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Archaeological Training in Mandate Palestine: The BSAJ Minute Books at the PEF

A PEF feature by Amara Thornton
"A letter was read from the Headmaster of Eton College expressing his appreciation of a lecture delivered to the boys by Prof. Garstang pointing out the possibilities of a career in Archaeology." (BSAJ Minute Book 1: 3 March 1925)
The Minute Books of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem (BSAJ) in the PEF archive provide deep insights into how archaeological practice developed during the early 20th century. They illustrate the network of individuals who researched the sites, culture and peoples of the Middle East.
John Garstang - PEF%2FP%2FGAR%2FJER%2FPN21-2

Fig. 1:  John Garstang at Jericho taking photographs of finds. He encouraged volunteers with photographic skills to offer their services to the School (PEF/P/GAR/JER/PN21-2).
My research aims to illustrate the historical context in which archaeologists worked and archaeological practice developed.  Using micro-history and biography, I explore the history of archaeology and archaeologists through the lives and associated social networks of five British archaeologists: John Crowfoot and Molly Crowfoot, George Horsfield and Agnes Conway Horsfield and John Garstang. This approach, based on extensive archival research, exposes various themes in the history of archaeology including the connections between archaeology and architecture and archaeology and the arts and crafts; the history of archaeological training in British Schools abroad; and the development of specialized publications for archaeological work. I also reproduce graphically the formal and informal social networks which help to show the development of archaeology in the early 20th century, using network diagrams as illustrations of the connections between people, places, organizations, themes and historical movements.

After the First World War, the new British Mandate Territories of Palestine and Transjordan were the setting of an archaeological renaissance.  During the interwar period a group of Western archaeologists were trained in archaeology or supported in their research on areas administered by British Colonial Office officials.  Some of these officials themselves were interested in archaeological investigation, and helped to promote it formally and informally.  As organizations the BSAJ and the PEF worked closely together during this period and several members of the Organizing Committee (and later, the Council) were also members of the PEF.  The PEF offices in Hinde Street also provided a London base for the School. 
Tracing the development in archaeology of particular individuals allows us to understand this historical context. The BSAJ’s first Director, John Garstang, provides a suitable starting point.  He was personally involved in the recruitment and advancement of students at the BSAJ.  Believing firmly that trained excavators were needed, he reported at an Annual General Meeting in 1925 that “the career of an archaeologist is now not only interesting, but reasonably remunerative…” (BSAJ Minute Book 1: 6 March 1924).  He and the BSAJ Council actively worked to promote archaeology as a profession, sending flyers and copies of the BSAJ’s Bulletin, which featured notes on student work, to academic institutions across the UK (ibid.).  BSAJ students came from various universities – not only Oxford and Cambridge but also Manchester, Glasgow, Aberdeen and SOAS.   

As Director, Garstang gave public lectures on archaeology’s emergence as a profession.  In a letter to The Times, Garstang wrote that work in Palestine and Transjordan could be used to attract “young men just completing their university studies – and indeed […] their tutors, - to the prospects of a career in the archaeological profession" (Garstang 1925).  Despite Garstang’s emphasis on men in his call for archaeologists, one of the first students accepted to the School in 1921 was Miss E. Grant (BSAJ Minute Book 1: 8 Feb. 1921). Miss Grant was the only female student to be accepted during Garstang’s tenure as BSAJ Director, but the number of female students greatly increased under John Crowfoot’s directorship; between 1927 and 1935, 14 of the 31 students listed in the Minute Book were female.  

Garstang’s public lectures on archaeology as a profession were clearly aimed at young men of substance.  His Times letter went on to say that “For the serious-minded student possessed already of private means there will be in the near future an even more ready opening for a useful and interesting life or term of years.”  Voluntary help, he wrote, “especially those skilled in some technical aspect of field work – surveying, photography, drawing etc” would be useful (Garstang 1925; Fig. 1, above) The Council frequently waived the fees of students who would bring special skills to the School.
Tanturah elevation drawing

Fig.2: Elevation drawing by George Horsfield pertaining to the BSAJ student excavations at Tanturah (Dora) with details of architectural features.  BSAJ Bulletin No. 6 (1924) Pl. III.  Reproduced courtesy of the CBRL.
One of the careers Garstang helped to shape was that of George Horsfield, an architect who applied to the BSAJ in 1923.  Garstang promoted Horsfield’s architectural expertise to the BSAJ’s Council, urging them to waive Horsfield’s fees on account of his practical abilities (BSAJ Minute Book 1: 22 Jan. 1923). Horsfield’s application marks a critical divide in BSAJ student backgrounds – those who came from established universities versus those who brought practical experience (Fig. 2, above).   After initial instruction in archaeological method, Horsfield became the first conservator of the Roman remains at Jerash in 1925, and subsequently was appointed to a Government post, that of Chief Inspector of the Transjordan Department of Antiquities, in 1928 (Horsfield 1926; Kraeling 1938).  BSAJ students continued to be involved in excavations at Jerash into the 1930s.  The School also supported the prehistoric research of BSAJ students Francis Turville-Petre (admitted in 1923, Fig. 3, below) and Dorothy Garrod (admitted 1927). 
Zuttiyeh cave - PEF%2FG1612
Fig. 3: Francis Turville-Petre in Zuttiyeh Cave, Wadi al Amud.  Turville-Petre was admitted to the BSAJ in 1923 for prehistoric research (PEF/G1612).

Two other female students who came to Palestine in the early 1930s were to work with Garrod.  Under John Crowfoot, BSAJ students were engaged in work at Ophel and Samaria with the PEF (BSAJ report, PEFQS 1931: 28; Fig. 4, below).  

Samaria - PEF%2FSAM%2FCROW%2FExc.Rom.TombThe BSAJ Bulletin, published between 1922 and 1925, adds additional details about student life, proving a valuable companion to the admission entries in the Minute Book.  Garstang arranged student excavations at Tell Harbaj and Tanturah (BSAJ Bulletin 3, p20), exposing them to all the elements involved in archaeological work, including an outbreak of malaria that closed the student excavations at Tell Harbaj in 1924 (BSAJ Bulletin 4, p35).  Part of their training was administrative: students gained practical experience in keeping camp accounts, supervising workmen and the payroll, and running the mess in addition to recording, section cutting and classification (BSAJ Bulletin 6, p67). He also took students on field trips; Bulletin No 6 (1924) notes that “Students and Director have been enabled to visit and study this year the Roman remains at Amman and Jerash, the remains at Mashetta, Madeba, and other sites in Trans-jordan” (BSAJ Bulletin 6, p63). 


Fig.4: The excavations at Samaria, directed by John Crowfoot. The excavation was a collaboration between the BSAJ, the PEF, the British Academy, Harvard University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  Several BSAJ students worked at Samaria during the 1930s (PEF/SAM/CROW/Exc.Rom.Tomb).


When read alongside the Minute Book, BSAJ Bulletins become illustrated history – allowing present day historians to humanize archaeologists’ student experience. Research into these archives highlights the reality on which fictional depictions in popular films and literature are based.  Far from being dull, the more one uses archival sources the more one realizes that the history can be as dramatic and as engaging as the fiction. The Minute Books provide a fascinating insight into the world of archaeology in the early 20th century, a period of monumental change and development.  The individuals involved in archaeological work were active members of an intellectual and social community and paved the way for future archaeological exploration in the area. 

Amara Thornton, August 2009

PhD Candidate, UCL Institute of Archaeology

Related collections at the PEF

John Garstang’s Jericho excavation notes, photographs and related documents.
Betty Murray’s correspondence, describing her experience on John Crowfoot’s Samaria excavation team.
Also see:  John Winter Crowfoot, 1873-1959
                  Professor John Garstang, 1876-1956
Garstang, J. 3 July 1925.  Archaeology as a Profession.  The Times, Issue 44044 (Col D): 12.
Horsfield, G., 1926.  Jerash: Annual Report on Works of Conservation. Government of Transjordan Antiquities Bulletin 1, 1-3 and Plates I-IV.
Kraeling C. 1938. Gerasa: City of the Decapolis. New Haven, CT: American Schools of Oriental Research: 4.

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