By: Rachel Hallote
Many ASOR members who excavate in Israel use the Albright Institute’s attic for storage—it’s a convenient place to keep ceramics and other excavation materials, as well as summer dig clothes. It’s just like any other attic. But it is also a kind of archaeological site in itself.
When materials are put in the Albright attic the intentions are almost certainly to retrieve the boxes the very next season (well, soon, anyway), and that’s what usually happens. But sometimes plans change, and items are abandoned for years, or even decades. Plans change, projects run out of money, new staff members don’t know what their predecessors did, or where they left stuff.
It turns out that this has been going on since the Albright building opened in the 1920s. Some boxes of personal possessions and excavation materials are well-identified (grad students and faculty members have been stashing stuff in the attic for generations). But there are also many, many unmarked boxes of moth-eaten clothes that go back thirty or forty years. More significantly, there are ceramics (possibly several tons’ worth) that have been sitting in the attic for eighty years or more—baskets and boxes of sherds and restorable pots, which, along with excavation equipment, date from the 1920s through to today.
Over the last several years, long-time Albright director Dr. Sy Gitin helped to locate a variety of archival documents tucked away in odd corners of the Albright Institute, from the basement to the attic, in order to assist in setting up the ASOR Archives. All this archival material, which documents the history of the organization over its now-115 years of existence, is now conserved and housed in the ASOR archives in Boston.
I gradually became aware of the material contents of the attic in two ways. One was working with Sy Gitin on the archives project. The other was through various periods spent staying at the Albright since the late 1980s (although the sleeping bag and boots that I left there in 1991 seem to have disappeared in an earlier round of reorganization). So in June 2015, with the invaluable help of current Albright director Dr. Matthew Adams, I decided to inventory what was up still there.
Aside from the countless bags of unmarked clothing from all eras are dozens (if not hundreds) of boxes and baskets of excavation materials. These include a variety of archaeological equipment, dozens and dozens of boxes of sherds, and a large amount of restorable pottery. Some of the boxes of sherds are marked with registration numbers, but most are not. Some of these collections go back to the 1920’s and 1930’s, while others seem to date to the 1970’s and 1980’s. Some are in plastic bags within boxes, but most of the bags have partially or fully deteriorated. This means that the unmarked sherds, once identified by tags on bags, are no longer identifiable and are no longer useful for publication. Some material even sits in straw baskets, of the type used before rubber gufas became common.
Here are some highlights of the materials in the Albright attic (thus far):
William F. Albright materials from Tell el-Ful
William F. Albright, the father of Biblical Archaeology, excavated Tell el-Ful in what is now northern Jerusalem between 1922 and 1924, before his better-known Tell Beit Mirsim excavations. At the conclusion of each season he published the results of his soundings in preliminary reports in BASOR and in the Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
The attic of the institution that bears his name, however, contains boxes and straw baskets with ceramics, including some restorable vessels. Some of these are in deteriorating cloth bags. One of the boxes reads “Tel el-Ful for Department of Antiquities in Amman.” Another re-used tag says, “Tel Ful 1928,” an excavation season about which little is known.
William F. Albright’s saddle?
Actually, Albright’s horse’s saddle. This saddle was manufactured in 1916 (according to the markings on the stirrup), and according to Albright Institute lore (related by Sy Gitin) may have belonged to Albright himself. Albright explored much of Palestine and Syria on horseback during his years at the institute that now bears his name.
Clarence Fisher’s survey equipment
Clarence Fisher was a well-known figure in the archaeology of Palestine in the years between the World Wars. An architect, Fisher lived in Palestine for much of his life. He worked at Samaria excavations with Harvard Egyptologist and archaeologist George Reisner in 1908, and later worked for the ASOR and for the University of Pennsylvania. He is best known for his work in the 1920s and 1930s at Beit Shean, Megiddo and Jerash, as well as other sites. Many of Fisher’s documents, including photo plates, drawings, and notes for his never-completed Corpus of Palestinian Pottery remained in the Jerusalem school for decades and are currently housed in the ASOR Archives.
These pieces of survey equipment (theodolite, tripods, and other gear, and their wooden crates) are known to be Fisher’s and appear to date from the 1930’s.
Crates of ceramics from Dhiban
Excavations at Dhiban in Jordan were undertaken from 1950 to 1953 and then in 1955 and 1956, with a final season in 1965. Frederick V. Winnett, William L. Reed, and William Morton directed the excavations, and they also served as consecutive directors of the American School in Jerusalem. Excavation reports were partially published in the ASOR Annuals of 1961 and 1972. While Dhiban is a multi-period site, the ceramics in the attic seem to be largely Iron Age. A new, multi-disciplinary project has worked at Dhiban since 2004.
In addition to identifiable (that is, still labeled) materials, the attic is filled with unidentified ceramics that go back decades. Figure 14 shows deteriorating straw baskets filled with unidentified ceramics. The basket of figure 15 contains unmarked ceramic materials wrapped in sheets from the Palestine Post that date to 1934. Figure 16 is an unmarked whole storage jar.
Some of the artifacts recovered from the Albright attic, like Fisher’s surveying equipment, have been removed and will be cleaned and displayed. The ceramics pose a major unresolved problem. But one thing is for sure, the excavations will continue and more surprises are in store.
Rachel Hallote is Professor of History at Purchase College SUNY. Her main research interest is the history of the discipline of archaeology. She is a member of the Archives Committee of ASOR.
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