Beit Lehi Project

UVU first got involved last year with the Beit Lehi project when we were approached by Alan Rudd, President of the Beit Lehi Foundation. The Beit Lehi Foundation is a non-profit organization that was formed to help in the excavation of a very substantial archeology site located approximately 22 miles southwest of Jerusalem. After meeting with the foundation we decided that this project could be a very worthwhile and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the students of UVU. Next, Ernie Carey, the Dean of the College of Technology and Computing, Larry Marsing, the Associate Dean of the School of Applied Technologies and Construction, and Darin Taylor, the Department Chair of Engineering Design Technology, went over to Israel in April of this year to assess the project and determine if it would be a good fit for UVU. We spent time working out the logistics of taking a group of students over to Israel, we also addressed issues such as safety, costs, and practicality of the work. After everything was evaluated, we did indeed determine this project to be a premier engaged learning and study abroad experience for the students of UVU.

The Beit Lehi Foundation first approached us because of the unique skill sets the EGDT students possess. These students are capable of doing the initial site surveying and mapping. They can also do the design of the facilities and infrastructure that will accommodate those that visit the site in the future, such as: a visitor center with gift shop and theater, walkways around the site, parking lots and roadways for buses and cars. We also wanted to use the talents of the Digital Media students to help film a documentary focusing on the EGDT students and their involvement in the project, as well as produce a movie that would eventually tell the story and history of the site. This would be the movie that visitors would watch in the theater while visiting the site, this is quite common at all the tourist sites in Israel. There could also be other opportunities for Construction Management students as well as others in the future. So as you can see, this project will provide many wonderful opportunities for the students of UVU to take their learning to the next level.

Our most recent trip involved three faculty and seven students from UVU. We left Friday, October 8 and returned Sunday, October 17. We coordinated this over the Fall break to disrupt the students as little as possible. The team consisted of two faculty from EGDT (Darin Taylor & Danial Perry) and five students from EGDT (Logan Gurr, David Nelson, Grant Nixon, Ryan Phillips, and Kevin Bishop). The team also had one faculty from Digital Media (Paul Cheney) and two students from Digital Media (Jacob Van Wagoner and Parker Cross). I will provide you with their contact information at the end of this email as you requested.

UVU accomplished a great deal on this first trip over with students. The EGDT Surveying team were able to lay out a complex survey control grid above ground that all the future surveying, mapping, and design work can be related to. As part of this survey, we met with the lead archeological surveyor on the site and tied our survey grid into theirs. We also started 3D scanning many of the underground chambers, tombs and tunnels. One of the unique things about this archeology site is the vast amount of installations that are below the ground surface having been chiseled out of the limestone rock that is prevalent in the region. Some of the structures include burial chambers, subterranean chapels, olive presses, ritual baths, cisterns, mangers, columbaria, and the list goes on and on. There is basically an entire village underneath the surface of the earth. Above the ground is a large village, a Byzantine chapel with one of the best preserved mosaic floors in all of Israel, and many other points of interest. In fact, the Israeli Archeology Authority calls this one of the richest sites being excavated in all of Israel at this time. As part of our work, UVU is using a 3 dimensional scanning technology that is at the leading edge of surveying technology. The commercial cost of our scanner is near $150,000 and is capable of capturing millions of surveyed points in a matter of minutes. While we were there, some of the lead archeologist in the region also visited the site just to learn more of this new technology that will certainly take archeology surveying to the next level.

Our digital media team was on-site filming the work taking place by the EGDT team as well as the archeology team. They interviewed faculty, students, the archeologists, and members of the Beit Lehi Foundation. Paul Cheney also spent his time on the site carrying out 3-Dimensional High Resolution photography of many of the chambers that have been excavated up to this point. His information actually provides a virtual reality tour of each of the features on the site. His work will be very useful to the Beit Lehi Foundation for their website and for future presentations they make to the public. With Paul's contribution, you can actually tour the archeology site from your computer in your office or home. The digital media students also filmed some segments to be used for an Engaged Learning advertisement being produced for UVU.

The lead archeologist on this site is Oren Gutfeld from the Hebrew University. Oren is now one of the most recognized and respected archeologists in Israel. In fact, he was just authorized to be the lead archeologist to oversee the newest archeology dig of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Oren was even recently recognized with a personal visit with the Pope for his recent discovery of a hoard of coins found in the area of Tiberias. Oren is as close to an Indiana Jones as you will meet. The students of UVU also got to meet Oren's right hand man, Yakov Kalman, who was the archeologist on-site when King Herod's tomb was uncovered. The students of UVU were excited to meet and work alongside these well known and respected archeologists. Oren Gutfeld has come to UVU on several occasions to speak to our students and we look forward to future visits which are often accompanied  by presentations.

Since the site sits on the perimeter of an Israeli military base, we are only allowed to excavate on certain days of the week. On the off days, the students of UVU were able to tour some of the prominent sites in Israel. They visited Qumran, En Gedi, Masada, Caesarea and Jaffa on the Mediterranean coast, the Western Wall, the tunnels and chambers under the Western Wall, Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, Garden Tomb, Hezekiah's Tunnel, Garden of Gethsemane, Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center, Old Jerusalem, Samson's Well, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and many other noteworthy sites. By visiting these sites, the students were able to see first-hand what types of designs are being used in Israel and also what works well with visitors and also what was not visitor friendly. There was very little time where the students did not have something to do or see. They experienced the many religious cultures in the area and were able to taste many of the foods in the region. In their words, "This was an educational experience of a lifetime".

Alan and Gary Rudd of the Beit Lehi Foundation were absolutely wonderful in the opportunities they offered the team from UVU. They had arranged all of the accommodations and proved to be excellent tour guides as we visited the many sites. The foundation actually picked up all the transportation costs for the UVU group as well as treated them to several very nice meals while in Israel. We are very lucky to have them as our hosts and they did everything within their control to accommodate our group.

All in all, the Beit Lehi archeology project is a priceless engaged learning experience for our students and faculty. You can stand in front of a classroom for days on end and try to explain how to survey a project such as this with only a minimal effect. But, to actually take the students to a foreign country and to literally place them on an archeology site such as this is an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.