Looking at the Face of History

By Felicity Cobbing (PEF)

Exhibition Review: ‘Creating an Ancestor: The Jericho Skull’

Currently showing at the British Museum’s Room 3 gallery until the 19th February is a small but fascinating exhibition concerning one of its most important exhibits – one of the Neolithic plastered skulls from Jericho in Palestine, excavated by Kathleen Kenyon and her team in the 1950s.

The Jericho skull on display in the British Museum. Photo: F. Cobbing, 2016.

Jericho on the Map. This relief map is based on the PEF’s Survey of Western Palestine 1871 – 1878, and digitally modified by F. Cobbing.

The exhibition was designed by Dr. Alexandra Fletcher in the BM’s Department of Middle East, and is based on the work of a research team that brought together colleagues from the BM’s Science department, Natural History Museum, University of Liverpool and Imperial College London.

Using the latest Micro-CT scanning and 3D printing technology, the team have revealed hitherto hidden physiological details to us, and on display alongside the skull itself is a 3D reconstruction of the face and head of the man whose skull it was. The exhibition is at once the story of the excavations and Kenyon’s exacting methodology, the thrilling moment of discovery, recounted Peter Parr who actually found the skull, and of the Neolithic culture at Jericho from which the skull originates.

The reconstructed 3D portrait of Jericho Man. Photo: F. Cobbing, 2016.

The purpose of the skulls in this culture is examined, as is the process of the turning the human remains into a cultural artefact. The extraordinary science and technology which has enabled this story to be told for the first time is the final element. Guiding us around is the figure of a rather cuddly, child friendly Kathleen Kenyon, presenting her side of the story at the bottom of each test panel in a feature especially designed for families and school groups. The PEF’s own humble contribution is a photo of Kenyon at Jerusalem by John Bartlett.

Dame Kathleen Kenyon in Jerusalem, photo by John Bartlett as seen in the exhibition. Photo: F. Cobbing, 2016.

This little exhibition is a great example of how one object can tell a myriad of stories, and how research into objects is continuously evolving. There is an undeniably special feeling at looking into such an ancient individual’s face, not seen for 10,000 years, but at the same time someone who is entirely recognisable as one of us.

‘Creating an Ancestor: The Jericho Skull’ is free, and runs until 19th February, with gallery talks and events throughout this period. Check the BM events website for more details, including an absolutely fascinating podcast about the excavation, the skull’s discovery, and the modern science behind the most recent research.

This 1933 photograph shows a figure gazing the site of ancient Jericho beyond, from John Garstang’s archive at the PEF.

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.


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/

Touring Palestine

By Felicity Cobbing

“You’re going where? – Isn’t that a bit dangerous?” is a common response when I tell people I am off to Palestine, taking a holiday tour to the West Bank. Of course the region isn’t known for its peace and tranquillity, especially this year, which has seen some all-too familiar scenes of violence erupting once more. But tourists and other visitors are very safe here. The region’s reputation for hospitality is deservedly legendary, and Palestine is no exception. And the country is about so much more than the ongoing conflict and the headlines this generates.

Every year, I lead an archaeological and historical tour to Palestine on behalf of Martin Randall Travel in London, and Laila Tours in Bethlehem. Together with the tour manager, who this year was the utterly fabulous Heather Millican, we introduce a collection of complete strangers to this complex and fascinating corner of the world in a way that is hopefully a lot of fun as well as thought-provoking. The itinerary takes in archaeological and religious sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron, and Samaria, and gives those on the tour an opportunity to see a part of the world usually only experienced by many of us in the West through dismal news reports.

The Dome of the Rock reflected in al Aksa

This year, a group of ten of us arrived in Palestine in the midst of the worst trouble the region has seen for a while, and though we were always perfectly safe and enjoyed the best of Palestinian hospitality, we were all very aware of the events unfolding around us. We were accompanied as always by our local guide, Dr. Hisham Khatib, and our coach driver George. I have got to know Hisham over several tours now, and I am always glad to have him with us. He is a friend, a gentleman and a scholar, and impresses everyone with his courtesy and knowledge. George was a new friend, but I was very glad to have him negotiating our path around the roads of Palestine, avoiding the worst of the road-blocks and finding alternative routes to our destinations. We also had the benefit of several local experts, who brought their unique knowledge to our visits of their sites.

Our guide, Hisham, and his mother in their home in the Old City, Jerusalem.

Our guide, Hisham, and his mother in their home in the Old City, Jerusalem.

Shimon Gibson and Hamdan Taha introduced us to the fabulous archaeology and history of sites in Jerusalem and at Tell as-Sultan (ancient Jericho) respectively, whilst the ever-enthusiastic Silvia Krapikow showed us round the Rockefeller Museum and archives, and Rachel Lev introduced us to the wonderful archival collections of the American Colony, a gem of a collection that surprised us all. Laila Slemiah who runs the women’s cooperative in Hebron impressed us all with her courage and determination to make a life for herself, her children and to support other women and their families through her work.

Rachel Lev, America Colony archives

Priest Hosni Cohen, the little brother of the High Priest and elder of the Samaritan community on Mount Gerizim very graciously introduced us to the unique perspective of the Samaritans, helped brilliantly by Ghalia Cohen and Marwa Mohammed who translated some of the more existential concepts into English. With one phone for Israel and another for Palestine, and three – yes three – passports (Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian), Priest Cohen transcends political barriers to go where he pleases, taking the teachings of Samaritan scripture with him. Organised tour holidays are not to everyone’s taste, but there is no doubt in my mind that they provide more of an opportunity to get under the skin of a country than is possible for an independent traveller, at least for a first relatively short visit. It’s also a wonderful way to make new friends, and I am sure I will be seeing quite a lot of some of those I got to know round at the PEF – something I anticipate with great pleasure!

Priest Hosni Cohen at the Samaritan Museum, Mount Gerizim.

Priest Hosni Cohen at the Samaritan Museum, Mount Gerizim.

Palestine is a part of the world of which I am very fond. I love the people, the history, the culture and the landscape: for such a tiny part of the world it packs a seriously powerful punch. It has been the theatre for some of the most important milestones of human history from the Neolithic revolution ten thousand years ago which saw the development of farming to the invention of the alphabet, and the emergence of the three great Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Hopefully, when I take the tour again this time next year, the political situation will have improved, and the next group of travellers will see a region full of hope and talent getting the chance to fulfil some of its potential.

Digging Up Jericho: Past Present and Future Conference

By Felicity Cobbing

A two – day conference was held at the Institute of Archaeology, examining the incredibly rich archaeology and cultural heritage of the Jericho Region – one of the most significant locations in the world for the development of human society, from the Neolithic onwards.  The conference was organised by Rachael Sparks of the Institute of Archaeology, Bart Wagemakers of NPAPH (Non-Professional Archaeological Photographs project), and the Council for British Research in the Levant.

Speakers included Rachel Sparks, Peter Parr, Stuart Laidlaw, and Beverly Butler of the Institute of Archaeology UCL, Lorenzo Nigro, Gaia Ripapi,  Daria Montanari and Chiara Fiaccavento, of La Sapienza University, Felicity Cobbing of the Palestine Exploration Fund,  Donald Whitcombe, Michael Jennings and Jack Green of the University of Chicago, Ignacio Arce of the university of Copenhagen, Bill Finlayson of the Council for British Research in the Levant, Lucas Petit of the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities, Graham Phillip of Durham University, Alexandra Fletcher and Mahmoud Hawari (British Museum), Kay Prag (University of Manchester).

Publication of the conference is in progress, but a video compilation of the day can be found below, courtesy of Bart Wagemakers.