A Day in Jerusalem

By Charlotte Kelsted

In April 2018, a generous travel grant from the Palestine Exploration Fund allowed me to carry out an introductory research trip to Palestine. My research explores the attitudes and experiences of British women (colonial wives, missionaries, teachers, nurses and others) who resided in Palestine during the British Mandate (1920-1948), focusing specifically on encounters between these British women and local Palestinian Arab and Jewish communities. I started my PhD seven months ago, and this research trip has undoubtedly been the highlight of my doctoral study thus far.

After arriving into Tel Aviv late in the evening, I spent the first night of my trip at the charming Kenyon Institute in East Jerusalem. The Kenyon Institute, formerly the British School of Archaeology at Jerusalem (BSAJ), was established during the British military administration of Palestine in 1919, as result of a joint effort by the Palestine Exploration Fund, the British Academy and the Foreign Office. The library at the Kenyon Institute contains over 10,000 volumes on the Middle East and is particularly rich in material relating to Mandate Palestine.

Next to the Kenyon Institute is Dar Issaf Nashashibi, an inspiring archive and library devoted to promoting Palestinian cultural heritage. Dar Issaf Nashashibi was my first stop in Jerusalem and I was fortunate to meet Dua, Head Librarian, who was exceptionally helpful. From the top of Dar Issaf Nashashibi one can see Mount Scopus and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Fig. 1). Founded in 1918 and inaugurated under the British Mandate, the Hebrew University has rapidly expanded since the early twentieth century: with 270 students in 1934, in 2017 there were 23,000 students registered at the university.

Fig. 1: Mount Scopus and Hebrew University of Jerusalem (photo by C. Kelsted).


Next I visited the Mount of Olives to see the Dome of the Rock in all its splendour. This iconic shrine dominates the Jerusalem landscape and as the golden dome sparkled in the midday sun, the adhan from Al-Aqsa Mosque drifted up the Mount of Olives. Setting eyes on this view for the first time was a stirring moment for me, having gazed longingly at a photograph of this view from my desk in Exeter for several months prior to the trip (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: The Dome of the Rock seen from Mount of Olives (photo by C. Kelsted).

Back in the heart of this remarkable city in the afternoon, I entered the Old City for the first time through Damascus Gate. The atmosphere that greeted me was intoxicating: narrow passageways full to bursting with fervent tourists, locals expertly weaving in and out of the crowds as they attempt to carry out their daily business, clamorous shopkeepers and street vendors selling their wares, young men speeding through the ancient, cobbled streets on motorbikes, popping up behind you without a moment’s warning and the intoxicating smell of cinnamon and other aromatic herbs and spices emanating from the souq.

Escaping the intensity of the Old City, I roamed along the ramparts from Jaffa Gate to Damascus Gate and onwards, finally reaching the Spafford’s Children Centre. I had first heard the moving story of this centre from The Right Honourable Lady Cope of Berkeley at a Remembrance Service for the British Palestine Police in November 2017, and had been looking forward to visiting ever since.

The Spafford’s Children Centre was founded by Bertha Spafford Vester – an ancestor of the Rt Hon. Lady Cope, a patron of the British Palestine Police Association – in 1925 (Fig. 3 – Special thanks to Rachel Lev at the American Colony Archives, for kindly supplying this image).

Fig. 3: Mothers, nurses and children, Anna Spafford Baby Home (today the Spafford Children’s Centre), 1925 – 1934; part of Members and Activities of the American Colony and Aid Projects, 1926 – 1937 (courtesy of American Colony Archive, Jerusalem).

Bertha’s parents, Horatio and Anna Spafford were pious Christians who moved to the Holy Land in 1881 following the loss of four of their children at sea and another to scarlet fever. On arrival in the Holy Land, Horatio and Anna Spafford founded the American Colony and embarked on a project of philanthropic work to benefit all sections of Jerusalem’s population. In 1925, inspired by the work of her parents, Bertha established the Spafford Baby Home (now the Spafford Children’s Centre). To this day, the centre aims to assist all children and families in need of support, regardless of race or religion.

In the early evening I left the Old City and headed northwards, back to the Kenyon Institute in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. On the way I came across St George’s Cathedral (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Façade of Saint George’s Cathedral (photo by C. Kelsted).

This cathedral was built in the late nineteenth century under the instruction of George Blyth, who had founded the Jerusalem and East Mission (now the Jerusalem and the Middle East Church Association) in 1888. This charming cathedral was the principal Anglican place of worship in the Palestine during the Mandate and thus a focal point for the British community between 1920 and 1948. Taking a moment to envision the British colonial wives, missionaries, teachers, nurses and others who would have congregated at this cathedral – several of whom taught at the adjoining school and college – was the perfect way to end my first day in Jerusalem.

The Lachish Letters in Jerusalem

By Abigail Zammit

In May 2015, I made a short research visit to Israel, made possible by a student travel grant from the Palestine Exploration Fund. This trip will feed into my doctoral research, entitled The Lachish Letters: A Reappraisal of the Ostraca discovered in 1935 and 1938 at Tell ed-Duweir.

I’d examined seventeen of the so-called “Lachish Letters” held in London, with the permission of the Trustees of the British Museum, in February 2015.  I then set out to visit Israel to examine the remaining four Lachish Letters held there, discovered during the Lachish excavations which took place between 1932 and 1938 during the British Mandate period.  The “Letters” are ostraca – inscribed pottery sherds, in this case bearing handwriting in Palaeo-Hebrew script, written in iron carbon ink.   Alongside the other seventeen, there were three ostraca from 1935 (Lachish 3, 4 and 6) and one ostracon from 1938 (Lachish 19) in Jerusalem. I hoped to obtain a well-rounded first-hand examination of all twenty-one ostraca from the Mandate period.  This I did, with satisfying results.

With the permission of the respective curators of the Israel Museum (IMJ),  the Rockefeller Museum (RMJ),  and the Bible Lands Museum (BLMJ) in Jerusalem,  I examined and photographed the four ostraca in question: Lachish 3, held at the IMJ, is a long letter by one servant Hoshaiah (hwš‘yhw), which mentions “the prophet” (hnb’) (Fig. 1); Lachish 4 and 6 are displayed on a current exhibition, entitled “By the Rivers of Babylon”, at the BLMJ.

Figure. 1 Examining ostracon Lachish 3, at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Photo: A. Zammit.

Figure. 1 Examining ostracon Lachish 3, at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Photo: A. Zammit.

Both Lachish 4 and 6 comprise a long message giving reports of an apparent military nature, but both remain controversial in their interpretation (Fig. 2). Lachish 19 is a rather faded list of personal names and hieratic numerals, held at the RMJ (Fig. 3).

Figure. 2 Examining ostraca Lachish 4 (in hand) and Lachish 6 (on the table), at the Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem. Photo: A. Zammit.

Figure. 2 Examining ostraca Lachish 4 (in hand) and Lachish 6 (on the table), at the Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem. Photo: A. Zammit.

Figure. 3 Photographing ostracon Lachish 19, at the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem. Photo: A. Zammit.

Figure. 3 Photographing ostracon Lachish 19, at the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem. Photo: A. Zammit.

With these examinations and the newly acquired data, I will be able to confirm, revise or debunk my palaeographic readings of the Lachish Letters where possible, and add additional observations to my hand drawings of the ostraca, to be ultimately presented in my thesis. I was amazed to look upon these ostraca for the first time in Jerusalem. Prior to my visit I had only seen them in published black and white photographs or low quality colour images on the internet. I guess it is true in my case that “Seeing is believing”. Having the opportunity to examine these inscriptions and the ceramic sherds themselves in hand changes one’s outlook and perception completely, and at times for the best!

Lachish 3 particularly struck me, as I realized upon close examination that the burnished obverse of the ceramic sherd helped preserve most of the writing in iron-carbon ink. I also carefully scrutinized certain readings of all four inscriptions to confirm or dismiss any suspicions I may have had, especially wherever the ink is fading or has faded badly.

It’s also worth mentioning the sheer size of each individual ostracon. All four vary in size – similar to the variations in size of the average smartphones. It made me appreciate and mull over the scribes’ conveniently chosen sizes and shapes of pottery sherds (as writing surfaces) for easy hand-held use, regardless of whether one was right- or left-handed.

To be continued…

Semi-Precious Stone Beads at the PEF

By Geoffrey Ludvik

For over a century, archaeologists with the PEF have dedicated their academic lives to understanding the economic, political, and ideological development of Palestine. My project uses an unlikely lens through which I study questions of socio-economic interaction: semi-precious stone beads (Fig. 1).

Image 1: carnelian beads from Gezer, mixed contexts, R.A.S Macalister excavations, PEF #3224.

Figure 1: Carnelian beads from Gezer, mixed contexts, R.A.S Macalister excavations, PEF #3224.

Semi-precious stone beads, such as the carnelian beads from Gezer pictured above, represented objects of great value in the ancient Near East and are among the most common finds uncovered in tombs, palaces, and as offerings in temples. The raw materials from which the stones originated are geographically limited and trade networks were necessary to acquire them. Moreover, bead styles and production technology varied regionally, as different workshops made beads in different ways. I seek to define regional canons of manufacture techniques and styles that archaeologists in Palestine can use to identify the source of beads we discover, be they Egyptian, Anatolian, Greek, Mesopotamian, or even the Indus Valley.

At the PEF, I have analyzed the semi-precious stone beads excavated from the important site of Gezer, Israel, by R. A. S. Macalister in the early 20th century. I was able to identify imports at Gezer that have their best parallels in 3rd millennium BC Indus-style beads made in Mesopotamia and the 3rd millennium BC Persian Gulf.  Most imports seem to have come from Egypt and Anatolia. It seems that Gezer was well-connected and an important node in regional economies that linked societies of the ancient Near East. As I continue analysis, I hope to identify even more evidence for Gezer’s interactions.