Prominent Palestinian Archaeologists of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

By Loay Abu Alsaud, Department of Tourism and Archaeology, Faculty of Humanities and Educational Sciences, An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine.

Presenting a new collection of biographical information on formerly overlooked Palestinian archaeologists and those following in their footsteps, to the present day

During the 19th and 20th centuries, accounts of Western expeditions and research dominated the archaeological history of Palestine. Owing to centuries of foreign control, Palestinians did not have their own archaeological research base. Nevertheless, during the early to mid-20th century, there were Palestinian archaeologists as integral members of Western teams, involved in tasks in all areas. Working side by side with westerners, a number of them acquired professional archaeological skills and expertise. The Western expeditions depended on their participation. 

Some of Palestinian pioneer archaeologists made important finds and contributed to the history of archaeology. Examples include the discovery of the Tabun 1 skull by Yusra Al-Haifaweyeh in 1932 and Yousef Sa’d´s involvement with the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1957. Their positive feedback inspired a new generation who followed in their footsteps and led to the start of archaeological research in Palestine, by Palestinians.

Despite the contributions made by Palestinians on site, they were hardly mentioned in excavation reports and have been omitted from Western discourse. Some of their stories were forgotten or lost. I have written a book that tells their story in a collection of short biographical accounts, extending to their successors and those currently involved in archaeological research. My intention was to bring to light the role that Palestinian archaeologists have played in their own historical narrative. In doing so, I hope to avoid any future loss of their stories. 

I was not able to include all the qualified Palestinian archaeologists in the scope of my work, so have selected forty-five who are mainly professors, lecturers or postgraduate students, formerly or currently employed at Palestinian universities. They hold PhDs in archaeology, architectural heritage preservation or ancient history. Each entry is accompanied by a photo. I sought information from a number of sources, including journal references, excavation reports, social media and personal interviews. The interviews, either with the archaeologists themselves, or with family members, if the archaeologist was deceased, enabled me to obtain accurate information on their academic and archaeological backgrounds. I was able to take up-to-date photos of some. 

It took me about a year to gather the information together, beginning in January 2023. It was a challenge to find information on the pioneering archaeologists because of the scarcity of archival data. This was the result of neglect by the national and British Mandate archaeological institutions. The contribution of these early archaeologists had not been recorded or researched.

Finding information on living archaeologists should have been straightforward, but restrictions on movement imposed by the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza impeded travel between Palestinian cities. At the moment, carrying out my research is more challenging than ever with controls on movement out of the West Bank city, Nablus, where I live and work. 

Included in my account are unqualified, but pioneering archaeologists who nevertheless were responsible for outstanding achievements and have interesting stories . These include Yusra Al-Karmelyeh, Abu Nasr Dweikat (Abu Issa), Ibrahim Al-Fanni, Ibrahim Iqtait,  Osama Hamdan and Tawfiq Kanaan. The significance of their contributions has only recently been recognised. 

The story of Yusra Al-Karmelyeh, who worked with Dorothy Garrod at Mount Carmel is intriguing. Her expertise allowed her to make the historic Neanderthal skull find, Tabun 1, in 1932. However, there is no trace of her after depopulation of her village due to the Nakba around 1948. The story of her discovery was lost and re-found after decades. Nowadays, her name is included among the list of pioneering women archaeologists from all nations. 

However, in general, Palestinian women have been marginalised in archaeology since the early 20th century due to a conservative society and an adverse political situation. The expectation that women would work in agriculture, rather than complete their studies, added to this.  Among the archaeologists I have listed, two are women (4.4%). Nevertheless, in recent times the situation has changed and there are increasingly more women entering the field of archaeology.

All the archaeologists listed in my work have played a part in the history and development of Palestinian archaeology and their achievements have now been recorded.  

A scientific visit by archaeology students at An-Najah National University, under the supervision of Loay Abu Al-Saud and Atef Khweira, to the site of Khirbet Al-Tira in Ramallah, where Prof. Salah Al-Hodalia, who worked on restoring the site and rehabilitating it for the tourism sector. (Photo: Loay Abu Alsaud)

Yasser Arafat awards engineer Nizar Mahmoud Al-Abdi the National Service Shield on behalf of his late father, Mahmoud Al-Abdi 1990 – Amma   (Photo from the Facebook page of Mahmoud Al-Abdi: