Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

October 20, 2004:

Paul Bauman ’81

Geophysical engineer Paul Bauman ’81 located artifacts at the Cave of Letters. (courtesy Paul Bauman ’81)

Delicately 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.