Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Nineteenth century archaeology and the PEF

CHARLES WARREN: Archaeologists reveal shocking stories of their past. According to the preliminary announcement, his team apparently tricked the Muslim authorities to conduct the courageous operation (DAVID GUREVICH, ANAT KIDRON, Jerusalem Post). One of the tricks involved the smell of grilled lizard meat.

The headline and opening of the article are a bit sensationalist, but it is actually about this:
Recently, to mark 150 years since the establishment of the PEF [Palestine Exploration Fund], scholars worldwide came together to the University of Haifa for a special conference to reassess the PEF’s achievements.


What qualities did archaeologists need to have two centuries ago? Nothing went smoothly then. The Ottoman authorities, obviously, were not eager to cooperate, and only the international influence from the highest ranks (often combined with some hefty baksheesh) made the explorations possible. Conditions were harsh. In addition to the lack of infrastructure and permits, the explorers had to deal with malaria and sometimes a hostile population. In some cases it was fatal. Corporal Duncan, a member of Warren’s team, passed away after desperately struggling with “fever.” However, even this event did not make Warren cease his digging.

Today, we read fictional accounts or watch Hollywood movies about “treasure seeking” archaeologists.

However, back in the 19th century the dangers were part of the reality for every archaeologist, whose true “treasure” was simply understanding the past. These remarkable old works are a heritage much of which still remains to be revealed. The new studies presented at the Haifa conference seem to be only a beginning.

The authors are chairs of the PEF and the Early Exploration of the Holy Land conference under the auspices of the Gottlieb Schumacher Institute and the Zinman Institute of Archaeology.