.

At Hippos, the city’s main street — the decumanus — is extraordinary, a remarkable draw for visitors that all but demands to be walked.

Purely in terms of archaeology, however, this decumanus is of limited value. Aerial photos already show us where it is. And we already know a great deal about Roman urban planning to which the Hippos decumanus doesn’t add significantly.

So why go to the trouble and expense of exposing it? Mere showmanship?

That has been a dilemma facing Arthur Segal, dig director at Hippos since the dig at Hippos (also known as Susita) began in 2000.

The University of Haifa classicist ordered the aesthetically compelling cut through the gorgeous mountaintop site. Excavation of the road will be complete this season.

Now the mute stones of his decumanus lure visitors from the main gate on the east to the near-fully exposed forum.

Walking the decumanus is an incomparable experience. Real Romans, real Byzantines, real early Christians strode here. The main street slices cleanly from one end of the city to the other along this 600-meter-long mountaintop polis, past churches, through the forum and beyond.

So why is it important to expose the full decumanus? “Actually from a purely scientific point of view there is no reason,” says Segal. “We know already the street is there. We know the typical way of Roman town planning.”


In Roman cities, the decumanus runs east-west. Crossing it at right angles are other streets — cardo in the singular.

Pre-Roman, the design dates to the Etruscans, who assigned mystical qualities to the four quadrants. The Romans incorporated Etruscan ideas into their own culture. Many world cities bear the same grid design today.

Why dig up this decumanus? Segal is frank: “The main reason to expose it is, to say openly, to make a good impression and hoping to get some more funds,” he says.

Segal hasn’t secured Israel government funding he sought — the kind of funding that already supports well-known sites such as Sephoris, Caesarea Maritima, Beth Shean and Masada.

Funding or no, Segal is glad he made the cut. “To walk along a Roman street — it’s very inspiring,” he says. The decumanus at Hippos is an exceptional example.

Hippos was founded in the fourth century BCE after Alexander the Great took control of this area. It persisted until a great earthquake destroyed it about 748 CE.

That’s a thousand years — first of wealth and glory and subsequently of decline. From 1,000 meters up, the city overlooks the beautiful, hazy blue of the Sea of Galilee.


Segal is convinced that his archaeological treasure is a magnificent public draw, and its decumanus is a key feature. Visitors vigorous enough to make the kilometer-long climb from the gravel parking lot and up the steep incline at the city gate at the beginning of the season could walk all but 160 meters of the decumanus. The balance of the road should be open by the end of July.

Segal’s mission this season is to continue and perhaps complete excavation of two churches. The North West Church, excavated by a Polish team, was still in use at the time of the earthquake, judging by its artifacts. The nearby North East Church, where an American team is digging, had been largely abandoned when the city was destroyed. The North East Church did, however, contain burials. It may have been an urban monastery complex as well as a ritual healing destination for pilgrims.

What bothers Segal about Hippos? “I still don’t know precisely the site of the domestic quarter,” he says. It may be south of the decumanus and west of the forum, in an area of the city with an overpowering view of the Sea of Galilee.

Digging in the domestic quarter is out of the question this season — too little time and too few workers.

But in the domestic quarter, Segal agrees, may come the most dramatic finds of all — earthquake victims who died in their homes, surrounded by the material culture of their lives.

If they are there, and if Segal can find them, it might make Hippos a huge tourist attraction — a kind of Near East Pompeii.

And the clean, compelling cut of Segal’s decumanus leads directly to the drama.