The Palestine Exploration Fund

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Frederick J. Bliss, 1859-1937

Frederick J. Bliss was the son of the Rev. Daniel Bliss, founder of the Syrian Protestant College, now the American University of Beirut. Educated in Lebanon and New England, he carried out independent researches in Syria between 1888 and 1890. In 1890 he was asked by the Palestine Exploration Fund to continue the excavations begun by Flinders Petrie at Tell el-Hesy (now transcribed Tell el-Hesi). After a brief training under Petrie at Meydum in Egypt, he began two years work at Tell el-Hesi. Using Petrie's ceramic sequence and the pioneering concept of a sequence of 'cities', Bliss was able to establish not only the archaeology of this specific site, but the sequential framework for Levantine archaeology.

Following his success at Tell el-Hesi, Bliss continued the work of the Fund in Jerusalem in 1894-1897, where he was assisted by the young Archibald Dickie, later to be Professor of Architecture at Liverpool University. Together they made one of the most important contributions to understanding the archaeology of the city. The Fund then turned its attention to the towns of the Shephelah, and Bliss, now assisted by R.A.S. Macalister, carried out serveral seasons work at Tell Zakariya (Biblical 'Azekah), Tell el-Safi, Tell el-Judeidah, and Tell Sandahanna (Classical Marisa/Mareshah). Bliss and Macalister presented their results which set the standard for future excavation reports in Levantine archaeology in the future.

In 1900 Bliss was dismissed as the Fund's 'Explorer' on grounds of his poor health. However this was at least partly because his meticulous methods were not producing the exciting results which would enable the PEF to raise funds for future work at that time. Later, W.F. Albright was to acknowledge that this was not only a mistake, but a serious blow to Levantine archaeology.
Following his dismissal, he produced one final monograph on the development of Levantine research from its beginning until 1902. The theoretical foundations which he laid continue to underpin the structure of Levantine archaeology to this day.

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