West Virginia University students have the opportunity this summer to get their hands dirty in Middle East history and uncover ancient artifacts on an archaeological dig in Bethsaida with the Israel Study Abroad Program .

Any student interested in exploring ancient cultures can literally get their hands on a piece of history and earn course credit through this one-of-a-kind program.

Students participating in the dig get a type of cultural immersion that is unique to any other study aboard program on campus,said associate professor of religious studies Aaron Gale , who heads the course associated with the program.Theyre standing at the crossroads of ancient and modern history and gaining valuable, firsthand experience that cant be taught in the classroom.

From May 30 to June 15, participants of the program will travel to Bethsaida, near the Sea of Galilee, to learn the methods and practices involved in modern archaeology, dig up artifacts, perform lab work and participate in various lectures.

Archeologists, who have been digging at the Bethsaida site since 1987, have uncovered less than 10 percent of its artifacts, which date back at least 5,000 years. The ancient city of Bethsaida is mentioned many times in the Bible and has been linked to both the Old and New Testaments.

Students in the program explore the religions and cultures associated with ancient Israel from the Old Testament period through the Roman Era, as well as the contemporary practices and interactions taking place among Jews, Christians and Muslims. They also travel to ancient cities such as Nazareth, Sepphoris and Cana on the weekends and conclude the dig by visiting Jerusalem to tour well-known religious and historical sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock.

Curtis Conrad, a junior religious studies major and anthropology minor from Elkins, volunteered at the Bethsaida dig in 2007 after Gale told his Religion 102 class about the excavation site. He unearthed many artifacts, including the floors of a Roman house, tools from the Bronze and Iron Age, arrowheads and spear points nearly 2,300 years old, bones and pottery. He enjoyed it so much he plans to return this summer thanks to WVU s collaboration in the program.

The course, Religion 306: Biblical History/Archaeology in Israel, is open to all majors, and no prior archaeological experience is necessary. The cost of the trip is $4,500 and includes six WVU upper-level credits, round-trip airfare, housing, extended learning fees, transportation, many meals and some field trips.

The WVU Office of International Programs requests applications for the course be submitted by the end of the month.

To learn more about the study abroad course, go to http://www.wvu.edu/~intlprog/faculty_led/su_israel_history.htm . To learn more about the Bethsaida excavation site, visit http://www.unomaha.edu/bethsaida/ .

For more information on the Israel Study Abroad Program, contact Gale at ” Aaron.Gale@mail.wvu.edu rel=nofollow> Aaron.Gale@mail.wvu.edu or 304-293-3641 ext. 33313.