engineer Paul Bauman ’81 located artifacts at the Cave
of Letters. (courtesy Paul Bauman ’81)
digging for treasures Paul Bauman ’81 has
helped unearth ancient sites in Israel
Paul Bauman ’81’s
most memorable assignment is the one he got from University of Hartford
professor Richard Freund in 1999.
Freund, Bauman says, asked, “‘How would you like to
change the world of modern Jewish and Christian history?’
My first impulse was to hang up,” recalls Bauman, a near-surface
geophysical engineer who locates historically significant sites.
But he kept listening. Freund was doing archaeological work on a
site in Israel called the Cave of Letters. Located on the coast
of the Dead Sea, the cave was the hiding place for some 50 to 100
rebels at the end of the Second Jewish Revolt against the Romans
from 132 to 135 A.D. The cave gets its name from a momentous archaeological
find in the 1960s that yielded the largest cache of papyrus scrolls
found anywhere in Israel. Freund believed that more artifacts were
buried in the cave, and he wanted Bauman’s expertise to help
him pinpoint where to begin his dig.
To do this, Bauman employs a variety of geophysical measuring
techniques to determine what’s in the earth — with minimal
damage to the landscape. “It’s the equivalent of medical
imaging. You want to get as much knowledge as you can without resorting
to invasive strategies, such as digging or drilling,” he explains.
As the managing geophysicist of Komex International, the geophysical
and environmental consulting firm he helped start in Alberta, Canada,
15 years ago, Bauman works with clients ranging from university
consortiums to governments. In addition to locating ancient sites,
he addresses contemporary geological issues, such as testing the
thickness of ice in Antarctica.
Bauman and his crew worked on the Cave of Letters for several
weeks at a time during the summers of 2000 and 2001. He used electrical
resistivity tomography — comparable to X-ray imaging —
to image the floor of the cave, which ultimately led archaeologists
to locate artifacts, including clothing, tools, and more letters
that shed light on how the rebels hiding in the cave lived and died.
Most significantly, Bauman’s team located coins minted by
the rebels during the Second Jewish Revolt. These helped historians
and archaeologists pinpoint the exact dates and the geographic spread
of the revolt, which had not been well documented by the Romans.
“We wanted to bring to light a bit of the history of the
Second Jewish Revolt that very few people are aware of,” he
says. “Ancient Refuge in the Holy Land,” a documentary
on this project, will air on “NOVA” on PBS Nov. 30.
The Cave of Letters is one of eight sites that Bauman has worked
on in Israel since then, including a spectacular find of a zinc
sarcophagus in Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls and the remains
of a Jewish sect, the Essenes, were discovered.
While his work takes him to every continent, Bauman, who earned
a certificate in Near Eastern studies along with his engineering
degree, says he feels a particular affinity for his work in Israel.
“Our work in the Cave of Letters and other first- and second-century
sites in Israel is assisting in clarifying the maelstrom out of
which Christianity and modern Judaism were forged. While geophysics
may not necessarily bring peace to the Middle East, it is quickly
changing the manner in which the historical context of the area
is unearthed and interpreted.”
By Kathryn Beaumont ’96
Kathryn Beaumont ’96 is a writer in Cambridge, Mass.