It was his fourth archeological trip to Israel to work with the Associates for Biblical Research.
The first found him working alongside his wife following their wedding and a trip to Africa. He began as a grunt worker, carrying buckets of dirt and digging for long hours.
His appreciation for hard work and the spirit of the dig paid off. He returned for the second consecutive year to the site as a square supervisor. It was a comfortable and enjoyable fit by his fourth return.
The role of square supervisor means taking the lead on one to three 5-by-5-meter squares. Sometimes executive decisions need to be made. Is the piece a worker just found a rock or manmade artifact?
Peterson contemplated the very same question as he held a half-inch piece of stone in his palm. Portions of the tiny rock seemed to have been carved by a human. He set the piece aside for the time as the digging continued.
Archeologists established the worksite in the mid-1990s. It is the second proposed site of Ai, one of three cities burned by Joshua in the biblical book of Joshua.
According to Peterson, archeologists are split in two groups: minimalists who believe a portion of the Bible is true; and maximalists who believe the Bible can be read as a historical text.
Minimalists believe another site, a large ruin between Bethel and Jericho, to be the site of Joshua’s Ai. Except, artifacts found at the dig site date to the Early Bronze Age. Joshua would have burned Ai in the Late Bronze Age. Archeologists reported there was not a settlement in the Late Bronze Age at the site originally thought to be Ai.
This would mean the Book of Joshua in the biblical text was wrong.
Maximalists argued the minimalist archeologists have the wrong site. A site a little ways from the original was established. Archeologists and volunteers have spent 20 years on the site during dig seasons.
Several factors convinced the men and women to persevere:
- Remnants of a Byzantine church sit on a hill overlooking the proposed site of Ai.
According to Peterson, the churches were only built by areas with religious significance.
- Local residents call the ruin, which looks more like a field, the city of Ai. However, Peterson explained archeologists like to investigate further before agreeing with local tradition.
- Pottery dating back to the Late Bronze Age was found throughout the worksite. The pieces have been fired twice. The first was during their creation. The second occurred when the building they were stored in caught on fire, which would support Joshua’s burning of the city.
Minimalist archeologists brushed off the refired L.B. pottery as freak accidents.
- The location of the proposed site of Ai worked on by ABR fits the topographical description of the Biblical Ai: the city gates face north; a valley slopes down between the city gates and where Joshua assembled his troops; and a valley rests behind the city where Joshua ambushed the city.
According to Peterson, the archeologists for the original proposed site of Ai shrugged off the evidence. The dig workers at the new proposed site of Ai needed something more concrete.
The tiny piece of stone originally set aside by Peterson remained on a larger rock for 30 minutes. A site guard made the rounds. Peterson grabbed his attention and presented his square’s discovery.
The guide took a stick and began to reveal the image carved into the stone.
It was an Egyptian Scarab pendant from the reign of Amenhotep II, the pharoah in power when the Israelites wandered in the desert.
“The whole place went abuzz,” Peterson said. “What we realized was we had something for the first time to [really] date our site. It was the best discovery in 20 years.”
According to Christianity Today, the discovery of the scarab was named No. 1 of the top 10 finds of 2013.
“This would prove decisively that we have a fortress dating to the time of Amenhotep II that was occupied during this time frame and was there for Joshua to conquer,” Peterson said. “Therefore, [we could say back to] all of the naysayers who have said for years that the biblical text is an embarrassment when it comes to this conquest, ‘No, we actually have proof. You have been in the wrong spot for ... closer to 90 years now.’”
Work will continue on the site for further evidence of Ai, as well as more information that can be found in general about the Old Testament and New Testament times.
Pictures, experiences and artifacts gathered throughout the digs allow Peterson to bring the cities of the Bible to life for his students.
A lesson on David hiding from Saul in En Gedi includes a picture of the rocky terrain inhabited by goats to this day. The inside look presents students with the opportunity to connect with the stories.
Peterson said he plans on returning this May to the site to continue the work with ABR.
A typical day consists of an early breakfast at 4:30 a.m., followed by a ride on the bus at 5. Someone delivers a devotional to set the tone on the drive out to the site. Volunteers and professionals work side-by-side in a very “laid back, relaxing” atmosphere.
“It is very collegial. It is not high pressure,” Peterson said. “We meet for an hour after supper to listen to lectures on archeology. It is very Christ-centered.”
He encouraged more Christians to get involved in archeology.
“Most of the archeology work is being completed by non-Christians,” Peterson said. “They interpret the data through a different lens than we do. For me, the role of archeology has become so central to teaching and the role of a Christian proving the importance of texts of Scripture.”