The PEF’s collection of over 6,000 objects covers a timescale from the Upper Palaeolithic (about 40,000 years BC) to the late Ottoman Period (19th century AD).
Objects come from sites in the South Levant, in particular from Jerusalem, Tell el Hesi, and Samaria. The material comes almost exclusively from PEF excavations carried out between the 1860s to the 1930s, and as such is well-provenanced.
Finds from Charles Warren’s explorations of Jerusalem in the 1860s include the first examples to be documented of the so-called ‘LMLK’ jar-handles associated with the kingdom of Judah in the late 8th – 7th centuries BC. Also from Warren’s explorations are original tile fragments from the Dome of the Rock and pieces of decorative wood carving from the al-Aqsa Mosque. These were collected from remnants discarded during refurbishment of the buildings with permission from their custodians. Later excavations in Jerusalem sponsored by the PEF included those on the Ophel Hill conducted by Duncan and Macalister in the 1920s.
Sir William Flinders Petrie and Frederick Jones Bliss’s expedition to Tell el-Hesi (1890-92) represented the first truly archaeological excavation in the region. Artefacts from this site in the PEF’s collections represent an occupational sequence from the third millennium BC (in the Early Bronze Age) to the Persian Period, with the final occupation ending in around 400 BC. These excavations played a crucial role in the development of archaeology as a discipline. Building on Petrie’s groundbreaking work in Egypt, Petrie and Bliss were able to associate groups of objects excavated at Tell el Hesi with different time periods. This contributed to a relative chronological framework, tying cultural and historical developments within the Levant to neighbouring areas in the eastern Mediterranean and the wider Near East. There have been more recent excavations at Tell el-Hesi, under the auspices of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR).
PEF sponsored excavations directed by John Crowfoot at Samaria in the 1930s uncovered remains from Byzantine, Roman and Hellenistic periods, and also the Iron Age. These followed the small-scale excavations on the summit by Harvard University (1908-1910), which had already uncovered the western part of the acropolis including buildings from the dynasties of Israelite kings Omri and Jehu. Crowfoot’s excavations in the 1930s focused on clearing the Israelite fortress, leading to the discovery of thousands of ivory fragments from elaborately inlayed furniture in one of its buildings. These seemed to reflect most vividly what is referred to in the Bible as Ahab’s ‘House of Ivory’ (1 Kings 22:39). The ivories were distributed amongst all the sponsors of the Samaria excavations, including the PEF.
Crowfoot’s excavation team included the young Kathleen Kenyon on her first expedition to the Levant. She made significant contributions to the recording and interpretation of Samaria’s stratigraphy using methods learned from Tessa and Mortimer Wheeler, and later applied these techniques at Jericho and Jerusalem.
Also in the PEF’s collections from the Samaria excavations is what has become known as its ‘Silver Scroll’. Originally, this artefact was recorded as a bronze cylinder or amulet from one of the Late Roman period tombs (3rd to 5th centuries AD). Following painstaking conservation work during the 1990s, the silver scroll was unrolled to reveal an incantation inscribed in Hebrew and Aramaic.
Other sites represented within the PEF’s archaeological collections include: Gezer, Tell Jemmeh, Tell Sandahannah (Classical Marisa/Mareshah), Tell el-Yahudiyeh, and sites covered in the 1913-1914 Survey of the Negev (The Wilderness of Zin) by C. L. Woolley and T.E. Lawrence.