Hawkins Digs Into the Past

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Hawkins Digs Into the Past

Dr. Ralph Hawkins has made between 20 to 25 trips to the Jordan Valley area to pursue archaeological research.

Dr. Ralph Hawkins has made between 20 to 25 trips to the Jordan Valley area to pursue archaeological research.

Dr. Ralph Hawkins has made between 20 to 25 trips to the Jordan Valley area to pursue archaeological research.

Dr. Ralph Hawkins has made between 20 to 25 trips to the Jordan Valley area to pursue archaeological research.

Allison Turner, Multimedia Editor

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Most know Dr. Ralph Hawkins, an associate professor of religious studies, for his extensive knowledge of the Old Testament and for his work as a pastor. However, some would be surprised to know that he often spends his summer vacations pursuing another passion – archeology. Hawkins became interested in Biblical archeology after a professor from his undergraduate and graduate program showed his classes some of his research.

It wasn’t until the middle of the 1990s that Hawkins was able to go on his first expedition. He saw an advertisement in an archeology magazine looking for volunteers to help with a new dig in the highlands of Israel.

“I went and just fell in love with it,” Hawkins said. “I went back for four summers in a row and my wife said, ‘You can’t keep spending money like this. You’ve either got to quit this or change careers.’”

Hawkins then made the decision to pursue a doctoral degree in archaeology. He kept in contact with the archaeologist that he had worked with over the summers until the archaeologist’s death.

“He had had a huge influence on me,” Hawkins recalled. “He was my hero and I always wanted to build onto his work and do further study based on his work. A lot of the sites that he discovered were connected to early Israelite history and never before had been discovered because no one had worked there.”

It was then that Hawkins went in with a colleague and started The Jordan Valley Excavation Project with the goal of excavating some of the discovered sights that hadn’t been searched yet. Their first dig began in the summer of 2017 where they excavated a seasonal camp used by Israelite shepherds, along with others.

The Jordan Valley was also used as a battlefield for the Ammonite war. Only about two miles from their first dig site and about five miles northwest of Jericho, there is a fortified town that Hawkins and his partners believe was an administrative city with a series of towers and buildings with uniform rooms that could have been barracks to house soldiers.

“We read about how soldiers would go back to Jericho to recover and that’s in the shadow of our site,” he said. “All these wars are going back and forth around this site, so we think this was a fortress to guard the eastern entrance to the land and that it is going to be the key to understanding this unknown period of history.”

Hawkins and his partners will be working on a new site this summer, Khirbet ‘Auja el-Foqa.

The group will start at a new site this summer and hopes to find out how the kingdom of Judah administered the area and how they tried to have dominance by guarding the eastern border. The goal is to find inscriptions such as receipts about supplies or texts that may include information about the war or king.

While finding items like pottery is interesting, Hawkins doesn’t think their mission is surrounding those items.

“We’re not looking for individual treasures or objects as much as we’re uncovering the ancient culture and trying to reconstruct that and the historical contexts of the different periods of that culture,” he said.

With his background as a pastor, it’s also special for Hawkins to be working in the area of the world where the events in which he has a passion for and has studied for years occurred.

“For me, every time I go, it’s a pilgrimage and that never wears out,” Hawkins said. “It’s about walking in the footsteps of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and Jesus. For a person of faith, it’s a life changing experience. It’s hard to describe what that is like when you spend a lifetime reading these stories and they seem like they are stories that occurred in a land far, far away a long time ago. Then, all of a sudden, it’s real.”

There is also plenty of time for those involved in the project to explore the surrounding areas when they aren’t working. Hawkins highly encourages everyone to make the most of the experience.

“It costs a lot to get there, but my attitude is that once you get there, take advantage of it,” he said. “We pack in as much fun and exploration as we can.”

Hawkin’s daughter, Mary, standing beside the remains of an Iron Age tower at Foqa.

Averett students have also previously been invited to join the group in their excavations. During the summer of 2017, Rosie Anderson traveled with the group overseas and there are several students interested in going this summer.

Hawkins said that Averett students who are interested in going on the excavation can go through study abroad or speak with him about the process.

The link for the student abroad website is https://averett.abroadoffice.net/index.html.