Basement Discoveries at the PEF

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.

PEF/AO/2359: A ceramic jug, likely made in the early Roman period (c. 1st Century BC – 1st Century BCE), discovered during John and Molly Crowfoot’s Samaria excavations in the 1930s. Photo. C. S.

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.

PEF/AO/100: A ceramic juggler; dating to the Middle Bronze IIA (currently thought to be c.1950 BCE) from Charles Warren’s excavations in Jerusalem in the late 1860s. Photo: C. S.

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.

PEF/AO/2273: Fragments from John and Molly Crowfoot’s excavations at Samaria in the 1930s; ivory fragments (black). Photo: C. S.

PEF/AO/1973: Glass rim fragment (c. 4th – 6th centuries CE) discovered during the Samaria excavations. Photo: C. S.

PEF/AO/68: A medieval Islamic hand-made pottery lamp with painted decoration and glaze, discovered during Warren’s excavations in Jerusalem. Photo: C. S.

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!

Author at work photographing objects at the PEF.

Who Was Karimeh Abbud? Part 1

By Mary Pelletier

A quick Google search reveals an oft-repeated, neat little biography for Karimeh Abbud, complete with an image of her, stood next to a large-format camera, shutter release in hand.  Karimeh was allegedly the first female photographer in Palestine, born in 1896 to an esteemed, intellectual family who resided in Bethlehem. She also went by the title ‘Lady Photographer’, and proudly stamped the moniker on her prints. Seeing this calling card, I was hooked – how had Karimeh managed to make her mark in the old boys’ club of Holy Land photography practice?

Karimeh Abbud and her camera, Haifa, 1920s. Photo by C. Swaid (Source: Ahmad Mrowat, Jerusalem Quarterly, Issue 31, p.72)

Karimeh Abbud and her camera, Haifa, 1920s. Photo by C. Swaid (Source: Ahmad Mrowat, Jerusalem Quarterly, Issue 31, p.72)

The biographical information about Karimeh online was surprisingly one-dimensional. She had worked throughout Palestine, making her studio in Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, specialising in photographs of women and families. Articles stated her importance with certainty, but I was curious as to the source of this information – did it come from her family? Who had declared her the ‘first’ Palestinian female photographer, or as some claimed, the first female to run a photographic business in the Middle East? What had happened to her photographs, and why weren’t they in a museum collection somewhere?

Karimeh Abbud studio stamp (Source: Ahmad Mrowat, Jerusalem Quarterly, Issue 31, p.72)

Karimeh Abbud studio stamp (Source: Ahmad Mrowat, Jerusalem Quarterly, Issue 31, p.72)

With funding from the PEF, I got right down to asking anyone in Bethlehem and Jerusalem with photography knowledge who would listen – where can I find Karimeh Abbud and her photographs? Articles from the Jerusalem Quarterly and online sources cited the Nazareth Archive Project and Ahmad Mrowat as being the source of the research. The Nazareth Archive Project was said to house Karimeh’s work, but phone numbers to Mrowat were disconnected, as were phone numbers I tracked down for family members who were said to have helped compile this initial information, circa 2007.

Photograph of two unknown women taken by Karimeh Abbud (Source: Issam Nassar, Jerusalem Quarterly Issue 46, p.23)

Photograph of two unknown women taken by Karimeh Abbud (Source: Issam Nassar, Jerusalem Quarterly Issue 46, p.23)

Karimeh’s name seemed to be one that everyone knew – but no one knew much about. One Palestinian photography collector let out a long sigh when I asked him what he knew of Karimeh’s work, citing that her reputation had been overblown – her studio photographs were nothing special, photographically speaking.  I disagreed – I had been attracted to Abbud’s photographs because those I had seen online seemed much more intimate than the stage-y, directed portraiture of Jerusalem photographers like Khalil Ra’ad.

Looking at photographs from Issam Nassar’s collection, reproduced here, the subjects of her photographs seem to exude a comfort, both with their partners and with the photographer herself – as though the taking of the picture is not a transaction, but instead a sort of collaborative effort. (Nassar has written further on Abbud in the larger context of Middle Eastern portraiture in the Jerusalem Quarterly, cited below).

That skeptical collector also put me in touch with Rev. Mitri Raheb, head of Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, and, as it turned out, Karimeh’s unintentional biographer.

This photograph printed on carte postale has the stamp of Karimeh Abbud. It was sent with a note on the back to Um Diabis Abbud on October 30th, 1930 from Dmitri, whose last name is not legible. (Source: Issam Nassar, Jerusalem Quarterly Issue 46, p.28)

This photograph printed on carte postale has the stamp of Karimeh Abbud. It was sent with a note on the back to Um Diabis Abbud on October 30th, 1930 from Dmitri, whose last name is not legible. (Source: Issam Nassar, Jerusalem Quarterly Issue 46, p.28)

Meeting with Rev. Raheb helped to set some things straight about Karimeh’s biography – his book, a limited-print run paperback written in Arabic and with a foreword by Ahmad Mrowat, charts her life through Lutheran church records. He sets a clear picture of her life’s trajectory, her family life, the chances afforded her by her family’s status, even her marriage – many things left out of any online articles. All of the context afforded by Rev. Raheb’s publication is important, especially when considering the style of Karimeh’s subjects and her mobility.

Undated image of Abbud Family Members, taken by Karimeh Abbud. (Source: Raheb, Karimeh Abbud, p. 45)

Undated image of Abbud Family Members, taken by Karimeh Abbud. (Source: Raheb, Karimeh Abbud, p. 95)

:Undated image of Abbud Family Members, taken by Karimeh Abbud. (Source: Raheb, Karimeh Abbud, p. 44)

Undated image of Abbud Family Members, taken by Karimeh Abbud. (Source: Raheb, Karimeh Abbud, p. 94)

The images in the book had come from two Abbud family photographic albums. These two undated images, taken by Abbud herself, are reproduced on pages 94 & 95 of Raheb’s publication and demonstrate Abbud’s signature portraiture environment – the women here are comfortable with each other, but also with Abbud’s presence. It is obvious in both images that their proximity to one another demonstrate a close relationship – most likely mother and daughters, and then the two sisters, alone – but we also see that Abbud treated her familial subjects in the same way she treated her paying clients, and vice versa – there is a warm professionalism that plays out in each of these different sets of images.

It is the foreword by Mrowat in this text that seemed curious to me, however. Where earlier articles by Mrowat stated he had acquired ‘some 400’ Abbud photographs from an Israeli photography collector, this text (published 2011) noted a legal case brought against him by the same Israeli collector. He states that the collector had no right to keep the photos, as he was not related to her in any way. This calls into question the amount of weight placed on earlier claims for the archive in his articles – who actually owned the pictures that were being written about, did the author have permission from the owner(s) to use them, and were the claims accurate? Does the Nazareth Archive Project exist outside of articles bearing its name?

There are many outstanding questions I am in the process of answering – beginning with gaining access to the ‘some 400’ photographs that were the subject of this legal case. A ‘Part 2’ will be forthcoming!

Further reading:

Mrowat, A. 2007. “Karimeh Abbud: Early Woman Photographer (1896-1955).” Jerusalem Quarterly 31: 72-78.

Nassar, I. 2011. “Early Photography in Palestine: The Legacy of Karimeh Abbud.” Jerusalem Quarterly 46: 23-31.

Raheb, M. 2011. Karimeh Abbud: Pioneer Female Phographer of Palestine. Bethlehem, Palestine: Diyar Consortium. Print. Arabic language.

The PEF is Camera Ready for Raising Horizons

By Amara Thornton, Leonora Saunders, Felicity Cobbing and Becky Wragg Sykes

Last month the four women behind Trowelblazers, a digital platform for crowd-sourced biographies of pioneering women in archaeology, geology and palaeonology, in collaboration with photographer Leonora Saunders launched a new project, Raising Horizons.  Supported by Prospect, Raising Horizons will feature a photographic exhibition, oral histories and associated events celebrating the long history of women working in these subjects.

Fourteen women actively working in archaeology, geology and paleontology today have been paired with a historical counterpart. Leonora and Trowelblazers have been working together to resurrect these historical women, creating new portraits as their modern ‘pairs’ represent them in costume. Their goal is to highlight the diversity of the fields today, and provide role models for younger generations while referencing and paying homage to the women who came before them.

One of the historic figures included is Kathleen Kenyon who as Director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem led excavations at Jericho in the 1950s and Jerusalem in the 1960s. Kenyon is being portrayed by the archaeologist Shahina Farid, who as Field Director  conducted excavations at the site of Çatalhöyük, Turkey between the 1990s and 2012.  Both have been instrumental in training the next generation of archaeologists.

Final touches complete Shahina's Kathleen Kenyon 'look'. Courtesy of Leonora Saunders/Raising Horizons.

Final touches complete Shahina’s Kathleen Kenyon ‘look’. Courtesy of Raising Horizons.

Setting up the shot - getting ready to shoot Shahina as Kathleen. Courtesy of Leonora Saunders/Raising Horizons.

Setting up the shot – getting ready to shoot Shahina as Kathleen. Courtesy of Raising Horizons.

Close up shot of the PEF camera. Courtesy of

Close up shot of the PEF camera. Courtesy of Raising Horizons.

For the Farid/Kenyon portrait, the PEF loaned its Sands Hunter & Co camera with Zeiss lens which once belonged to the archaeologist John Garstang.  Garstang used it on site at Jericho in the 1930s, so the camera has historic significance for the portrait. His wife Marie Louise Bergès Garstang, who excavated alongside him after their marriage in 1907, is also represented in the archive. Their daughter Meroe Garstang – named after one of the most important sites her parents excavated – also joined them on site at Jericho.

Marie Garstang excavating at Jericho, 1931. (PEF-P-GAR-JER-J.31)

Marie Garstang excavating at Jericho, 1931. (Garstang archive, Palestine Exploration Fund)

Another fantastic photograph in the Liverpool University Garstang Museum shows Marie Garstang excavating with her husband at Meroe in Sudan where they worked in the years immediately before the First World War. His and hers pith helmets, placed side by side at the edge of the trench, echo their working relationship captured in the image.

A number of institutions are supporting the Raising Horizons project, but Trowelblazers is actively crowdfunding to enable the project to go on tour and support associated events in these locations.  A full list of institutional supporters can be found on Trowelblazers website – but you can help support the project at their Indiegogo page.  A range of bespoke rewards have been sourced to accompany donations.

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Rebecca Wragg Sykes, Brenna Hassett, Suzanne Pilaar Birch and Tori Herridge founded Trowelblazers in 2013. Find out more about them at Trowelblazers.com. Read more about Raising Horizons in the Guardian.

Watch the Raising Horizons Fundraiser video.

Discover the connections between Shahina Farid and Kathleen Kenyon.

Learn more about Leonora’s work at her website: http://www.leonorasaunders.co.uk/

Blooming dolmens!

By Jamie Fraser (Project Curator – Ancient Levant, British Museum)

In March 2015 I submitted my PhD thesis “Dolmens in the Levant”. For six weeks I had worked frantically in the library at the American Centre for Oriental Research in Amman, attacking my keyboard like a pianist the Rach 3, dreams haunted by an unfinished Chapter 9, or a bibliography missing any author with a name starting with ‘C’. Oh the elation near midnight at the end of the month, when I clicked ‘submit’ on the University of Sydney’s webpage; the burden slipped from my shoulders; my head became light; and I ascended, weightless, the library stairs to the Residences above, where the Director poured me a scotch, agreed that she too could hear heavenly choirs, and suggested I go home to bed.

I awoke three days later like Dorothy in Oz, keen to explore a new technicolour world. “Let’s go dolmen hunting!” I cried to my friend Isabelle Ruben, an archaeologist, botanist and long-time Amman resident, whose books include a Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of Petra. Isabelle readily agreed, but on condition we visited the Wadi Zerqa, a likely spot to find in bloom the famous Black Iris of Jordan. “You hunt your dolmens, I’ll shoot my flowers”, she replied, reaching for her camera and macro lens.

Zerqa river, Wadi Zerqa

Zerqa river, Wadi Zerqa

7. Isabelle Ruben, shooting flowers

Isabelle Ruben, shooting flowers

 

The Zerqa is the second largest tributary of the River Jordan. It rises near Amman, then drops almost 2,000 m in elevation as it flows through the escarpment to the rift valley below. Known as the Biblical Jabbok, the wadi was supposedly the place where Jacob fought with an angel, and these resonances drew scholars such as Capt. Conder (1889) and Dr. MacKenzie (1911) of the PEF. However, it was the psychedelic carpet of wild flowers that drew Isabelle and me: poppies, anemones, daisies and buttercups – it was enough to stir the heart of any battled-wearied thesis survivor. Just as I was about to burst into song, Isabelle pounced. “Aha!” she cried, whipping out her macro lens like a great white hunter on safari, “Iris nigricans – the Black Iris of Jordan!” Although their petals range from purple to black, their beauty, Isabelle explained, belies a remarkable reproductive machine: three upright petals help advertise the flower to nectar-gathering insects; three drooping petals draw the insects to the stamen within. Unfortunately, their beauty has also seen numbers decline, and the iris is now protected by law.

Close up of a Black Iris.

Close up of a Black Iris.

After sniffing our last Ranunculus, we crossed the Zerqa to the Wadi Rayyan, one of the most fertile wadis in Jordan. The well-watered Rayyan has long been known, somewhat ironically, as the ‘dry’ or ‘barren’ Wadi ‘Yabis’. Scholars explain this incongruity by identifying in the toponym ‘Yabis’ the name ‘Jabesh’ Gilead, a town mentioned in the Bible in relation to Kings David and Saul and their battles with the Philistines and Ammonites. Regardless, the wadi was renamed the ‘verdant’ Wadi Rayyan in the late 1990s, with possible associations to the Rayyan door named in the Qur’an as one of the Gates of Heaven through which the virtuous may pass into paradise.

 A dolmen surveyed at Tell er-Ras in the Wadi Rayyan

A dolmen surveyed at Tell er-Ras in the Wadi Rayyan

The Wadi Rayyan is also renown for its dolmens. Dolmens are megalithic tomb monuments that were probably built as stone charnel houses by village communities at the start of the Early Bronze Age, c.3800-3000 BC. Early travellers were fascinated by these megalithic monuments, which seemed so familiar to the European experience; indeed, in his Survey of Eastern Palestine (1889), Conder declared dolmens to be “one of the most interesting features of the survey expedition”. Although they once numbered in their thousands, many cemeteries are now destroyed, and descriptions by travellers such as Conder are the only accounts that some dolmen fields ever existed. As part of my postgraduate research, I had surveyed over 100 dolmens on the north side of the Wadi Rayyan, and I was back to validate reports of a smaller cemetery near the Byzantine period site of Deir el-Halawa on the opposite ridge.

A dolmen near Deir el-Halawa in the Wadi Rayyan

A dolmen near Deir el-Halawa in the Wadi Rayyan

After parking the car at the bottom of a hill, we climbed through olive orchards towards the ridge-line above, which marked the south side of the wadi. We weren’t disappointed: although overgrown and partly collapsed, we found at least 15 dolmens scattered across the hill-side, their upright slabs, rectangular chambers and megalithic capstones highly distinct. I took a few notes, then we headed to the Deir el-Halawa ruins at the top of the hill, almost falling into a massive rock-cut cistern on the way.

Tell el-Maqlub in the Wadi Rayyan, possibly ancient 'Jabesh-Gilead'

Tell el-Maqlub in the Wadi Rayyan, possibly ancient ‘Jabesh-Gilead’

The ridgeline affords a spectacular view over the impressive site of Tell el-Maqlub (the ‘upside down mound’). The tell is strategically located on a perennial stream at the only point where the steep-sided wadi can be easily crossed, and it is no coincidence that the Roman road between the Decapolis cites of Pella and Jerash ran right past the site. This location makes Tell el-Maqlub the best contender for the Iron Age settlement of Jabesh Gilead itself, although no archaeological work has ever been conducted on the mound. Feeling the weight of my trowel in my back pocket, I sighed, turned around, and traipsed back down the hill with Isabelle, passing more dolmens covered in wild flowers on the way.