By Christine Spenuk (PEF Volunteer)
“The original mission statement of the PEF was to promote research into the archaeology and history, manners and customs and culture, topography, geology and natural sciences of biblical Palestine and the Levant.” (PEF website/History)
This is a mission statement that I believe to still be true today. The Palestine Exploration Fund, as I have come to know it, is a space that is welcoming to scholars, students, and individuals wishing to learn more about the history of Palestine by looking through the vast and varied collections stored on site. In the time I have been volunteering at the PEF I have seen archaeologists, students, teachers and visitors to London come seeking certain materials to learn more about a specific subject, from 19th century PEF explorer Charles Warren’s Jerusalem maps, to photographs taken at excavations from a certain site to locating a specific book stored in the library.
I became aware of the Palestine Exploration Fund through one of my university professors. After mentioning to her that I was going to be spending the next 2 years living and working in London, she told me about the PEF’s 150th Anniversary Conference taking place in June 2015. I was intrigued; I had just finished university and hadn’t had much of a chance to explore many archaeological organizations other than the ones around my school and home (both in Canada). I attended the day-long conference and the following summer sent an email to the curator, Felicity Cobbing, asking about volunteer opportunities within the organization. That fall (September 2016) I began volunteering at the PEF.
At first I was unsure of what I would be doing, but having both experience in photographing artefacts and working with a collection of artefacts from a previous job in Canada, I was hopeful my role would be one I was familiar with (and it is). I am busy photographing the PEF’s extensive collection of archaeological artefacts.
There are over 6,000 artefacts in the archive and so far I have photographed just over 2,000, mainly from three excavations: Charles Warren’s Jerusalem excavations (1867-1870), Flinders Petrie and Frederick Bliss’s Tell el Hesi excavations (1890-92), and British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem/Harvard University excavations at Samaria (led by John and Molly Crowfoot in the 1930s). Included in these artefacts are beautifully intact pieces of pottery, potsherds, glass pieces, tiny beads, charred ivory fragments (a lot of these), tiny pieces of gold leaf (which stick to everything you don’t want them to making photographing challenging), and small scarabs. Many of these artefacts are so tiny I am worried my camera won’t be able to zoom in close enough to capture the stunning details, but so far my sturdy Sony hasn’t let me down. The size of some of the fragments means it is not always possible to determine what the shard once was.
The full collection is housed in the basement of the PEF; a cramped cluttered space with every inch of available space used for storage. Even the furniture holds historical significance. While the space is small, and the storage of the artefacts is less than ideal, I go to basement happily; every day I am there I discover another piece of the past that I would not have seen otherwise. I can definitely say that I much prefer to be working in a basement getting covered in 1,000 year old dirt to sitting in an office typing on a computer all day!