Thursday 9 July 2015

Conference: The Palestine Exploration Fund is 150 Years Old

The Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) was one of those marvellous 19th century initiatives designed to support and promote exploration in a world being shrunk by hugely increased means of travel. Its publications continue still in the form of the Palestine Exploration Quarterly (PEQ) but the spate of publications in the 19th century can all still be read freely and provide marvellous insights into what was being tackled.

Central to PEF research were its expeditions to survey Jerusalem, Western Palestine and later Eastern Palestine. The last of these was undertaken by two men seconded from the Royal Engineers in 1867 (Lt. Warren) and 1881 (Capt. Conder) respectively. Both published extensive reports, including photographs and numerous drawings and a map made by careful triangulation survey. The area surveyed was essentially the hinterland of what was once the Roman city of Philadelphia (modern Amman).

The landscapes seen by the PEF surveyors included hundreds of archaeological sites. Most have been damaged extensively and many totally destroyed. The reason is the steep and rapid rise in population. Like its neighbours, Jordan’s population has grown under the influence of modern medicine lowering infant mortality and extending life expectancy. Like its neighbours it has received waves of refugees but unlike its neighbours, the numbers in Jordan are far higher. The result is an increase of c. 2400% between the 1940s and today. The impact on Jordan’s archaeological heritage has been especially catastrophic in the region in which most of the population lives – the northwest and precisely Amman and its hinterland.

Last Friday (3 July 2015) the PEF organised a one-day conference in conjunction with the British Museum on “Crisis through the Ages” to celebrate its anniversary. About 250 people met in the BM to hear 6 lectures on various periods from early Prehistory to the end of the Ottoman rule in 1918. The entire programme can still be seen on the PEF web site.

My own contribution - “Losing the Rural Landscape of Roman Philadelphia”, relied extensively on the ways in which a range of sources – published and unpublished, may help define and record what was once there and may yet be salvaged. Especially useful are aerial photographs, the earliest of which for the Philadelphia region are those taken by German, Australian and British pilots in 1918. And now we are flying again in a programme of Aerial Archaeology which began in 1997- the photos from which are part of the c. 90,000 on our APAAME site:

Prof. David Kennedy's presentation 'Losing the Rural Landscape of Roman Philadelphia' for the Palestine Exploration Fund 150 Anniversary Conference 'Crisis through the Ages' at the British Museum, 3 July 2015. Photograph: Andrea Zerbini
PEF plans to publish written versions of the lectures from the conference. My contribution is part of wider research for a book in preparation – The Hinterland of Roman Philadelphia.

Oxford, 9 July 2015

You can follow the Palestine Exploration Fund through their Blog: or on their Twitter account @PalExFund

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