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SAGU ancient studies students uncover Philistine pottery fragmentWaxahachie, Texas — August 9, 2013 — On July 12, 2013, Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) students Kristen Flake and Joseph Palacio uncovered a Philistine pottery fragment at the Tell es-Safi excavation site in Israel. The SAGU team, led by SAGU adjunct instructor and Penn State doctoral candidate Eric Welch, spent four weeks at the excavation site along with over 100 other volunteers from around the world.

SAGU Junior and ancient studies major Kristen Flake says, “To be able to take what I’ve learned in the classroom at SAGU and then actually practice it in a hands-on environment was priceless. I also had the opportunity to learn one-on-one from some of the best archaeologists and biblical scholars from around the world.”

In July 2013, previous to taking the trip, Flake and Palacio earned three credits from SAGU while taking “History and Material Culture of the Biblical World,” an intensive, hands-on course. They learned the basic skills of archaeological excavation and documentation during the day and participated in lectures and field trips in the evenings.

Most scholars identify Tell es-Safi, located approximately halfway between the Israeli cities of Jerusalem and Ashkelon, as biblical Gath. Gath was the hometown of Goliath, the famous Philistine champion defeated by David, who became king of Israel. Achish, king of Gath, also played an important role in David's life.

Tell es-Safi is one of the largest biblical sites in Israel and has been inhabited since the fifth millenium B.C. In 1996, Professor Aren M. Maeir of Bar-Ilan University led a team of archaeologists as they began a long-term archaeological project at the site. Excavations began in 1997, and finds have been plentiful. Finds such as pottery, weapons, and cultic items are helping scholars redefine our understanding of the Philistines in the biblical period.

The SAGU team excavated the massive city wall, which is approximately 4,500 years old. “The wall was built before most of biblical history, but had a very long lifespan. It may even be a part of the fortification system that King Uzziah is credited with breaking through in 2 Chronicles 26:6,” says SAGU instructor Eric Welch.

In September, an exhibit of the 2013 excavation is scheduled to go on display in the newly renovated Nelson Memorial Library. The exhibit will be introduced to the public as a part of the Biblical Archaeology Seminar hosted by the SAGU Social Studies Department (September 24-26).

Welch, who now serves on the senior staff of the excavation, has been back to Tell el-Safi every year since his first trip to the tell in 2006. Welch says, "I have a passion for biblical archaeology and seeing others experience it first-hand."

Plans are already underway for a SAGU team to return to Tell es-Safi in 2014. Welch is now an excavation staff member. “Participation is open to anyone, and you don't need to have any experience because you can learn while you are there. We have volunteers from ages 14 to 80 from all over the world."

Visit the excavation's blog for more information on Tell es-Safi and how to participate in the excavations.

Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) is a private, Christian university located 30 minutes south of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex in Waxahachie, Texas. The university was established in 1927 and now offers more than 60 associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees on campus or online. More information is available at or by calling 1-888-YES-SAGU.

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