- The Palestine Exploration Fund:The Collections of an Historic Learned Society in London
Founded in 1865, the Palestine Exploration Fund is the oldest society in the world for the study of the ancient Levant. As a direct result of its work in the field, it has built a varied and unique collection of archaeological [End Page 75] material, archives, photographs, and maps. These collections have direct relevance not only to archaeologists but to a wide range of scholars researching the history of archaeology and other disciplines. The PEF’s archaeological collection is well contextualized for an historical collection of its age. The vast majority of our material comes from legal excavations, and conforms to the legal protocols and conventions in place at the time. Indeed, PEF personnel were directly involved in the implementation of some of those laws, and setting the standards of what was considered to be ‘good practice’ at the time. It is precisely because of this context that the material constitutes a “study collection” which, though outside of its original archaeological context, bears a direct relationship to our archives. Thus, it is not outside of its scholarly context. Consequently, issues of repatriation and restitution are less concerning for us than perhaps is the case for other collections of the same vintage. What we are concerned with is how international laws and protocols are upheld today.
Most of our material comes from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century projects in Ottoman and Mandatory Palestine. These projects included Warren’s excavations in Jerusalem (1866–1870), the Survey of Western Palestine (1871–1878), the excavations at Tell el-Hesy (1890–1891), Gezer (1902–1906), ‘Ain Shems-Beth Shemesh (1910–1912), and the Wilderness of Zin survey (1913–1914). Donations of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century material include the significant photographic collections of Elizabeth Anne Finn, Captain Arthur Rhodes, and the watercolors of William Simpson and James Clark. Mandate period projects include the Ophel and Tyropoeon Valley excavations (1923 and 1925 respectively) and Samaria (1930s). Material from these undertakings is further augmented by donations of significant documentary and photographic archives from individuals such as John Garstang, Olga Tufnell, C. N. Johns, Hilma Granqvist, Iain Browning, and Nigel Hepper. Consequently, the PEF’s collections are a mixture of material collected by the PEF itself, and by other people who had worked and traveled in the region. It is this relationship that is most important, and most necessary to maintain, not so much the artifacts themselves.
The PEF’s acquisition policy is very clear. We do not accept donations of unprovenanced archaeological material, and since the 1900s we have not been offered such material. The acquisition of provenanced material would have to be compliant with the various international protocols and conventions for it to be considered for acceptance. We do consider donations of other material such as scientific equipment, and archival and photographic material if they are relevant to our collection. We supplement our archives with documentary and photographic material from a variety of sources, to enhance the social historical value of our archives. Our library is an area that we continue to develop, to ensure it stays as relevant for researchers as possible. As such, our library and collections are as much about the history of the PEF and exploration in the region as they are about the material culture and natural history of the region itself. While we do not exhibit our collections, we do loan our material to exhibitions both in the UK and abroad. In the last 15 or so years, we have loaned material to a wide range of exhibitions, covering subjects as diverse as Mandate Palestine to Pre-Raphaelite art.
The History of the PEF Collection and Its Contribution
The artifacts and archives of the PEF are a direct reflection of its long and interesting history. It was founded as an independent, membership society for the scientific exploration in what was commonly known as ‘The Holy Land,’ or more accurately, the southern part of the Levant, termed ‘Palestine.’ It was the first organization of its kind for the study of the area, and today is the oldest surviving society in the world. Its founders represented a...