Following the 10-hour plane ride and the two-hour drive to their destination, West Virginia University students and staff arrived in Bethsaida, Israel, last summer to begin their two-week archaeological dig.

The trip was offered through WVU’s Program for Religious Studies, and allowed participating students to get hands-on archaeological experience while excavating ancient religious artifacts. Students discovered ancient coins, pottery shards, tools, bones and other exciting finds. Some of the artifacts found dated back as far as the Bronze Age, over 3,500 years ago.

“It didn’t really sink in until the second day when the dig started,” Megan Naylor, a sophomore double major in Anthropology and Religious Studies from Westminster, Md., said of her arrival to Bethsaida.

While on the Israel trip, which is offered again this summer, students not only participate in the archaeological dig, they also attend pottery readings and lectures. Students take weekend trips, traveling to surrounding cities such as Nazareth, Armageddon and Sepphoris. At the conclusion of their trip students spend three nights in Jerusalem visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock and other important religious sites.

This summer, in addition to offering the annual archeological dig in Israel, the Religious Studies Program is adding a second trip to Turkey and Greece.

Participants in that trip will get to explore world religions and cultures by visiting fascinating sites including the Church of St. Sophia and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the ruins of ancient Troy, and the cities of Ephesus and Pergamon in western Turkey. At the end of the adventure students will set sail for a three-day cruise to Greece where they will explore the roots of pagan and monotheistic religions at sites such as the Oracle at Delphi and other amazing pinnacles of ancient culture.

The Israel trip will run May 22-June 7, and the Turkey and Greece trip will be June 19- July 1.

“The study abroad programs allow students to explore world religions firsthand and allow them to touch history, rather than merely learning from a textbook and lecture,” said Dr. Aaron Gale, program coordinator for WVU’s Program for Religious Studies. “This opportunity engages students of history, religion, anthropology and archaeology.”

Students are not required to take any religious studies courses prior to going on the trips. However they are required to do their homework and research the area prior to their departure. Work is also required while on the trips.

By the summer of 2011, two more trips will be added: one to Egypt and Tunisia and one to Thailand and Japan.

All students are welcome to apply. Those who attend the Israel trip will receive six credit hours. Those who attend the Turkey and Greece will receive three credit hours.

“This trip was the best experience of my life, when you travel it opens your eyes to things you could never imagine,” said Naylor.

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CONTACT: Aaron Gale, Program Coordinator for Religious Studies