KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A new program at Carson-Newman University is working to uncover the past. The university has launched a minor in archeology and is revitalizing its archeology program.

This summer, the university joined with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archeology and the American Veterans Archeological Recovery (AVAR), to excavate the ruins of Herod the Great’s desert fortress in the northern Judean Desert. The excavation project has already yielded significant results, including the discovery of a child-sized ring and a Christian inscription that paraphrases Psalm 86:1-2.

The fortress dates back to the late 2nd or early 1st century BCE, with the earliest phase, while the later rebuilt and enlarged fortress was done by Herod the Great. According to a release from Carson-Newman, this was the first scientific archeological excavation to ever take place at the location.

“It puts us in the know – to have Carson-Newman linked with Hebrew University is huge,” said Dr. David Crutchley, who serves as dean of C-N’s School of Biblical and Theological Studies. “This is the citadel of archeology.”

“By any measure, access to and actual excavation of Hyrcania is not a simple undertaking. Throughout the four-week excavation season, we would be impressed daily by the Carson-Newman University students’ enthusiasm, curiosity, thoughtful engagement and consistent hard work. Ultimately, our ‘pilot’ season turned out to be an extraordinary success, due to the fine team that assembled in the Judean Desert.”

Joint statment by Excavation Directors Dr. Oren Gutfeld and Michal Haber of the Hebrew University 

Four Carson-Newman students led by Rev. Bill Hild, an adjunct professor at the University, participated in the excavation project, which stemmed from the new archeology minor at the university.

“There’s a lot of connection with archeology in the liberal arts setting,” Dr. Marshall King said. “It’s kind of a venue for different expertise to come together and work as a team towards a common goal.”

Two of the students in the exhibition, Jacob Easterday and Matthew Setsor, said the experience was life-changing.

“I suppose my takeaway is that it helped me mature, it helped me become more well-rounded and much more confident,” reflected Easterday, a biblical studies major, who is also minoring in Greek and archeology. “I mean, if you could go up to a mountain where you can see the Dead Sea, the Jordan, and you’re in the middle of the Judean desert and you’re digging up all these ancient stones, it really makes me confident in most other pursuits I have.”

“It was incredible that I got to participate in this with some really neat people, but it was also overwhelming in a way too, because of the magnitude of where we were,” said Setsor, who plans to draw from the experience for his future work in ministry. “The geography of everything doesn’t make sense until you go there and see everything unfold before your eyes.”

Carson-Newman hopes the archeology minor will draw students from a variety of disciplines from across campus, from biblical studies to computer science.

“It’s a melting pot not only of expertise, but also cultures and that’s why I think there’s no replacement for archeology. There’s nothing like it,” King said. “I want our students to leave Carson-Newman knowing that the sky’s the limit and archeology gives them a view towards the limitlessness of their future.”

Hild is preparing to take more students to the site next spring. The university hopes that the new minor will surely inspire future generations to continue exploring the fascinating world of archeology and find what lies just below the surface.