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R.A.S. Macalister: Villain or Visionary?

16th April 2009

Jonathan Tubb, The British Museum / President, Palestine Exploration Fund

Lecture abstract

Born in Dublin in 1870, Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister studied at Cambridge University, and initially became involved in the archaeology of Ireland.  His growing interest in biblical archaeology, however, brought him into contact with the Palestine Exploration Fund, and in 1898 he was employed by the Fund to assist Frederick Jones Bliss in his excavations in the Shephelah at Tell es-Sâfi, Tell Zakarîya, Tell Judeideh and Tell Sandahanna (Marisa).

An ambitious, difficult and ruthless man, Macalister is thought by some to have engineered the dismissal of Bliss in 1901 in order to secure his own appointment as the Fund’s director of excavations.  From 1902 to 1909 he conducted a remarkable campaign of excavations at Gezer – remarkable for the sheer scale of the operation which was far greater than anything that had taken place in Palestine before, and remarkable for the fact that Macalister controlled all aspects of the work virtually single-handedly.  Although his work has often been attacked for its lack of methodological precision – most notably by the archaeologists of the later American 1964-1990 expedition, whose own excavations are not entirely beyond criticism - Macalister was a man of vision and insight, and his contribution to the discipline was considerable.

 This lecture re-examines the man and his work, and, using archival materials held by the PEF, offers a new perspective on an archaeologist who can rightly be described as an intellectual giant.

The Palestine Exploration Fund, 2 Hinde Mews, Marylebone Lane, London, W1U 2AA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7935 5379 | Fax: +44 (0)20 7486 7438 | Email: ExecSec@PEF.org.uk
Registered company: 13606 | Registered charity: 212538