Sixty years had passed before Timothy Harrison decided to tie up the loose ends of one of the Middle East's most famous archaeological expeditions--the University of Chicago's excavation of ancient Megiddo. Christians call it Armageddon.

It was 1996, and Megiddo was a "dead dig," shelved long ago by the university, but Harrison, a young archaeologist with a new degree, hoped to resurrect it. Unpublished archives showed that "Stratum 6," dismissed for years as a nondescript "squatter phase" in Megiddo's history, in fact showed spectacular evidence of war, destruction and possible conquest. The Megiddo story was missing a critical chapter.

A year later, Harrison became one of the first grantees in the Shelby White-Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications, a unique fellowship aimed at cleaning up the unfinished business left by dozens of archaeologists over decades of exploration and excavation in the Middle East, Greece and the Aegean.

"The problem with archaeologists is that they love to dig and hate to publish," said Philip J. King, the retired Boston College archaeologist who serves as the White-Levy program's executive director. "But there's no point in digging it if you don't publish it. You might as well bury it in your cellar."

In its first three years, the program has dispensed $1.6 million to 38 archaeologists for sites from Megiddo's Stratum 6 to Hellenistic ceramics from the Golan Heights and the pre-Mycenaean strata at the citadel of Koukounaries on the Greek island of Paros.

The grants last up to three years and can cover projects from Neolithic times to the Middle Ages. Most important, however, the field work must have been completed for at least five years, and grantees must have a publisher in hand before they apply. The program is designed, literally, to close the book on dead digs.

"A dig that's not published is a big hole in the ground," said Shelby White, the program's New York-based founder and chairman. "We were very concerned about this."

As philanthropy, the White-Levy program is without blemish: "For a junior person coming out of graduate school trying to establish myself, it was a godsend," said Harrison, now 34. He said the Megiddo grant was instrumental in winning him a tenure-track faculty position at the University of Toronto.

But in archaeological politics, White-Levy has proved to be a lightning rod for those who vilify dealers and collectors for abetting the looting that is destroying sites all over the world. White and investor husband Leon Levy are recognized collectors of classical antiquities.

The program provoked an ugly dust-up this year when Indiana University's Karen D. Vitelli, a 1997 grantee who got $40,000 from the program to finish her work on Neolithic pottery in Greece, used the preface to her resulting book not only to thank White-Levy, but also to criticize them for "the losses engendered by their collecting."

White, an outspoken defender of collectors, acknowledged that she was "dismayed" at Vitelli's attack, but remained unmoved: "It wasn't a nice thing to do," she said, but "it doesn't stop me from believing there is room for a legitimate market."

Vitelli was also unrepentant: "I didn't set out to insult them," she said in an interview, but "I don't think they bought my silence." Also, she added, "I didn't say anything that I hadn't said publicly before."

Indeed, while most grantees consulted for this article described Vitelli's behavior as outrageous, they also expressed at least some opposition to collecting: "I always feel a little uncomfortable when I go into the British Museum," said Edward F. Campbell.

But Campbell, a retired archaeologist from Chicago's McCormick Theological Seminary, is unsparing in his praise for White-Levy for helping him close out a lifetime of work in the West Bank site of Shechem: "They've been lifesavers."

This is because "dead digs" have zero cachet. The news conferences were held years ago, just before the magazine articles appeared. People raised families, taught students, moved on to something else, or died. In many cases, the history of a dead dig can be as convoluted as the history of the site itself.

Campbell, now 68, joined the legendary G. Ernest Wright at Shechem in 1957, a young member of the team that set out to describe through pottery the entire history from 4000 B.C. to 120 B.C. of a settlement featured in the Bible as a major ceremonial site for Israelites from Abraham to Joshua.

Before he died in 1974, Wright asked Campbell to finish publication of the project. War and politics hampered further on-site investigation, but the team--a shifting cast of about 30 senior staff members--pressed on.

One volume was published in 1983, another in 1991, and the third--written by Campbell--is in the works. White-Levy is funding the fourth on Bronze Age pottery, to be written by two young graduate students--the third generation to work on Wright's dig.

The Megiddo project was begun in the 1920s and was a marvel of its time. Funded generously by the Rockefeller family, the expedition set out to peel Megiddo's 30-meter tell, or mound, layer by layer through more than 20 strata.

Megiddo was a vital strategic city that controlled access to the Mediterranean coast and is thought to be the New Testament model for Armageddon, site of the climactic battle between good and evil on Judgment Day.

P.L.O. Guy of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute led the dig, but as it neared Stratum 6, covering the years 1100-1000 B.C., Institute Director James Henry Breasted, one of the most famous Egyptologists of the day, began to get "frustrated."

Guy was too slow, and Breasted was impatient to get to the earlier strata when Megiddo was under Egyptian control, Harrison said. In 1934, Breasted fired Guy.

Replacement Gordon Loud "was wise to the political climate, and wanted to get it done quickly," Harrison continued. "He started cutting trenches." Guy's team published Strata 1-5, and Loud published his own work, but Stratum 6, added Harrison, "was caught between two directors."

The dig finished in 1939, and "died." So, subsequently, did Breasted, Guy and the story of their falling-out, until University of Chicago archaeologist Douglas Esse uncovered it in the late 1980s in the institute's archives, along with Stratum 6's unpublished research.

It turned out that the orphaned stratum showed evidence of violent upheaval--happening so quickly that artifacts, debris and the skeletons of slain inhabitants were preserved intact and in place for Guy's photographers nearly 3,000 years later. It was an "extraordinary" site, Harrison said.

But Esse, only 42, died of cancer in 1992 before he resurrected the dig. Three years later Harrison graduated, and a year after that he was retracing Esse's archival journey. With White-Levy's help, the long-awaited manuscript will be completed "in the next few months," he said.