James Leslie Starkey at Lachish, Part 2 (ii)
James Leslie Starkey at Lachish, Part 2 (iii)
James Leslie Starkey at Lachish, Part 2 (iv)
Wendy Slaninka (James Leslie Starkey and Marjorie Starkey's granddaughter) continues the story of her grandfather. Read Part 1 here.
Part 2 (i): Lachish – Tell ed Duweir (Jewel of the Shephelah)
By Wendy Slaninka (Granddaughter of James Leslie Starkey & Marjorie Starkey by their daughter Mary)
This is my fifth article for the Filming Antiquity blog following on from ‘James Leslie Starkey, Archaeologist, Part 1, Background and Early Career’. It also links in with my first, second and third articles ‘Living at Lachish – Life in Camp’, ’Olive Starkey – Lady of Lachish’, (Leslie’s sister) and ‘First Lady of Lachish – Marjorie Starkey and her family’, where there is other information and photos of Leslie and Lachish.
Again, the inspiration for researching and finding out about my grandfather’s career was triggered by my Grandmother’s scrapbook mentioned in previous articles. It had languished in my mother’s sideboard for decades and it wasn’t until 2009 that I became particularly interested to investigate further. It has kept me captive ever since, gradually building on the original scrapbook – each tidbit and nugget of new information as exciting as I imagine excavating Lachish was for Grandfather – in a way I feel a sort of infinity with him as we are both in the business of digging into the past! I was also encouraged in this by Ros Henry who was Olga Tufnell’s assistant for a while in the 1950s.
I never knew my grandfather and his children were very young when he died so everything I write here about him and his work is gleaned from what others have said about him. His finds are well documented as is also the history of Lachish. As space here is limited I can only gloss over some of the facts I would like to include to give a flavour. Nevertheless it is such a large topic that to do him justice I will have to spread it over several parts. This first section will have to suffice only as an introduction to the site itself.
The man who knows and dwells in history adds a new dimension to his existence, he no longer lives in one place of present ways and thought, he lives in the whole space of life, past, present and dimly future
Starkey’s faculties for organisation, his methods of excavation and his powers of observation became more and more developed as he grew in years and experience and in 1932 Starkey left Petrie to lead his own expedition to Lachish.
This was, briefly, in conjunction with Harris Dunscombe Colt, Jr. and financed by him and Sir Henry Wellcome, Sir Charles Marston and Sir Robert Mond - initially known as the Wellcome-Colt Expedition. Colt left after one year and Sir Henry took on full responsibility and it was renamed The Wellcome Archaeological Research Expedition to the Near East (W.A.R.E.N.E.). When Sir Henry died in July 1936 Sir Charles Marston co-financed with the Wellcome Trust and it was renamed The Wellcome-Marston Research Expedition to the Near East, with contributions from Sir Robert Mond. Although I am loathe to mention this at the outset of this group of articles about Starkey’s work at Lachish, after his death in January 1938 the Wellcome Trust took on the full funding of the project until its completion.
When Starkey broached the subject two sites were considered – Gath (Tell; Areini) and Lachish (Tell ed Duweir) (cities which co-existed as the same time). Olga Tufnell was then tasked to investigate. Starkey’s intention had been to seek the sources of foreign influence which had imposed themselves on Palestinian culture. Luckily for Starkey Sir Henry favoured Lachish, the larger site.
The site at Tell el Duweir had already been speculated upon by Prof. William Albright (The American School of Archaeology in Jerusalem) and Prof. John Garstang (Director British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem), and Starkey believed the site might disclose the Biblical Lachish for which archaeologists had long been searching. Petrie had already excavated Tel-es-Hesy and had claimed and published it as Lachish although it had not been proved and some experts were sceptical, including Starkey.
To me it seems Fate had already mapped out Starkey’s destiny. As a young boy he was inspired by Layard’s Book Nineveh and its Remains to set out on his archaeological career. He was drawn in particular to the famous magnificent series of carved stone reliefs in Sennarcharib’s Throne Room at his Palace at Nineveh, Assyria, depicting the violent sacking of an unidentified city under siege (now housed in The British Museum). How eerie that it should turn out to be the lost Bible city of Lachish - the city and its excavation for which he later became famous!!
Scenes show the horseman and charioteers, the attacking infantry with their leather and wicker shields, the earthen ramp they built up to the gates, the battering-rams covered in leather to protect its occupants, the storming of the city, the transfer of booty, executed captives hanging from the walls, impaled on stakes, being beheaded, being flaid on the ground, legs being dislocated, others pleading for mercy, captives and families going into exile carrying their belongings in carts harnessed to oxen along with their camels and livestock, Sennacherib sitting on his magnificently decorated ivory throne watching from a safe distance as the city goes up in flames, the royal tent and chariot, the finally the Assyrian military camp.
It is the most graphic war documentary ever found in the ancient world and Lachish’s excavated defences match in every detail the fortifications depicted by Sennarcharib’s war artist Sennarcharib was so pleased with his conquest the inscription below the reliefs read ’Sennarcharib, King of the World, King of Assyria, sat upon an ivory throne and passed in review the booty from Lachish’. The ‘Taylor Prism’ (a stone engraved column) also from the Palace gives Sennarcharib’s account of the conquest of Judah.
I was also particularly taken by the thousands of little oval shapes that entirely fill the space between the carved relief work. Apparently they represent the helmets of the thousands of soldiers.
From the start everyone involved knew the excavation would be a big undertaking - the site covered an area of at least 32 acres and it turned out to be one of the most significant archaeological projects in Palestine in the period between the First and Second World Wars. Starkey himself believed it would take at least 50 years to excavate the site and had laid out plans for many years to come.
Tell ed-Duweir, dating back to c.3200 BC, identified as Biblical Royal Lachish, was 25 miles south of Jerusalem, half way between Gaza and Jerusalem and had been a Canaanite city conquered by the Israelites under Joshua. It was destroyed by the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib in 701 BC and again later by the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar in his conquest of 589 BC. Its earliest date places it 2000 years before Abraham entered Canaan and was first mentioned in diplomatic correspondence in the 14th century BC between Egyptian pharoahs and their vassels.
In fact at its height it was a more important city than Jerusalem, and double its size. It is estimated that there are at least ten or more different layers of occupation, with many cities built one on top of the other, including peoples from lower Egypt. The Hyksos from Egypt occupied the site in 18th century BC and there is also evidence that the city was destroyed by fire several times. During old testament times Lachish served an important protective function in defending Jerusalem and the interior of Judea and was one of the city forts guarding the canyons that led up to Jerusalem from the sea. It is the highest hill in that area and in order to take Jerusalem an invading army would first have to take Lachish which guarded the mountain pass.
One of the most characteristic features of the mound, was its steeply sloping sides, due to the defensive works of the Hyksos and the ‘glacis’, gleaming crushed white limestone sides, must have been an impressive and awesome sight to intending invaders. It is mentioned frequently in the Bible (Old Testament), including Joshua X: 5, 32-39, XII: 11, XV:39, Kings XIV: 19, XVIII: 14, 17, XIX 8, II Chronicles XI: 9, XXV: 27, XXXII: 9, Nehemiah XI: 30, Isaiah XXXVI: 2, XXXVII: 8, Jeremiah XXXIV: 7, Micah I: 13.
Early evidence indicates that the Tell was a chariot city or posting station for the Egyptians as far back as the time of Joshua – the Hyksos probably being the first to introduce horses and chariots. The remains of an old khan or inn with tall standing stones and flagged floors was found which suggest stabling. And even earlier evidence dates back to 4000 BC and suggests the Tell was used as a citadel or acropolis, of a much larger settlement without defences, belonging to a pastoral and peaceable folk, who were later overrun by the successors of Sargon or Accad who brought their Semetic Sumerian civilisation from the Euphrates.
It was the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar who finally put paid to Lachish. Evidence has shown that they destroyed the city walls by lighting fires around its perimeter consisting of olive, oak and fig trees piled at the feet of the walls. The bonfires would have burned day and night till they reduced the limestone blocks to powder and eventual collapse, and many of the mud bricks in the city towers were baked as hard as cement.
As many olive stones were found in the ashes and charred pieces of wood this event is presumed to have taken place around July or August (in fact this burning completely denuded this area of Palestine of its trees – Sennarcharib’s Reliefs had showed Lachish to be lush with grapes, olives and figs). As Judah trembled under the besieging of Lachish many villagers fled to Jerusalem, nearly trebling its population overnight.
Archaeological work in Jerusalem has proved this showing the population and size of Jerusalem at that time expanding from a city of about fifty acres to that of about 150 acres, spilling out beyond the confines of the old city walls. Thousands of captives from Lachish, Jerusalem and surroundings were taken back to Babylon, and these captives are mentioned in the Bible, weeping on the banks of the river in Babylon (‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion’, Psalm 137:1-3).
After its destruction, the city which had been home to Israelite, Canaanite and Persian Hyksos, lay desolate until the 6th century BC, restored on the return of the Jews from Captivity, when once again it became a town of some size and importance and they refortified the mound with a double stone wall. The reason for its gradual wane and disappearance is not clear, and even the old name of Lachish was forgotten - which scholars think means ‘place where fire was burned’ / ‘to burn to set on fire’.
With Starkey’s excavations however Lachish again burst into the light of fame with the impressive Fortifications and Gate visible from the top of the Tell. Starkey's achievements at Lachish, working the site year after year, added to the rich store of knowledge which the hill gave up under his skilled and patient direction.
To be continued in Part 2 (ii)
[Further References will be given at the end of the next Article]
Wellcome-Marston Archaeological Research Expedition to the Near East:
Lachish I, The Lachish Letters, OUP, 1938, Harry Torczyner, Lankaster Harding, Alkin Lewis, J. Starkey
Lachish II, The Fosse Temple, OUP, 1940, Olga Tufnell, Charles Inge, Lankaster Harding
Lachish III, The Iron Age (Text and Plates), OUP, 1953, Olga Tufnell et al
Lachish IV, The Bronze Age (Text and Plates), OUP, 1958, Olga Tufnell et al
Harding, G. Lankaster, 1943. Guide to Lachish Tell Ed Duweir. Government of Palestine, Department of Antiquities.
MacGregor, Neil, 2010. A History of the World in 100 objects – The Lachish Reliefs. BBC Radio 4.
Palestine Exploration Quarterly, June 1950. Excavations at Tell ed Duweir, Palestine, directed by the late J.L. Starkey 1932-1938, an address delivered by Olga Tufnell, pp 65-80.
Starkey, J.L. 1935. Finds from Biblical Lachish: A city of changing fortunes on the western frontier of Judah. Illustrated London News, 6 July [pp 19-21].
Ussishkin, David, 1979. On Tel Lachish, the biblical connections, and its first excavator, J.L. Starkey, Archaeological Newsletter of the Royal Ontario Museum, New Series, No.165.
Ussishkin, David. 2004. The Renewed Archaeological Excavations of Lachish (1973-1985), Vols 1-V, , Tel Aviv University/Institute of Archaeology.
Ussishkin, David. Biblical Lachish. Israel Exploration Society/Biblical Archaeology Society
Plus numerous newspaper articles of the day.
The Shephelah is the name given to these lowlands which were the battleground for the 12 tribes of Israel and Judah
It was this same King Nebuchadnezzar who built one of the seven wonders of the world, the hanging gardens of Babylon, so that his mountain bred wife would feel at home in the city.
Part 1: Background and Early Career
By Wendy Slaninka (Granddaughter of James Leslie Starkey & Marjorie Starkey by their daughter Mary)
This is my fourth article for the Filming Antiquity Blog regarding Harding’s archaeology footage and links in with my first, second and third articles, ’Olive Starkey – Lady of Lachish’ (Leslie’s sister), ‘Living at Lachish – Life in Camp’, and ‘First Lady of Lachish – Marjorie Starkey and her family’, where there is other information and photos of Leslie. All the Photos in this article are from the family collection unless otherwise stated.
It has struck me in writing my three previous articles that I really ought to put something on the blog about the main man himself - James Leslie Starkey! There is already some family background on him and photographs in Olive Starkey’s article, and other general bits and pieces in the others but I thought it would be nice to write a short piece about his career leading up to Lachish, and about him. His life and career is well documented and known but just the same I may have something of interest or new to say!
I am sorry I never knew my Grandfather but I think his son John, my Uncle, takes after him in many ways and I take a sense of his persona from him. Olive, Starkey’s sister, introduced John to her friend Margaret Howard and she also must have sensed this too as she later wrote to Olive ‘having met his son I can now well realise the charm that Leslie must have had and his great grasp of so many subjects’. His children’s few memories of him are of a loving family man, willing to get down on the floor and play with them, carrying them round on his shoulders, and John particularly remembers him taking them to London Zoo and the cinema.
In addition to the family background given in the article on his sister Olive, Leslie’s grandfather, James Starkey the builder, was married to Elisabeth Hoare, descended from a line of Hoares boasting three Sir Richards and a Sir Henry (including, we believe, Sir Richard Colt Hoare - distinguished archaeologist in Wiltshire who excavated Stonehenge and who has a monument in Salisbury Cathedral). Elisabeth’s father was born at Hever Castle - country home of Henry VIII.
As a rather delicate child Leslie missed out on a lot of formal education (similar to Sir Flinders Petrie whom he later worked for), but his interest and passion for antiquity was fostered by books, particularly by Layard’s Nineveh, a Victorian sensation, which he had asked for as a birthday present. When he was 15 he worked for an Antique Dealer in London where he handled fine things and speculated about their origins. The premises were very close to the British Museum and he spent his spare time reading and visiting London galleries, including the British Museum and its Reading Room.
During World War I he served in the Royal Navy Air Service for three years as a Fitter/Air Mechanic, moving between several postings on home shores (thankfully), and earning a campaign medal – the British War medal.
A postcard home to his sister Olive from Portsmouth mentions his passing through Southampton with 60 transporters and ships in the harbour filled with troops and horses, the common itself a mass of tents with soldiers waiting to embark. In another from Southsea he wrote that the searchlights at night were wonderful to behold. At one time he was posted to a lighthouse for some months on coastal reconnaissance, and in those lonely hours he laid the foundations of his archaeological knowledge by reading text books which he had sent out to him.
After the war – between 1919 and 1922 - he attended evening classes in Egyptology at University College, London where he came in contact with Flinders Petrie and Margaret Murray, studying hieroglyphs with the latter. Throughout this time he also attended UCL lectures when he could for the degree course in Egyptian History. Dr Samuel Yievin, whom Starkey later worked with, was on the same course and mentions his attendance in his obituary on him.
In 1922 he abandoned a promising business career and became a ‘Petrie Pup’ committing himself to an archaeological career working with Flinders Petrie, who apparently had immediately detected great promise in him. ‘Petrie Pup’ was a term applied to those people selected by Flinders Petrie (later Sir) to act as his assistants in the field, a miscellaneous lot, culled from different professions, having aptitudes and skills in no way connected with Egyptology. Indeed academic knowledge was a definite bar to employment with this pioneer, himself a sickly young man, too fragile to attend school and self-educated by wandering around the British Museum, who preferred people who came to him without preconceived ideas or training. The exception to the rule was made in favour of those who had joined Dr Margaret Murray’s evening classes in elementary hieroglyphs and her sharp eye soon divided the sheep from the goats. Gerald Lankester Harding had also attended her classes.
His first assignment was at Qau with Guy Brunton (Petrie’s Chief Assistant), for the British School of Archaeology in Egypt (BSAE). Qau (Qau el Kebir) is situated on the east bank of the Nile, in Middle Egypt – north of Karnak and Luxor. Obviously excited by his first trip to Egypt he sent Madge (his fiancée) a flurry of daily postcards describing their journey to the site, the site itself, their cave bedrooms, what they did each day, what they ate etc. – they make fascinating reading. The food seemed to be variations on the following theme: bread, boiled rice, hard-boiled eggs, oranges, grapes, nuts, milk, chutney, jam tart and invariably tinned pilchards or tongue! (tinned fish seemed to be Petrie’s stock in trade fare) – and ‘not forgetting coffee’.
Another postcard wrote excitedly about Lord Carnavon’s discovery in the Valley of Kings at that time – “….Brunton has just been up to Luxor to see the royal tomb – he reports the find is simply amazing – chariots, thrones, chairs, beds – all overlaid with gold, chests containing wonderful royal robes – which have not yet been touched until special experts arrive from London…”.
The team’s accommodation was a little out of ordinary as in the first season: they actually lived in the palatial tombs about 700 feet up the cliffs with a fine view overlooking the Nile, desert and bay below. Each had a subsidiary tomb as their own bedroom (which they shared with many other native inhabitants such as snakes, lizards, beetles and bats!) below the Great Hall which led to the burial place of one of the Governors of that region – Uakha.
It was at Qau that Starkey recognised the peculiarities of Baderian pottery (seen but not noted by other excavators – red pottery with black glazed tops and patterning) and helped to establish recognition of the very early Baderian civilisation on the east bank of the Nile in Middle Egypt (that it was his discovery is corroborated by both Harding and Margaret Murray who states ‘he never rested until he had persuaded Petrie to let Gertrude Caton Thompson to dig the mound where the pottery was found’ and Gertrude herself states in her Memoirs that it was Leslie’s ‘sharp eyes’ that had first noticed them).
Later back home Starkey proudly named their new home ‘Badari’. And it was also here, in March 1923, that he also brought to light one of the very earliest copies of the Gospel according to St. John by insisting on emptying the sand from about 2,000 pots which were blank apart from this priceless 4th century Coptic papyrus manuscript, dated at approximately 400 AD, and a hoard of gold coins in another! They had lain undiscovered for 13 centuries. The manuscripts are described in detail in The Expositor, April 1924, and are now stored in the University of Cambridge Library.
He also helped with the distribution of Petrie’s excavations from Abydos – The Tombs of the Courtiers, back in the UK and in particular he visited Bexhill Museum and liaised with the Curator to fill gaps in their collection. He himself even donated 1 guinea to this end!
After two years with Petrie, his amazing quickness, his visual memory, his attention to detail, and a flair for objects (amounting to genius according to Margaret Murray) led him, in 1924, to being appointed Field Director of the Michigan University Expedition to Karanis ‘The Lord’s town’ – fifty miles south of Cairo, the modern Kom Washim in the Fayum, which threw more light on an obscure period. Karanis was one of the largest Greco-Roman cities in the Fayoum dating back to the third century BC – a prosperous Egyptian town in Roman times. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in Michigan hold the finds from this site.
Starkey married Madge in 1925, and she joined him for the second season.
His notebooks of progress in the field, and records of finds and observations illuminating the daily lives of these ancient people, the mound surveyed and subdivided into areas and sub areas, and the drawings and plans within this framework, were to prove invaluable to those who continued the excavations after him as the structures throughout the site could be traced in detail.*
He also regularly sent back textiles to the Bolton Museum of Textiles, and textile fragments which apparently are catalogued under ‘S’ for Starkey! Guy Brunton had also sent Bolton Museum textiles from Qau and Badari too. Although he was by then Director of Karanis, Starkey also returned to Qau in Spring 1925 to help the Bruntons close the season as Guy Brunton was ill and had been taken to hospital.
Between May and June 1926 Starkey re-registered with UCL and attended Petrie’s lectures in Egyptology, for the princely sum of £1 1/-. However, when the BSAE transferred their work to Palestine in 1926, Starkey rejoined Petrie as his first assistant at Wadi Ghazzeh and Tell Jemmeh, near Gaza – an ancient fortress along the course of the Wadi Ghazzeh. Together with Harding, he was the backbone of the Petrie expeditions at Tell Jemmeh (1926-27), Tell el Fara (1928-29) and Tell el Ajjul (1930 onwards) – all in roughly the same area - excavating three of the great fortified mounds of the ancient Syro-Egyptian frontier, and leading the first and final season at Tell el Fara (also known as Beth Pelet) in Petrie’s absence. By now his son John had arrived (born 1929) and he accompanied his parents on the expeditions. His daughter Mary was born in October 1931 so Lachish was her first outing.
At Wadi Ghazzeh, Starkey revived the wartime cannalisation of the Wadi which effectively removed the risk of malaria which was rife when they got there. He was considered a magician by the amazed riverside dwellers who now had a quietly flowing stream leaving their fields rich in minerals allowing them to farm once again. He himself fell victim to Malaria in November 1930 when he was at Tell el Ajjul and had to be carted off to the hospital in Gaza for 10 days, and was hospitalised again for it in 1931. He also had Jaundice in December 1927 whilst at Tell Jemmeh.
In 1927 he was elected to the Royal Anthropological Institute. This interesting poster is of a lecture he gave in 1928 to a Masonic Lodge – the title is certainly attractive and I especially like the last line ‘Ladies are specially invited’, presumably meaning the content and nature of the lecture would be suitable for ladies to attend! After the lecture the Lodge wrote enthusiastically thanking him for ‘such an intellectual treat’. Starkey’s father in law was a Masonic Lodge Master and Starkey himself became a Mason in 1929.
In 1932 the BSAE jointly published Beth Pelet II: Prehistoric Fara written by Eann Macdonald and in the same edition, a rather substantial Beth Pelet Cemetery co-authored by Starkey and Gerald Lankester Harding - describing in great detail the excavations, the tombs and layout of the cemeteries, and the finds, including bedrooms and a wine store. Starkey had also contributed to its forerunner Beth Pelet I – Tel Fara in 1930, and in the same year to its supplementary publication written by J. Garrow Duncan, entitled Corpus of dated Palestinian pottery. This included the section ‘Beads of Beth Pelet’ which was dated and arranged by Starkey.
Whilst at Tell el-Fara Starkey discovered the Bronze Bear, from the reign of David or Solomon – originally loaned to the Victoria and Albert Museum from the Institute of Archaeology. Now back in their possession it is affectionately known as the ‘Starkey Bear’. I have a V&A postcard of the Bronze Bear which Olga Tufnell sent Mary saying ‘Your father found this’!
At Tell el Ajjul, a site of 33 acres four miles south of Gaza, at an inconspicuous mound shrouded in sand next to the estuary ‘Hill of the Calves’, Starkey’s intuition led to excavation of a site that revealed treasures rich enough to compare with the hoards of Troy, Ras Shamra and Enkomi. Many of these findings formed the nucleus of the Palestinian collection of the Institute of Archaeology, London and in the seasons that followed, the reliability of his judgement has been amply shown.
In 1932 Starkey parted company with Petrie and struck out on his own, as Director of the Wellcome-Marston research expedition to the Near East, to excavate Lachish. Sadly for Petrie, Olga Tufnell and Lankester Harding went wih him. Even Petrie’s Cook, Mohammed Kreti, who had been with the Petries since a boy, followed suit.
In 1933 Prof. Flinders Petrie retired from the University College London and spent his remaining years excavating near Gaza. He died in Jerusalem in 1942 at the age of 89.
TO BE CONTINUED, with a further article on Lachish.
BSAE, 1923, The Gospel of St. John, Sir Herbert Thompson
BSAE, 1923, Qua and Badari I, Guy Brunton
BSAE, 1924, The Badarian Civilisation, Guy Brunton and Gertrude Caton Thompson
The Expositor, April 1924 No.4, R Kilgour, Hodder & Stoughton
Cambridge University Library, the Coptic Scripts
University of Michigan, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
Bolton Museum of Textiles – textiles sent by Starkey from Karanis
Petrie Museum, University of London Institute of Archaeology
Qualley Log: Diary of Karanis 1924-1925: https://www.luther.edu/archives/assets/Qualley_Log_1924_25.pdf
BSAE, Beth Pelet I, 1930, Flinders Petrie, including contribution by James Starkey
BSAE, 1930, Corpus of dated Palestinian Pottery, J. Garrow Duncan, including Beads of Beth Pelet by James Starkey
BSAE, 1932, Beth Pelet II: Prehistoric Fara, E McDonald, including Beth Pelet Cemetery by Lankaster.Harding and James.Starkey
An Appreciation, PEQ, 1938, Olga Tufnell
Petrie in the Wadi Ghazzeh and at Gaza: Harris Colt’s Candid Camera, PEQ, 1979, Francis W. James
Reminiscences of a Petrie Pup, PEQ, 1982, Olga Tufnell
*The old black and white photos of the excavations at this time were used in the making of the Indiana Jones film The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
By Wendy Slaninka (Granddaughter of James Leslie Starkey & Marjorie Starkey by their daughter Mary)
This is my third article for the Filming Antiquity blog regarding Harding’s archaeology footage and links in with my first and second articles ‘Living at Lachish – Life in Camp’ and ’Olive Starkey – Lady of Lachish’, where there is other information and photos. There are a couple of references to James Leslie Starkey's wife Marjorie (known as Madge) in the Living at Lachish article too. All the Photos in this article are from the family collection unless otherwise stated.
There is brief footage of Madge and the children on Harding films, and the official Lachish promotional film used in the 1930s, but as yet the extracts posted on the site only include shots of Leslie.
James Leslie Starkey was my Grandfather, my Mother Mary’s Father, but he died before I was born so I never knew him. In fact he died while his children, John, Mary and Jane, were still very young so to a great extent neither did they. However their Mother, Marjorie ‘Madge’ Starkey (my Grandmother) put together a scrapbook for each of them so that they should know something of him and about him and of his work when they were old enough to understand. So it is only owing to her careful preservation of the records, photographs, publications and many, many newspaper articles etc. that I am able to reproduce some of it in my articles. Unfortunately Grandmother also died before I was born so I never knew her either but I know lots about her from my mother Mary and my uncle John.
Marjorie Rosaline Rice was born in 1899 in Chislehurst, Kent, a pleasant well-knit community, the daughter of Arthur Alfred Rice – a Master Cycle Maker and Garage and Hire Car owner, and his wife Jessie Eliza (nee Chatfield). Later on Arthur was also well known for work on behalf of St. Margaret’s Philanthropic Society and was on the Board of Governors at St. John’s Hospital.
Madge was the youngest of five siblings – four sisters and a brother. She was an intelligent, articulate young lady who wrote beautiful letters, liked to read and listen to the radio. She had a warm, sociable and outgoing personality, and had a good sense of fun. At school she had been very athletic, earning the nickname ‘Samson’! She enjoyed going to the cinema and liked to knit and like a lot of girls at the time had been brought up by her mother to be a good homemaker, but she definitely also had a mind of her own.
After leaving school she worked as a driver for her father in his garage business, which I presume was fairly uncommon for a lady at that time, and during WW1 was on call for local Doctors on emergency callouts, and during the blitz actually saw two zeppelins shot down in flames. After she married Leslie she also chauffered for a local Doctor when back in England ‘out of season’. Later, during WWII she voluntarily worked for ‘British Restaurants’ (workers’ canteens).
She met James Leslie Starkey (known as Leslie) when she was about 18. He was in the Royal Naval Air Service at that time and happened to stroll past her father’s garage. He spotted her in the forecourt and winked at her, and they got chatting. Later they met up as a foursome with her sister ‘Ting’ and his cousin Eddie and it wasn’t long before they were engaged (and Ting to Eddie too!)
They had quite a long courtship and engagement, and Madge was beginning to despair they would ever be able to afford to get married on Leslie’s meagre salary as a Petrie Pup. It wasn’t until 1925, soon after Starkey was appointed as Director of the archaeological site at Karanis, Egypt, that at last they were able to marry and moved into their first home in Walton on Thames, which they named ‘Badari’. This was after the Badari civilisation identified by Starkey while he was working with Petrie in Qau, Egypt (1922-1924).
Madge travelled out with him for the season there in 1925 and was hooked. How exotic and exciting it must have been to arrive in the Egypt after living in England all her life – with the colourful and vibrant bazaars and suks, men in turbans and headdresses, women in veils, camels, mosques, all the sights, sounds and smells.
However this post was not to last and Starkey rejoined Petrie in Palestine in 1926 and Madge accompanied him every year after that: Wadi Ghazzeh, Tell Jemmeh, Tell el-Fara, Tell Ajjul, and finally to Lachish, under Starkey’s directorship.
Their journey out every season, which typically ran from October/November to March/April, was quite epic in itself. They went by boat and steamship across the Mediterranean, and train, ferry, car and lorry across England, Europe and the Middle East. An old collection of postcards from that time from Leslie to Madge when they were engaged and from Madge to her parents after they married depict typical local scenes and tourist spots – others showed girls and women in costume and going about their daily life as well scenes of sites of archaeological interest. Postmarks were from ports of call and towns, from Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus, Aden, Egypt, and Palestine.
The messages from Leslie were often in diary form recounting the travels and day to day activities. He also described his passage through other places such as the Straits of Corinth where he commented the ship only just squeezed through and, on another, passing Stromboli, with lava and smoke belching out of the volcano, pretty white walled houses in villages along the shores, looking out for the lighthouse at Alexandria, and at Cyprus they couldn’t land because of troubles – the Governor’s house had just been burned down - though they did take on 240 head of cattle which were stowed in the hold bound for Jaffa.
Those from Madge include ‘My dearest Mother’ or ‘Dear Ma and Pa’ from the Shepherd’s Hotel, Cairo (a fashionable hotel founded in 1845) where they honeymooned! – her first trip abroad on the way to Karanis – ‘Here we are - We arrived last night – have been round the town – its so hot – am enjoying every moment’. Another was from Naples - ‘the weather is glorious – went to Pompeii yesterday – twas all wonderful and Naples! – well you should come and see it. Vesuvius smokes steadily away – at night one can see the red fire’. They were staying in Bertolini’s Palace Hotel which commanded a grand view of Vesuvius, Naples and the Bay – it is still there today.
One after a day touring Paris ‘just had supper – not frogs! – charabang round the shops – Oh! The exquisite handbags here! Another from Rome ‘had a good day sightseeing – Oh what a lot I’ve seen – all beautiful’. Another from Switzerland written on board the train ‘just passing through Switzerland – finished breakfast – excellent coffee’¸and from Tel Aviv ‘we are in a hotel right on the seafront – bathe and make sandpies all day – rather hot but very lovely – all very brown already’. Many ended with her customery sign-off ‘Luck and Love’
The cards describe the sights en route as well gales and choppy seas with bad crossings, the food they ate, travelling companions, the lack of sleep owing to crowded carriages in trains and the views from the window, people they met and places and hotels in which they stayed. Son John particularly remembers the journey out on the steamship ‘RMS Strathmore’ in 1935 They had gone tourist class, Madge, Jane and Mary in one cabin, he and his father and two other men in another. There were several Australian families on board and when they disembarked at Port Said he remembers with embarrassment the boys ribbing him about his sailor suit that Madge had dressed him in which was all the rage at the time.
Madge had three children with Leslie - John in 1928, Mary in 1931 and Jane in 1935 and the expanding family travelled out with Leslie every season they could. She bore up well in the desert heat as an expectant mother with John in 1928 at Tell Fara and travelled out again with him at 5 months old the next season later that year.
She would have missed the October 1931 season as that was when Mary was born so she and the children would not have gone out til the October 1932 season, with Mary aged 1 year.
Leslie missed his family that season and sent Mary a pretty little string of beads for her bonnet made by one of young girls working on the dig together with some money for sweets ’which she was to share with her brother’ with a charming note‘from your loving Daddy’telling her he would be home ‘when the bluebells are just about to blossom’. Many of his cards and letters to Madge contained cartoons drawn by him and little quips and fun-filled comments and terms of endearment. His Christmas card to Madge, contained real pressed flowers from the Holy Land, and also had a little verse at the back and a cute sketch aimed at Madge: ‘When gloating over the Xmas fare – Don’t Forget!! The more you eat the fatter you’ll get !!!
And Jane too was only 5 months old when they sailed out after she was born in 1935. Travelling with young children and babies on the journeys they undertook to get to the digs could not have been easy, although once at the dig sites Madge had a willing supply of nannies to help with the children.
Madge was a very organised and capable person and her son John remembers her taking charge of all the necessary packing and planning, and the shutting up of the house in England for the season. The only times she didn’t accompany Leslie was if she had just had - or was about to have - a new baby.
In 1937 they moved to their second home in St.Margaret’s, Twickenham, to be nearer to Madge’s family home - a lovely settlement of homes, the back gardens of which encircled their own private lake with woods and gardens (Madge’s father lived the other side of the lake and the children would cross the little bridge on the lake to visit him). Leslie also arranged for a daily maid to help Madge with the upkeep of the much bigger house and the three children.
Whilst Madge’s role was as a Wife and Mother, and did not have any particular interest in the archaeology side of things, she did support Leslie in his work as the Director’s wife and would help out where she could; and also had the rather gruesome task of packing away skulls at Lachish for despatch to England, after they had been cleaned and waxed! Madge loved the Bedouins too, immersing herself in their culture and language, which she learnt, and their dress and music, even learning how to drum. One season Madge taught everyone how to knit, men and women alike, both the members of the team and the Bedouins, who begged to be taught – it was quite a craze and everyone was at it, knitting stockings and jumpers. Olga commented that it was so funny watching the houseboys with their big hands trying to weald the needles [see also ‘Camp Capers’ photo in ‘Life in Camp’ article with Madge in Fancy Dress]. All the time Madge was in Palestine she collected folk costumes, embroideries, jewellery, fabrics, textiles, etc. After her death Olga Tufnell arranged for Madge’s collection to be donated to the Palestine Heritage Museum in Jerusalem, where it is on display today.
She also helped Leslie in the preparations that had to be planned for camp visitors, and the stream of people who undertook field work and helped out in many ways over the years. As I mentioned earlier, her mother had made sure all her daughters were well groomed in homemaking skills and Madge was an excellent cook and hostess, as well as a wonderful, generous and loving wife to Leslie and mother to her children.
Madge did not accompany Leslie on that last tragic season in 1938 because they both decided the childrens’ education was suffering and it was about time they attended school properly. She and the children were never to see their beloved Leslie again.
TO BE CONTINUED, with a further article on the tragedy and its aftermath.
1940s wartime Britain restaurants selling basic meals at reasonable prices, off-ration, usually staffed by the Womens Voluntary Service.
By Wendy Slaninka (Granddaughter of James Leslie Starkey & Marjorie Starkey by their daughter Mary)
Caitlin O’Grady’s post ‘Sticking, Mending and Restoring: the conservator’s role in archaeology’, has inspired me to write a few more words. I refer particularly to the footage of the lady repairing pots which Caitlin believes may be my Great Aunt Olive Starkey. I am grateful to her for creating Auntie’s first ‘outing’ and for showing her contributions to archaeology.
On looking at the footage I too believe it may be her, although as Caitlin says, all we see is a pair of hands (wearing a pretty bracelet) but they do look like her arms! Olive never went to Lachich (Tell Duweir) - with my detective hat on I believe this sequence may have been filmed in London. One of the photos below shows Olive wearing an overall and working on an object in a box next to a window – very similar to the footage which also shows what look like overall sleeves rolled up.
I would love to believe it is her, and thought the following additional personal and family information about her and her work may also be of interest as an addition to Caitlin’s post and film clip.
Caitlin refers to women "helping out" in the background of archaeology and I am glad to write this tribute to Olive as she was certainly one of the unsung Ladies of Lachish.
Olive Norah Starkey – my great Aunt - was born in Stoke Newington, Hackney, London in January 1896, younger sister of James Leslie Starkey, archaeologist, and Director of Lachish 1931-1938.
Her father was an Architect and Surveyor (James Starkey of St. Luke’s and Highbury), The Starkeys hailed from London and the family tree dates back to Roger Starkey, Mercer of London, who was granted a coat of arms in 1543 under the reign of King Henry VIII.
According to Auntie Olive’s family tree, it is also strongly believed that our ancestor Edward Hoare, born 1760, Hever Castle, is a descendant of the famous Hoare family, including Sir Richard Colt Hoare, distinguished archaeologist in Wiltshire, who excavated Stonehenge.
Olive and Leslie were children by their father’s second marriage in 1894 to the widow Louisa Brown (nee Pike) of Holloway. Their elder halfsisters, Louie and Eva Brown, were their Mother’s children from her first marriage Mr. Starkey had no children with his first wife Isabella who died in 1892.
By the time she left school her father was quite elderly, and her mother unwell and she devoted her time to caring for them both until she was 30. She was a homebody and was a loving and loyal daughter, subsequently spending much of her life at home, and sadly never married.
She was a refined, happy, kind, affectionate and gentle lady, and very individual with a sense of fun. She was very sociable and her nephew John (Leslie’s son) remembers her hosting sumptious tea parties with guests from her wide and interesting circle of friends. (There are many wonderful old photos of people in her collection – some undoubtedly family, but most unfortunately unknown to us.) I too remember, as a young teenager on visits in the late 60s - mid 70s, her entertaining us with intriguing parlour games and reading our tealeaves!
She unfortunately needed corrective glasses for a ‘wonky eye’ (strabismus) – but this never held her back or interfered with her ability to carry out fine work, and indeed she helped her brother-in-law (husband of her halfsister Eva) in his jewellery business carrying out repairs (we have a work-box with all her instruments, and full of beads, semi-precious stones, amethyst beads, seed pearls, etc. etc. and all sorts of accoutrements of the trade, and it is likely she also worked on the beautiful Lachish necklaces. Eventually she moved to a house in Grosvenor Gardens, London which she shared with some other ladies.
She was intensely proud of her brother Leslie and wholeheartedly supported his work by painstakingly repairing, reconstructing and restoring the pots and decorated vessels which formed the collection from Lachish and had been sent back to the UK.
The pot being mended in Caitlin’s clip is definitely from Lachish; the finished article was a polychrome vase of about 1550 BC with figures of an ibex and fish one side and an ibex and bird the other side which was part of the expedition exhibitions of the 1930s and is now in the British Museum.
Much of this work was done at the Institute of Archaeology in Regent’s Park, where later she also taught students how to conserve the artefacts from Lachish and other sites.
Many of the Lachish pots can be seen at the British Museum in their Levant Section, Gallery 57, which also houses the Lachish Ewer, the pot which inspired the Lachish Emblem, and the above pot shown in the clip.
In March 2007, an exhibition called A Future for the Past was organised by the Institute of Archaeology in London on Sir Flinders Petrie and his work in Palestine. This naturally included finds by Starkey and we recognised Olive’s distinctive handwriting on the description cards in the displays.
However Olive was also renowned for her fine work in embroidery and needlework, winning competitions for Fancy Needlework Illustrated and The Needlewoman, and she belonged to various Ladies Societies, including The Ladies Work Society. I have a letter from a lady she made a lace tray cloth for saying "it is the most magnificent cloth I have ever seen" and also a template Olive had prepared for a lace collar very much like the one her stepsister Louie is wearing in the first photo above.
When the Emblem for Lachish was picked she made the Lachish Banner which was flown in the camp in Palestine. John had kept the Banner with him for over fifty years at his home in Canada and at the memorial service held in Jerusalem for his father in 1988 he presented it to Prof. David Ussishkin.
It now resides in the Megiddo Museum at Tel Aviv University. Ussishkin adopted the Lachish emblem too for the covers of his renewed excavation reports on Lachish.
The design for the Lachish emblem was based on a painted potsherd - The Lachish Ewer – chosen by Sir Henry Wellcome himself. Olga Tuffnell told Mary (Leslie’s daughter) that she did many drafts before Sir Henry was satisfied with the result and It became the emblem of the expedition, appearing on all notepaper and allied paperwork, advertising and publications.
It shows rams or ibexes stretching up to a palm tree (the tree of life), together with a suckling animal, and was inspired from a drawing on the Ewer - the original inscription on the ewer is roughly translated as ‘gift to my lady (goddess)’.
Olive also crocheted a lace tray mat as a gift to her brother based on the same design – both the Mat and its detailed template which she made are now with me.
Tragically Leslie was senselessly murdered in Palestine on 10th January 1938 on the Hebron Road travelling to Jerusalem for the grand opening of the Rockefeller Museum which was also going to showcase his work at Lachish. He was buried on Mount Zion the next day. Olive accompanied Leslie's wife Madge and son John to his memorial service on 18th January at St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster (nestled next to Westminster Cathedral) – there were over 550 people in attendance!
Olive was deeply affected by his death, but her love for her brother was such that she was determined to bring his work to fruition.
She tirelessly worked with Olga Tufnell after the war to bring the Lachish Books II, III and IV to completion - in between her A.R.P. work!* An article on Olive and Olga's work appeared in The Evening Standard in June 1940 entitled ‘‘Palestine Excavation Goes on – Two women direct it from London".
Olga always thanked Olive in the Lachish acknowledgements. For example, in Book II she wrote:
"Miss Olive Starkey has been at work on the repair and reconstruction of pottery since 1933 and has built up from sherds several hundred pots, including many fine decorated vessels which now make worthy additions to the museum collection. She has continued this task all year round and through her perseverance and skill has surmounted many technical difficulties."
In Book III Olga stated: "... and it is due to her great care and technical ability that the vessels are now fully restored". And in the final volume, Olga highlighted Olive's ‘deep and personal interest in the repair and reconstruction of several hundred pots’. Olive worked unstintingly with Olga until the final production of the last volume (in 1954). She had dedicated at least 21 years to this end.
I don’t know the origins of how she got into the business of sticking pots together (though we believe Leslie may have procured the job at the Institute for her when he became Director of Lachish) but I feel she must have been doing it before this even when Leslie worked for Petrie as her handwriting is on description cards in the Petrie collection too. She obviously had an eye for fine detail, and it also meant she was a godsend to the family when they had chinaware disasters! - her repairs were almost impossible to detect.
Olive’s eyesight had begun to deteriorate and she eventually retired to a Hotel in Folkestone for gentle folks – aptly named St. Olave’s!
I remember visiting her there and she proudly showing me her pristine set of the Lachish Books in the bookcase of the guest lounge.
She passed away December 1977, aged 81.
And ending on a more amusing note:
*Air Raid Precautions – Civil Defence Service which encompassed a variety of roles
By Amara Thornton
I’ve spent hours going through Lankester Harding’s footage since we received the digitised version earlier this year. The digital file we received was all the individual films sequentially rolled into one, making up about an hour and a half of ‘raw’ footage. There were short breaks where the ‘leaders’ attached to each canister’s roll indicated the reference number we had assigned it – LH1 and so on. So one of my first tasks was to separate the digitised files into each canister’s film using the leader breaks as a guide. I was able to do this relatively easily in iMovie, and since then I’ve been experimenting with creating bespoke films using the footage and related digitised archive material in order to draw out different facets of the film and the archive. Each time I watch it I see something new, which is pretty exciting!
I made this short film for the Institute’s recent World Archaeology Festival event on 11 June this year. Having the Harding footage in a digital format makes it pretty flexible in the creation of new narratives. Being able to manipulate the total film in iMovie allows me to view the footage almost frame by frame, bringing a new focus to my own viewing experience. And, it’s leading to the creation of new ‘archive’ of films – thematic ones.
The film embedded below features sequences from eighteen of Lankester Harding’s films. You will see the film canister reference numbers on the top left hand corner of the footage sequences. Harding’s photograph albums were also very useful in illustrating Harding’s initial experiences as an archaeologist in Mandate Palestine and his relationship with some of the workers on site. The photograph of Hilda Petrie was in one of his albums, as were the group photographs of local families. These might be particularly useful in future in helping to identify some of the workers featured on film. Thanks are also due to Alice Stevenson (Petrie Museum) and Robert Winckworth (UCL Records) for permission to include digitised images from each source.
I hope you enjoy this first ‘narrative’ film – there will be more to come!
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.
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.