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By MYRON LOVE Haskel Greenfield, Professor of Anthropol-ogy and Archaeology at the University of Manitoba and co-director (with his wife, Professor Tina Green-field) of the university’s Near Eastern and Biblical Archaeology Lab, has achieved a career pinnacle. He has been recognized as one of the university’s “Distinguished Professors”.


“It’s wonderful to be recognized by my university for all that I have accomplished here,” Greenfield says. “Most of my colleagues don’t receive this kind of recognition.”
He notes that there are only 20 professors at the University of Manitoba at any given time who are designated as ““Distinguished Professors”. (Someone has to retire or die before another can be appointed, he points out.) While he was scheduled to officially receive the accolade at Convocation in June, the official presentation is being put off until Fall Convocation because the honoree will once again be in Israel with his students working on his current dig at Tel Tzafit (Tell ss-Safi/Gath) in Tel Tzafit National Park in southern Israel.
Greenfield was born in Newark, New Jersey. He notes that his father was an Orthodox Rabbi who served as the rabbi for the American Air Force’s Strategic Air Command – as a result, the family moved frequently across the United States while he was growing up.
He showed an early childhood interest in ancient history and dinosaurs, he says, so it was not surprising that, after briefly trying a business course in university, he chose to follow his first love in academia. His first full-time university posting - after earning his Ph.D. from the City University of New York - was at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. His first official visit to Israel was in 1973 when he was on his first excavation at Tel Gezer.
Greenfield came to the University of Manitoba in 1989. “It was a golden opportunity,” he says of his decision to teach at the U. of M. “This is a very good university in a city that still had a thriving Jewish community when I first came here.
“At the University of Manitoba, I could be who I was. I didn’t have to fit into anyone else’s mold. No one tried to dictate what research I could do. I received a lot of support from the administration and my colleagues. I could work anywhere in the world on any topic as long as I was able to raise the money and involve my students.”
Rather than focusing on a specific region in his studies, Greenfield notes, he has always pursued “the big picture” – how we have come to be who we are today from our earliest origins to growing our own food, domesticating animals, developing towns and cities and adapting new technology. One of his special interests has been researching the beginnings of metallurgy and its effects on daily life.
“We can tell by the microscopic marks on animal bones when people started using metal tools instead of stone tools,” he explains. “We have sampled 25 sites around Israel and discovered that even in the early Bronze Age, after 3500 BCE, when bronze becomes available, people continued to use stone tools to build houses and butcher animals. It was only after 2000 BCE., in the middle Bronze Age, that bronze metal-working begins to appear in every day life.”
He adds that he has conducted similar studies in Turkey and parts of Europe in order to map out the spread of bronze technology in every day life and has similar findings. But, the farther one is away from the Near East, the later in time does bronze become an important technology for processing food in daily life
Another area of research for Greenfield has been the domestication of animals. He reports that livestock (goats, sheep, cattle and pigs) were originally raised for their primary products (meat, hides and bone) when they were initially domesticated beginning around 7,000-8,000 BCE. – and not for their secondary benefits (giving milk, wool, as a means of transportation or for pulling a plough). Ploughs, wagons and woolly sheep only developed after 4000 BCE.
Milk has been found in the earliest ceramics (about 6000 BCE), he reports, but it is unlikely that milk was an important part of the diet at that time as it wasn’t for several thousand years that humans were able to digest milk. His research has shown that goats were probably the first species to be milked intensively – although this was several thousand years after domestication.
For a number of years, Greenfield focused his field research in the Balkans (Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Romania and Greece). “I worked in the Balkans up until 1992 when the Balkan Wars broke out,” he says. “I saw firsthand the advantages and evils of nationalism. It gave me insight into the difficulties in solving of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is difficult for people to live together when there is so much bad history and memories are so long. Sometimes, it is better to be separated than forcing them to co-exist in the same state.”
He and his students have been excavating Tel Tzafit since 2008, when they joined forces with the director of the excavation, Professor Aren Maier of Bar Ilan University. The site, he reports, is thought to be ancient Gath, the Philistine city that was the home of Goliath, who fought David nearby. Gath, he says, was not only a Philistine City in the Iron Age; it has now been convincingly demonstrated that it was also a large, Bronze Age city. It was among the largest in the region 5000 years ago (in the early Bronze Age).
The layers at the site probably go back to at least 4000 BCE, he notes.
“We have only dug down to 2,800 BCE.” He says. “We still have another thousand years to go to reach bottom.”
While he would love to uncover a temple or a palace, he says, the modern scientific approach is excavating houses in neighbourhoods to study changes in daily life over time.
Greenfield has been working on the site with his team, which pools resources with the Israeli, American, Australian, Korean and other teams that come with their professors. Each summer, there is an average of about 100 professors, students and volunteers. The excavation is organized as a large field school where students and volunteers are educated in the archaeology of the region and the latest scientific approaches to the archaeology.
Last summer’s dig coincided with the Gaza conflict. “We are working just about 38 km from the border with Gaza,” he says. “Despite the missile fire, we only missed a day in the field. We were luckier than most excavations because we were protected by Israel. Tel Tzafit is located near a major Israeli air base and power station. The Iron Dome system kept us safe.”
He notes that all other archaeological teams in the area pulled out and went home when the conflict began. “I contacted my university officials and outlined the situation and my contingency plans,” he says. “I told them that if I felt it was becoming unsafe, I would arrange for our evacuation. I told them that we were safer than many places in Israel because we had bomb shelters and were protected by the Iron Dome system... that we would be safe. The administration left it to my judgment. I am grateful for their support.”
Greenfield will be going back to Tel Tzafit this summer with seven undergraduate students and five graduate students, along with his wife and children. But first, he has a stopover at Cambridge University where he has been invited to serve as an overseas visiting scholar at the famed British University’s St. John’s College. (He actually left for Cambridge this week.)
“It’s a six month position that began in January,” he says of his Cambridge posting. “I am doing research and have helped to mentor a few Ph.D. students.
“And I have been enjoying the food at the High Table every evening. We begin with sherry before dinner, have a wonderful dinner and top it off with fine coffee and tea (or port and dessert wine). The college has a Michelin-trained chef. I am enjoying the fish, fresh vegetables, lovely breads and great wines.”
Greenfield says that he loves archaeology, which he describes as a lifestyle more than a job. “Part of the excitement is being involved in the process of discovery. I could spend my life in a lab, but it’s more fun in the field, especially when I can take students with me and introduce them to the excitement of field work and research. It is gratifying that so many of my students have become professional anthropologists and archaeologists in their own right.”

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