Neal Bierling, a Dutch immigrant to the USA and a Calvin College graduate, began his archaeological dig adventures back in 1972 at Tel Gezer in Israel at the invitation of Bill Dever. The director of the dig was Joe Seger. Neal joined Gezer's supervisory staff under Sy Gitin in 1973 and received graduate credit through Jerusalem’s Hebrew Union College. Neal followed up his fieldwork with graduate school at the University of Michigan (M.A. in Near Eastern Studies [Archaeology]). He received additional academic credit from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In 1981, Neal was an assistant to Field Archaeologist Adam Zertal in the Gate with the Letters Room at Tel Lachish, a site directed by Tel Aviv University's David Ussishkin. Neal then joined Tel Miqne-Ekron's field staff for its initial summer season in 1984 and rose to an Associate Field Archaeologist position by 1996. He worked with the co-directors Sy Gitin and Trude Dothan. Due to his work at Ekron, Neal was able to publish the excavation's Volume VII, the report of finds in Field X (Eisenbrauns). It was during the 1996 season that a lengthy inscription was uncovered, which confirmed that Tel Miqne-Ekron was the Old Testament (Late Bronze and Iron Age) Philistine site of Ekron. After Ekron, Neal began working at Petra, Jordan (Patricia Bikai, Director), which is Jordan's most intriguing and exotic site. Petra had been home to Edom (named after the biblical Esau), followed in turn by the Nabataeans. The biblical figure (Saint) Paul may have visited (and preached at) Petra. In the late 1980s, ‘Indiana Jones’ visited Petra. Artifacts from Neal’s involvement with the Petra Blue Chapel Project were included for a nine-month exhibit at New York’s Museum of Natural History (to July ’04) after which the Petra Exhibit traveled to Cincinnati (in Sept ’04). Neal was able to get the Petra Exhibit to his current hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan (in April ’05). The exhibit went to two locations in Canada in 2006. The exhibit was entitled Petra: Lost City of Stone. Calvin College hired Neal to be their director of student educational programming and consultant for the Petra Exhibit.
The Roman fortress at Yotvata, Israel was the archaeological project Neal joined (Jodi Magness, Gwyn Davies, and Uzi Avner were Co-directors) in 2003 and 2004. It was a new excavation in the Arabah south of the Dead Sea and just north of Eilat. Neal was an archaeologist there as well as photographer. Yotvata is in the Arava, south of the Dead Sea and north of Eilat and in view from high locations in Petra. It appears that Yotvata has a Nabataean history but deeper excavating will be required to recover this period.
Neal joined up with the Tel Zeitah Excavations directed by Ron Tappy as a staff archaeologist for 2007. It is an ancient site located between Lachish and Tel es Safi (Gath) at a crossroads linking Egypt and Philistia with the Judean hills and Jerusalem. In 2008 and 2009, Neal was a staff archaeologist for Oded Borowski at Tel Halif near Lahav, Israel. At both sites, Neal was also the tour guide for the students taking them throughout Israel. Neal joined the Idalion Excavation, directed by Pam Gaber, Lycoming College, on Cyprus in 2011 as a staff archaeologist and photographer and returned there in 2012 in the same capacities.
Thanks to his archaeological background and that Neal is an educator, he was able to help coordinate (and co-write) an Old and New Testament Bible curriculum (3 volumes, 1989, 2nd ed. 1998) for Christian Schools International (CSI) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Also for CSI and the Bible curriculum, Neal, and his son, Joel produced a video series (3 videos, 1997) and a CD-ROM series (4 CDs, 2000) on archaeology and the Bible incorporating many of their pictures. Neal's earlier volume on the Philistines was entitled Giving Goliath His Due, 1992. His latest volume on the Philistines and the Bible was published late summer 2002. Neal worked with ABC affiliate TV 13 and the Grand Rapids (MI) Van Andel Museum Center on the Qumran, the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit, which opened to the public on February 16, 2003. Neal and Joel produced a CD-ROM on Middle Eastern Archaeology (with a focus on Qumran and the scrolls) for the exhibit and their photography of Qumran was displayed as part of the exhibit. Neal signed on as a lecturer for Grand Rapids Van Andel Museum Center’s 2006 exhibit: Treasures of Ancient Egypt, the Quest for Immortality. Some of Neal and Joel’s photography was also part of the exhibit.
Neal and Joel in 1995 formed a company PhoenixDataSystems.com dedicated to Middle Eastern Archaeology and e-Media Publishing. They have traveled throughout the Middle East via foot, 4-wheeled-drive vehicles, camels, helicopters, and a hot-air balloon, in order to photograph archaeological sites. A recent publication project for Neal and Joel includes Explore Petra: Lost City of Stone, a PanoReality Virtual Tour (2006 DVD), which was used at the Petra: Lost City of Stone Exhibit in Cincinnati, Grand Rapids, at the Canada venues, and now in Jordan for the Petra National Trust. Neal and Joel produced a Virtual Tour of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls for the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA), 2012. Since 1985 and through July 2009, Neal has guided numerous tourists and archaeological students to tour Middle Eastern countries. In the summer of 2012, Neal and Professor (emeritus) Bill Dever traveled to archaeological sites in Israel and Jordan visiting with dig directors. Neal photographed and took video of the visits.
Neal’s most current publication is Beyond Indiana Jones: Getting at the Facts (Artifacts) Buried in the Bible Story. Volume One was published in March 2013 in a Kindle format. Volume Two, the current volume, came out in July 2013. The plan is to publish these two volumes out in paperback before working on Volume Three and following for Kindle.
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