War in the Holy Lands

Guest post by Briar Barry

We’d hear a heavy smack and know a horse had been hit. Mostly they were hit through the stomach and would just shake themselves a little. The owner would take the saddle off immediately, for it was always a mortal wound. The horse would nose around among his mates, shake himself, and five minutes later roll on the sand. It was the beginning of the end.”

Captain Arthur Rhodes, New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade, World War 1

War in the Holy Lands, a new temporary exhibition about New Zealanders’ First World War experiences in the Middle East, is now playing as part of The Great War Exhibition in Wellington, New Zealand. The show is fourth in a series of six created by Story Inc and Dusk, and funded by the Lottery Grants Board, with the intention of telling some of the lesser-known New Zealand stories of the First World War. The exhibit uses six big projection screens and an immersive audio environment to create a powerful visitor experience out of still imagery and first-hand verbatim accounts of soldiers’ experiences.

A talented photographer, Arthur Rhodes captured his experiences during the Beersheba Campaign in Sinai and Palestine on film. The Palestine Exploration Fund of London kindly provided some of the photographs which feature in the show.

Guns drawn up for inspection, a photograph by Captain Arthur Rhodes which features in War in the Holy Lands. PEF/P/RHODES/29, Palestine Exploration Fund, London.

The story of New Zealand’s war in the Middle East is often overlooked. It doesn’t fit with the traditional image of World War 1 – the mud and trenches of the Western Front. Some soldiers at the time shared this view, feeling that they were missing out on the ‘real war.’ A few people back home agreed, seeing them as ‘tourists in uniform’ having an easy time of it in the sun-drenched Middle East. But while the casualty rate was certainly lower than on the Western Front, the Sinai and Palestine campaigns were hardly a holiday. The men faced fierce battles, hordes of flies, extreme temperatures, and rampant malaria. In total 17,723 New Zealanders served in the Middle East. Of them, 640 were killed in action and 1,146 wounded.

The ‘Mounteds’ gained a formidable reputation as fighters and became known by Ottoman troops as “devils on horses”. They would often ride through the night, taking the enemy by surprise at dawn. But it was not all glory. At the end of the war, one of the most shameful events in New Zealand’s military history occurred: a massacre of civilians, in which some New Zealand soldiers played a prominent part, in the Palestinian village of Surafend. Of course there are no photographs or images connected with the event. Instead, a ghostly series of animated “shadowplay” silhouettes hinting at the violence are projected into an otherwise completely black room.

Behind the scenes of the Story Inc and Dusk “shadowplay” shoot. Photo by Story Inc.

Other moments that pack an emotional punch in War in the Holy Lands come from the stories about the bonds between the men and their horses. The open spaces in the Middle East made this a mobile war. The connection between animal and rider was strong, and only made stronger on the battlefield where horses even acted as shields by lying down on the sand so the men could fire over the top of them. However, New Zealand’s strict quarantine policy and a shortage of transport meant that the horses who survived the war could not come home. In the Middle East they were either declared unfit and shot, sold locally, or kept by the occupying British Army. Many troopers, worried about how their horse would be treated if it was sold, made the heart-wrenching decision to shoot their own animal after having them declared unfit. Trooper Ted Andrews described the task,

It was the saddest day of the war…. Each man had to hold two horses, and it was the most sickening job I had… It seemed awfully sad that these poor old faithful creatures, after suffering from thirst, hunger and fatigue and carrying heavy loads for hundreds of miles, should have to end their days being shot down by the very people they had so faithfully served…”

A New Zealand soldier shoots a wounded horse. National Army Museum of New Zealand.

War in the Holy Lands is running from 13 December 2017 until 20 February 2018. Thank you once again to the Palestine Exploration Fund for access to, and permission to use images from their collection.

Visitors watch War in the Holy Lands. Photo by Story Inc.

Duncan Mackenzie at Beth Shemesh: first impressions

By Penny Butler

I’m starting on this new archive, and it’s always exciting writing on the database the number “001” and dreaming about how many more numbers there will be – surely not as many as Olga Tufnell’s photographs (my last project) which came to around 1,500 items.

Duncan Mackenzie (1861-1934) was a pre-eminent field archaeologist whose work was chiefly concerned with three very important Aegean and Ancient Near East sites. He worked at Phylakopi on Melos between 1896 and 1899 and under Arthur Evans he worked at Knossos from 1900-1910 and 1914-1934.  Between his two Knossos stints there was Palestine.  He went out in 1910, but couldn’t get a firman, so he went on a side trip with his photographer, Francis G. Newton, to Jordan, Syria and the Plain of Philistia. Afterwards he was appointed “Explorer” by the PEF and excavated at Beth Shemesh 1911-12.

A dolmen in Jordan with two armed tribesmen (PEF-P-MACK-33).

A dolmen in Jordan with two armed tribesmen (PEF-P-MACK-33).

The PEF has archived much of Mackenzie’s materials, including academic material and his correspondence with the PEF, dig reports and drawings. The Fund has also archives of some of his photographer F. G. Newton’s materials. A PEF Annual, which includes a transcription of one of his daybooks, will be coming out soon.

Felicity handed me three books. One, a fat larger than A4 size handmade photo album, bound in thick white paper, with two black and white photos per page mounted on brown paper -disappointingly faded – with so far views of ruins and dolmens near Madeba and other desert places, arid landscapes featuring at a rough count two people per 20 photos. Second, an old maroon-bound large book with list upon list of photographs, in handwriting. Third, a little yellow bound book with typewritten lists of photos, a collation of those catalogued in 1889 and those catalogued in 1920, with ‘x’s in three columns to denote various things too arcane for me to fathom. The job is to collate all three with specific reference to Mackenzie and write up the database. So my day is spent with three open books, poring over the lists and every so often working out which photo is which and making an entry.

I plan to write a series of blogs during this project.  So far I am still in Jordan – more in my next!

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.

The PEF – a Student Volunteer Perspective

By Jon Wylie

After far too many minutes struggling to find the entrance to the PEF, I was on the beginning of what seemed like it was going to be a long summer of class and work. Now as I am sitting here on my last few days, I feel as though I have much more to learn and much more to contribute to the PEF. Being from a small school and town, I was worried about getting overwhelmed in huge archives and vast paperwork that a big city museum would require of an intern. While the PEF does boast a large collection, I was relieved to see that it can (sort of) be contained in a few rooms. I was afraid of getting lost in a workforce of hundreds, given busy work, and forgotten about until I messed something up.

My work in the PEF this summer has been the opposite of everything I was afraid of coming here. I got to work as if I was an actual employee, and got to see everything there was to see. I got to attend the Annual General Meeting and look over the finances and hear discussions about the future of the PEF and its goals. I had the opportunity to see some of the back rooms at the British Museum and help prepare for the 150th Anniversary. While I talk to the other kids in my program, some say they have never met their boss. I see mine everyday and she’ll talk to me for hours about any question I have about history. One day I had to write a paper for my class and Felicity spent about an hour explaining the “Right to Buy” Policy and how it would affect housing. I got an A.

My time here has been a great learning experience for me not only from the content I learned while working, but the insight I got into what job I wanted to do. I’ve gone though shifts of wanting to pursue medicine, to wanting to be a history teacher, cross country coach, or even politician. While I still haven’t decided on anything for sure, working in history is definitely still on my radar.

Photograph from John Garstang's 1928 excavation at Et-Tell (biblical Ai). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Photograph from John Garstang’s 1928 excavation at Et-Tell (biblical Ai). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

This is one of my favorite pictures that I came across while scanning some of John Garstang’s work. I just get the sense from this picture that the work done in this region was like an exploration that really captured the sense of adventure in everyone. These archeologists and historians were discovering things that had not been seen in centuries. The group of men in this picture were making discoveries that would be written about in history books and remembered for years to come.

To me, that is the most fascinating part about history. You never know what you will uncover. I really enjoyed my time at the PEF and in London in general. I enjoyed the ability to study something I knew little about and work with people who enjoy what they do and what they study. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my summer and I hope eventually I will make it back to London and the PEF.

The PEF and early Christian Monasteries in Iraq

By Penny Butler, PEF Committee Member and volunteer

For the last year or two I have been archiving the photographs of Olga Tufnell. Born in 1905 of comfortably off parents, she moved in well connected upper-middle class circles. She went to finishing school, and then her mother sent her off to help Flinders Petrie in Egypt. Thus began an extraordinary and successful scholarly career, achieved without an academic degree – a role model for women and an example of what you can do if you want to, even if you start off without qualifications.

In 1955 she spent a season at Max Mallowan’s excavation at Nimrud, in company with his wife Agatha Christie, who used to wash the newly excavated ivories in face cream, and many others who became archaeological luminaries. The group amused themselves by going on expeditions in the surrounding countryside, which was very remote and mountainous.

Imagine my amazement when I came upon a batch of snaps of what looked like monasteries high up in the mountains and their priests. The names were vaguely familiar to me and then I realised that some of these places had been destroyed by Islamic State just a few weeks before (Figs. 1-5). These were early Christian or Assyrian Christian establishments (Assyrian because they were situated in ancient Assyria), also called Syriac Orthodox, near modern Mosul and Qaraqosh, founded incredibly early, in the 4th century AD (CE). Just think that Christian proselytizers plodded all the way across modern Syria and modern northern Iraq. Even today the area is pretty isolated and then, as now, they served as sanctuaries from persecution. Up until recently, the monks were taking in people escaping from warfare as well as receiving many tourists and pilgrims. Now the only visitors are Kurdish troops taking a break from fighting.

The monastery destroyed by IS was Mar Behnam. Luckily, Mar Mattai has not suffered the same fate, though others have. In August 2014 the IS forces were moving on Mosul only 20 miles away, but they were stopped by Kurdish peshmerga fighters, who now hold the road to the monastery.


Figure 1. the Assyrian Christian monastery of Mar Behnam with a young European — presumably one of the archaeologists from Nimrud, but we don’t know who. (PEF/P/TUF 954). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Another shot of Mar Behnam with priest and the same young European. (PEF/P/TUF953). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Figure 2. Another shot of Mar Behnam with priest and the same young European. (PEF/P/TUF953). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

TUF 1314 An Assyrian Christian monastery (we don't know which) with a priest, a woman and a child. (PEF/P/TUF1314). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Figure 3. An Assyrian Christian monastery (we don’t know which) with a priest, a woman and a child. (PEF/P/TUF1314). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Yazidis gathering in a town somewhere in northern Iraq. Note the characteristic steeple of their worshipping place. (PEF/P/TUF1302). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Figure 4. Yazidis gathering in a town somewhere in northern Iraq. Note the characteristic steeple of their worshipping place. (PEF/P/TUF1302). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Figure 5. Qaraqosh, a Syriac Nestorian village near Mosul. This is the area IS swept through. (PEF/P/TUF994). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.