By Michael McCluskey
Amara and I were asked to speak at a special event organised by the Petrie Museum. As part of their public programme on 'The Light Project', we looked at the role of photography and film in early twentieth-century archaeology. Amara unearthed some fascinating images of Flinders Petrie and a stunning image that showed how an Egyptian tomb was wired with electric light to impress the tourists. I discussed films from the 1912-13 excavation at Gebel Moya funded by Henry Wellcome and 1930s footage from the excavation at Tell el-Amarna sponsored by the Egypt Exploration Society. The Wellcome films are wonderful images of the disciplined work site and scenes of amusement including a white-suited bicyclist drawing the attention of local children. The Amarna films, in contrast, show a more playful side to the excavation team as the group of seemingly bright young things are captured joking together in Fair Isle jumpers. A special thank you to Angela Saward from the Wellcome Library for allowing us to screen the film footage and for offering some helpful information during the discussion that followed our presentation. Thanks also to the EES for providing access to the Amarna films and to Helen Pike of the Petrie Museum for planning this event and the entire Light Project programme. And a final thank you to Louise Atherton for taking this photo of the event.
By Amara Thornton
17 July "Exhibition opens"
This brief entry in Lankester Harding's 1933 day-diary may seem insignificant - but it isn't. By the 1930s annual archaeological excavations were a routine event during the summer Season in London.
Harding visited an annual exhibition for the first time in July 1924. The Egypt Exploration Society's exhibition of objects from its season at Amarna was on at the Society of Antiquaries. Harding saw an ad in the newspaper about it and went along. There he was introduced to the archaeological network and followed his visit with another – this time to Flinders Petrie’s exhibition of antiquities from Qau, Egypt at University College London. Two years later, Petrie engaged Harding as an assistant on his excavations in Palestine.
Petrie had been holding exhibitions in London since 1884 to showcase excavations he (and eventually his students) conducted in Egypt. These temporary displays were arranged in the aftermath of excavation, once excavated objects had reached Britain.
Antiquities discovered during the excavation season (c. November to May) were placed on tables and shelves distributed into one or two rooms with plans, maps, paintings and photographs of the site and surrounding region on the walls. These events were open to the public with hours of admission that often extended into the evening after businesses had closed.
As a member of the Wellcome Archaeological Expedition to the Near East in the early 1930s, Harding became more intimately involved in the public presentation of research. In a letter in Harding’s archive, expedition director James Leslie Starkey emphasised Harding’s role in organising the Expedition’s exhibitions.
During this period, film screenings were a new addition to ‘exhibition season’. Hilary Waddington’s films of EES excavations at Amarna were the subject of the Filming Antiquity launch event – one of these films was screened in London in 1931 to complement the EES’s exhibition during its opening week. Although this screening was targeted at EES subscribers free tickets were also offered to the public.
In 1935, notices appeared that a film of the Wellcome Expedition's excavations at Tell ed-Duweir (Lachish) would be screened twice a day at the exhibition, held at the Wellcome Museum on Euston Road. Film screenings of excavations in progress were also incorporated into the 1937 and 1938 Lachish exhibitions.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about the creation and initial screening of these Lachish films; in the course of the Filming Antiquity project we hope to find out more about them to contribute to our understanding of the films in Harding's archive.
The growing number of excavation films emerging from the shadows and the context of their initial display enables us to see histories of excavation and archaeology’s public impact in a whole new light. The legacy of the Lachish films continues into more contemporary times; clips from the footage were shown at the British Museum in 1990 in the Archaeology and the Bible exhibition.* I'd love to know what the 51,000 odd visitors to this exhibition thought of the vintage scenes!
Harding, G. L. 1933. Diary Entry. [manuscript]. 17 July. Harding Archive: UCL Institute of Archaeology.
Director [Starkey, J. L.]. 1936. [Statement of recommendation]. Harding Archive: UCL Institute of Archaeology.
Naunton, C. 2010. The Film Record of the Egypt Exploration Society’s Excavations at Tell el-Amarna. KMT 21: 45-53.
Thornton, A 2015. Exhibition Season: Annual Archaeological Exhibitions in London, 1880s-1930s. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology 25(1):2, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/bha.252
The Times. 1931. Egypt Exploration Society. Times Digital Archive, 7 Sep P 13.
Anon. 1938. J. L. Starkey. Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. British Newspaper Archive, 12 January.
*Thanks to Jonathan Tubb for this information.
By Rachael Sparks
In an earlier post, Amara Thornton talked about Gerald Harding’s colourful career in archaeology, from his introduction to Egyptology through Margaret Murray’s lectures (they must have been good - he kept his notes), to learning Arabic from his Bedouin co-workers in the Wadi Ghazzeh while learning the trade of archaeology.
Harding owed the start of his career to Petrie’s patronage; this post explores his ‘apprenticeship’ years - from his first dip into a Petrie dig at Tell Jemmeh in 1926, to the time he left the Petries in 1932 to join new excavations at Lachish.
Details of these have been gathered together from a range of sources, from Harding's own diaries and photographs, to letters written by fellow digger Olga Tufnell, and the diaries, letters and biographies of Flinders Petrie and his wife Hilda.
By Jenny Bunn
When people ask me what I do as an archivist, I never really know what to say. Do I go for the safe but dull option ‘I look after old records and make them available to others’, or do I go for the more bombastic ‘I ensure society does not suffer from collective amnesia, provide the means to hold individuals and organisations to account and protect basic human rights’. The fact is that, as an archivist, I do many things (including getting involved in projects such as Filming Antiquity) and I have to do many things because taking custody seriously is not a simple proposition.
Take for example, the films from the archive of Gerald Lankester Harding that form the focus of this project. These films are now being housed at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, undergoing appraisal for formal acquisition by the collections. Taking care of such an important archive is a big responsibility, but also an exciting challenge: it is recognised that the invaluable information these films contain can inform knowledge of archaeology, and myriad other fields, both now and in the future. For this to happen, however, we need to be able to watch the films and digitisation will provide this vital access.
Looking after digital things is not something we have had to do until relatively recently. Consequently, what is involved in doing so is not yet completely understood. Having a back-up is certainly a good start, but how many of us can say that we periodically check our back-ups to make sure that what has been backed-up is still accessible and has not become corrupted or otherwise unreadable? Then again, how many of us are aware of the issue of obsolesence and take active steps to counter it, by, for example, choosing our file formats and storage media with care? Sadly I suspect the answer is, not many, but those of us who have taken on a responsibility to look after other people’s stuff for the good of all, also have to take the problem of digital preservation very seriously indeed.
In future blog posts, we will seek to outline our considerations in digitising these films in greater detail, but for now I hope that I have done enough to explain why taking custody seriously means that nothing is ever simple and that digitisation is not the answer to everything.
Further information/links on digital preservation
Digital Preservation Coalition
Digital Preservation Management: Implementing Short-Term Strategies for Long-Term Solutions, online tutorial developed for the Digital Preservation Management workshop, developed and maintained by Cornell University Library, 2003-2006; extended and maintained by ICPSR, 2007-2012; and now extended and maintained by MIT Libraries, 2012-on.
Library of Congress, Personal Archiving
The National Archives, Preserving digital records: Guidance
Once on site at Tell Jemmeh Harding helped build the dig house, and when finished it accommodated all the British members of the dig team: the Petries and Harding, James Leslie Starkey and his wife Marjorie Rice, Commander and Mrs Risdon and Dr Parker. Petrie was looking for evidence of ancient Egyptian occupation in Palestine, and over the course of the season an acre of the site was cleared, and the remains of six towns were discovered. A large group of workers from different villages were employed to do the backbreaking labour of excavation with pickaxes. They were housed in a separate building, but Harding’s diary from the site shows that he enjoyed meeting the workmen for fantasias - parties with music and dancing - and listening to their music, which he felt was “very romantic”.
Harding returned to Palestine for the 1927/1928 season which was spent at a site called Tell Fara (or ‘Beth-Pelet’), southeast of Tell Jemmeh. Petrie stayed in Europe and Harding, the Risdons, the Starkeys and a new excavator, Olga Tufnell, were on site. The main focus of the work was on tombs in the first season; Petrie returned for the 1928/1929 season with Harding, the Starkeys, Olga Tufnell and another student, Oliver Myers, to concentrate on the cemetery, a ravine with tombs and a fort. Over a hundred workmen were employed, and a key find of a burnt ivory box was discovered. Connections were made between the site and the Hyksos kings of Egypt. In addition, conservationist and "Men of the Trees" founder Richard St Barbe Baker made a film of the excavations, to be called “Palestine’s Lost Cities”. The 1929/1930 season was also spent at Tell Fara, continuing the work in order to gain a full picture of the site’s history of occupation.
Tell el-Ajjul was the next site to undergo excavation. A mere six miles south of Gaza, Petrie and his team, including Harding, the Starkeys and Olga Tufnell, set out to uncover the occupation history of the site. After two seasons Starkey, Harding and Tufnell left the Petries to begin their own excavations at Tell ed-Duweir, a site between Gaza and Jerusalem, with funding from industrialists Henry Wellcome (pharmaceuticals) and Charles Marston (Sunbeam bicycles). These excavations eventually resulted in the important discovery of the Lachish letters, pieces of pottery with ancient Hebrew script in ink identifying the site to be the location of the Biblical city of Lachish.
The Wellcome-Marston Archaeological Expedition to the Near East (the formal name of the Starkey-Harding-Tufnell excavations) remained at Duweir from 1932 to 1938. Harding left in 1936 to take up the post of Chief Curator of Antiquities in Transjordan, across the Dead Sea, but he remained actively engaged in the interpretation and publication of the Lachish letters in the years that followed. Eventually he became Director of the Transjordan Department of Antiquities, but it was as its Chief Curator that he embarked on one of the most publicised excavations of his career. In February 1949 he set out with a team of archaeologists to excavate a cave at Ain Feshkha east of the Dead Sea, an area then under Jordanian control, where two years previously Bedouin had discovered the earliest known Biblical texts handwritten on delicate leather: the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Harding and his team discovered more scroll fragments at Ain Feshkha, establishing the authenticity of the fragments discovered there. In the years that followed he and a team continued excavations in the area, centring their investigations in the nearby settlement site of Khirbet Qumran. Over the course of his archaeological career in Jordan Harding undertook excavation and survey work all over the country, including Jerash, where he was based in the early part of his career in Jordan (and later buried), as well as Petra. His extensive work in Jordan brought the country's antiquities and sites to a wider scholarly and general audience; through conducting numerous surveys he became a leading expert in Ancient North Arabian inscriptions. Harding died in England in 1979.
I have concentrated mainly here on Harding’s early career in archaeology, as it is this period of his life that the footage we will be digitising through Filming Antiquity is most likely to cover. But it’s important to emphasise that Harding’s thirty years in Palestine and (Trans)Jordan (1926-1956) came at a pivotal period in the history of the region and the world – one that saw a world war, the gradual disintegration of Britain’s imperial system, the creation of Israel, the evolution of Transjordan into the Kingdom of Jordan, and the establishment of a border between Israel and Jordan that continues to have ramifications on both countries today. His archive holds much more information about the context of his work and life in Palestine and (Trans)Jordan, so stay tuned!
BSAE [British School of Archaeology in Egypt]. 1927. Catalogue of Palestinian Antiquities from Gerar, 1927. London: BSAE.
Drower, M. 1985. Flinders Petrie: A Life in Archaeology. London: Victor Gollancz, Ltd.
Harding, G. L. 1949. The Dead Sea Scrolls: excavations which establish the authenticity and pre-Christian date of the oldest Bible manuscripts. Illustrated London News Historical Archive [Online]. 19 October, p 493.
Harding, G. L. 1949. The Dead Sea Scrolls. Palestine Exploration Quarterly 81 (2): 112-114.
Macdonald, M. C. A. 1979. In Memoriam Gerald Lankester Harding. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 23: 198-200.
Sparks, R. PUBLICISING PETRIE: Financing Fieldwork in British Mandate Palestine (1926-1938). Present Pasts 5 (1): 2. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/pp.56.
Thornton, A. 2014. Margaret Murray’s Meat Curry. Present Pasts 6 (1): 3 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/pp.59.
Torczyner, H., Harding, G. L., Lewis, A. and Starkey, J. L. 1938. Lachich I (Tell Ed Duweir). The Lachish Letters. London: Oxford University Press.
Tufnell, O. 1980. Obituary: Gerald Lankester Harding. Levant 12 (1): iii.
By Michael McCluskey
The Filming Antiquity project emerged from the archive of archaeologist Gerald Lankester Harding (1901-1979), Chief Curator/Director of Antiquities in Transjordan from 1936 to 1956. Among Harding’s personal papers, photographs, diaries, and letters were over 30 films from the late 1920s and early 1930s. Some were labelled, suggesting the possible places and events they might reveal, from 'Ajjul', an archaeological site in what was then Mandate Palestine, to 'Ski Jumping'. Others had nothing else to identify their subject other than the evidence of a life spread out before us on a table in a library of a 12th Century house in the Cotswolds.
The current owner of the house is Michael Macdonald, a Research Associate at the Khalili Research Centre, Oxford and Lankester Harding’s executor. Michael not only offered us access to the collection but also information that could help put the items into context and make connections between them. The materials in the archive offer extensive information about excavations, the personal activities of those on the dig, and the relationships formed from these experiences.
The collection includes letters, Harding’s day diaries, an unpublished typewritten biographical manuscript, and photos of Harding’s childhood in China and Singapore as well as his work at Tell Jemmeh, Tell Fara, Tell el-Ajjul and Tell ed-Duweir (British Mandate Palestine) and Transjordan, and his co-workers and personal acquaintances. Alongside the papers and photographs were the films, housed in their Baby Pathé canisters, and with limited identifying material about their contents. Michael could not help with what might be captured in the moving images but the possibilities include excavation work, on-site activities or documentation of Harding’s other interests, including perhaps his work with the Amman Dramatic Society.
The Harding archive offers rich material for studies not only of archaeology and its history, but also social history, anthropology, cultural geography, and film history. With this in mind, Filming Antiquity was founded to invite collaboration with others interested in working across disciplinary boundaries and helping to further our understanding of what excavation sites and archaeological digs can tell us about cultural history, production, and consumption and the networks (social, professional, economic, media) that enabled these exchanges. The project uses the films produced at these sites as the launch pad for discussions. To start, we aim to digitize the films from the Harding archive to see what they contain and what others can tell us about the people, places, and processes put on screen.
Filming Antiquity is currently funded through University College London’s Centre for Humanities Interdisciplinary Research Projects (CHIRP) Small Grants Award Scheme. A list of the UCL staff involved in Filming Antiquity and details of projected outputs are available here.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.