Ancient history student to dig on Crusader fortress site

Published 08 August 2012

Christine Vandor, a student of ancient history at the University of New England, is travelling to an archaeological site in Israel to take part in excavations that unearthed, in June, a golden treasure hoard.

“Thirty years of excavations have revealed that Apollonia-Arsuf, near the modern city of Herzliya, was an important centre of trade and commerce as far back as Phoenician times,” Ms Vandor said. “But the 2012 dig will mostly focus on the Byzantine and Crusader periods. The whole dig will be buzzing after the recent discovery of more than 100 gold coins in a partly-broken pottery vessel under the floor tiles of the twelfth-century Crusader fortress that dominates the site.”

Ms Vandor (pictured here), who lives in Cowra, NSW, with her husband and three children, is travelling to Israel as the recipient of this year’s Caswell & Mulligan International Travel Bursary for undergraduate students of ancient history at UNE. It will be not only her first time on an archaeological dig, but also her first experience of overseas travel.

The recently-discovered hoard of gold coins is believed to have been buried before the Battle of Arsuf between Saladin and Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade. A large cache of arrowheads and other weaponry – including stones used in catapults – was also found.

“The find is one of the most important in the region over the past few decades,” Ms Vandor said. “By participating in the dig I’ll be learning about the period of the Crusades through first-hand experience. To really get my hands in the dirt – and to learn from the regular lectures by Near Eastern scholars – will be fantastic.” She’ll be leaving for Israel on the 16th of August, and will spend two weeks at the dig.

Ms Vandor has a special interest in the ancient Near East, and proposed the Apollonia-Arsuf dig, conducted by Tel Aviv University, in her successful application for the travel bursary. She will be one of 35 international participants in the dig this August – and the only Australian.

“I hope to gain a greater understanding of archaeology, and develop my skills in reporting and public speaking through presenting my findings and experience back at UNE at the end of my trip,” she said. “I hope, too, that this will be the first of many opportunities to explore – first-hand – the history of the Near East.”

The travel bursary, donated through UNE’s School of Humanities by Dr Gabi Caswell (a former ancient history student at UNE) and her husband Stefan Mulligan ( a current UNE student), is worth $2,500. Ms Vandor is its third annual recipient.