By: Dylan Bowman, HAHS Board Member
January 30, 2024
Halifax's "Indiana Jones"
As a film guy, I have to say that Indiana Jones is quite possibly my all-time favorite film franchise, mainly because, as a Boy Scout, I myself had gone through many adventures with my friends in the woods, mountains and caverns of the East Coast. Every forest was a jungle. Every cave a temple of doom. I feel it is the ultimate goal of every young man and permeates the very mind of he who finds himself in the outdoors doing anything remotely adventurous...even for those who don't want to admit it.
I mean who wouldn't want to be the dashing archaeologist and adventurer "Indiana Jones?"
This past week, Halifaxians and visitors to the Historical Society's January Program were treated to an in-depth discussion by presenter and current HAHS Treasurer, Dane Snyder, a real archaeologist. Though he doesn't wear a fedora, he is what I would personally call "Halifax's Real Indiana Jones," and, unlike any fictional character (no matter how cool), has really lived the life of an archaeologist in the field.
Top: Dane Snyder draws out an example of how an archaeologist moves and tests the ground for artifacts while excavating a site. Photograph by Dylan Bowman.
Bottom: Official sketches of past excavation sites worked on by Dane Snyder. Documents provided by Dane Snyder.
The Expeditions of Dane Snyder
Dane discussed with attendees his education and how he had long known that he wanted to be an archaeologist. He remembered back to his early days:
"I always loved history," Snyder said. "My parents took our family to every historical place we could see. I was also always working in the dirt outdoors, and in middle school I knew that I wanted to be an archaeologist."
Snyder graduated from Slippery Rock University (1998 from undergrad and 2001 from graduate school) with a Bachelor's degree in History and Anthropology, and later a Master's in History. He went on to work for McCormick Taylor and later Gray and Pape, checking grounds in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Delaware that were sanctioned to be uncovered/paved by the Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, and Federal Energy Regulation Commission.
During his time as an archaeologist, Dane had uncovered an unmarked potter's field in Virginia, a small town and cemetery that had long been lost and its disappearance questioned, a storage pit in Lemoyne, PA, filled with hundreds of effigy artifacts, and a George Washington inaugural button on the old J.R. Weldin Farmstead (former delegate to the Continental Congress, John Dickenson, lived there for a time). The discovery was so large that it was addressed by the then-current PA governor and was mentioned on USA Today. Currently, only 50 real buttons are known to exist.
One of Snyder's greatest discoveries was made during his expedition to Israel with a Harvard University team in 1997. While there, they unearthed several architectural anomalies, dozens of artifacts, and even a large mosaic floor in the foundations of what had once been an Israeli structure (uncovered by Dane, much to the jealousy of several Harvard students).
The floor mosaic uncovered by Dane in Israel, 1997. Photographs provided by Dane Snyder.
One day, while working the ancient earth that lies outside the main gate of Ashkelon, Dane unearthed "his first body." It was a Canaanite woman who had been buried for approximately 4,000 years and was the servant of a master who Dane also uncovered a few feet away. On her bony finger she wore a golden ring (given to her by her master) and at her feet in the grave there lay broken pottery.
On that same trip to the Holy Land, Dane was attempting to uncover a rock wall, inch by minute inch, with a small pick-axe, when the wall unexpectedly gave way, releasing a torrent of human skulls and skeletons that had been buried in some mass grave, quite possibly during one of Israel's many endured conflicts of a past millennium.
Sounds like a "Indiana Jones" adventure to me. Lived out by one of Halifax's very own.
Dane Snyder's archaeological expedition in Israel, 1997. Sites of the city can be seen, including the Wailing Wall (seen behind Dane in the center photo) and the Sea of Galilee. The bottom photos provide a small glimpse into the vast amount of artifacts and structures their team uncovered, particularly the human remains as mentioned by Dane above. In the bottom center photo, note the golden ring at the center of the remains; the soil in the middle of the ring is discolored and blue from the oxidation of thousands of years. Photographs provided by Dane Snyder.
Turnout for the event was healthy, rounding off at over 20 individuals. Discussion was even more impressive, as questions for Dane about his experience, career, and techniques in the field continued to emanate from the crowd.
We greatly appreciate Dane's willingness to share his knowledge and experience with archeology with the Halifax community and we can't wait to having him back in the future (so if you missed this program, keep an eye on our schedule!). If you are interested in visiting one of our monthly programs, check out our Events page for more information on upcoming thills. We look forward to seeing you there!
Visitors enjoy refreshments and fellowship while discussing archeology with Dane further. Photographs by Dylan Bowman.