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Living Witnesses of History and Successive Civilizations: Castles in Jordan

Jordan is a fusion of cultures, and its history offers layers of civilizations. Its geographically privileged position has made it a nexus of the Levant, Arabian Peninsula, Asia, and Africa, and this resulted in many of the world’s great civilizations seeking to expand their power in and control over it. Consequently, over the centuries many castles and fortresses have been constructed in Jordan. These structures are believed by some to be the best indications of political situations, economy, social lives, and cultures in every period of time: they were symbols of power and reflections of conflicts, victories, and defeats (Al-Momani 1987). Today, a considerable number of castles in Jordan dating to different historical periods—especially those from the crusader and Islamic periods—are still in good condition and are open to tourists, archaeologists, and researchers. They present an integrated picture of history of the country and the whole region, varying in features and facilities, depending on the place and time in which each was built.

Map of castle locations that are also in the ACOR Digital Archive. The map is available on Google Maps

Crusader castles were built to defend against the most advanced siege techniques of the time. In some cases, halls were surrounded by earthen embankments of great strength to improve defensibility. This can be seen, for instance, at Al Shawbak castle, which was founded on an isolated hill in a watered and settled valley (Kennedy 2001).

Shaubak castle, early 12th century, as seen in 1980–1981. (Linda K. Jacobs collection.)

Later, when Muslim forces seized power over the region and the situation became more stable, some castles became the residential palaces of rulers or governors, and new ones were constructed to perpetuate the memory and names of their builders with written inscriptions (Al-Momani, 1987. Umayyad caliphs reused some existing castles, including those at Kharana and Muaqqar, as caravan khans. They also used Roman castles at Hallabat and Azraq—and they built new ones, too, such as those at Mushatta and Tuba, which are rare structures that bear witness to the uniqueness of the Umayyad civilization (Ilayan 2003). The function and usage of these desert castles expanded beyond military purposes. Muslim rulers employed these fancily decorated yet forceful structures to show off their power, to monitor transportation routes, to protect trade caravans, and to serve as rest houses (Al-Momani 1987).

Mamluk inscription on a wall of Shaubak Castle, as seen in 1980. (Linda K. Jacobs collection.)
Mamluk inscription on a wall of Shaubak Castle, as seen in 1999. (Jane Taylor collection.)
Mamluk inscription on a wall of a Shaubak Castle tower, as seen in 1999. (Barbara A. Porter collection.)
Shaubak Castle. (Barbara A. Porter collection.)
The Umayyad palace of Qasr Kharana, 8th century. (Rami Khouri collection.)
Room with arches in Qasr al-Hallabat, as seen in 2005. (Jane Taylor collection.)
Room with mosaic floor in Qasr al-Hallabat, as seen in 2005. (Jane Taylor collection.)
Detail of the mosaic floor of room 4 in Qasr al-Hallabat showing guineafowl. (Rami Khouri collection.)

Built by crusaders in the mid-12th century, Kerak Castle is one of the most historically significant sites in Jordan. From its founding into the 20th century, it was an administrative, economic, and defensive center in the southern Transjordan region. After the crusaders lost it in the late 12th century, Ayyubid, Mamluk, and Ottoman rulers used the castle and added more substantial architectural features to its main building (Jordan Times 1989). All of this has made it a “living witness” to each of these successive civilizations.

Kerak Castle (looking south), as seen in 1957. (Paul and Nancy Lapp collection.)
Kerak Castle viewed from the stairs, as seen in 1979. (Paul and Nancy Lapp collection.)
Kerak Castle and its steep terrain. (Rami Khouri collection.)
Kerak Castle dojon (keep) and landscape, as seen in 1967. (Barbara A. Porter collection.)
Kerak Castle and town, as seen in 1967. (Barbara A. Porter collection.)
Kerak Castle’s crusader-era chapel, as seen in 1987. (Paul and Nancy Lapp collection.)

From another period with its own fascinating architecture is Qasr Al-Mushatta, considered to be the largest and most ambitious of the Umayyad palaces in Jordan. Built in the 8th century, the palace is surrounded by a 144 m2 wall with twenty-five semicircular towers. Its stone facade is exquisitely decorated with delicate and varied geometric, faunal, and floral motives carved in relief (UNESCO n.d.). Entering the palace, you witness its spectacular remains, which are a unique example of Islamic architecture, with a most sophisticated and regular plan. And you will wonder how amazing it would have looked if the palace had been completed (Khoury 1988)! For all of these reasons, Qasr Al-Mushatta was inscribed on the World Heritage Tentative List in 2001 and hopefully will soon be named a World Heritage Site.

Decorative stonework on the façade of Qasr al-Mushatta. (Rami Khouri collection.)
Decorative stonework on the façade of Qasr al-Mushatta. (Rami Khouri collection.)
Hall leading to the throne room in Qasr al-Mushatta. Because of its three aisles with columns between, the hall is often compared to a basilica. (Rami Khouri collection.)
Hall leading to the throne room in Qasr al-Mushatta (Rami Khouri collection.)
Qasr al-Mushatta, as seen in 1987. (Paul and Nancy Lapp collection.)
Qasr al-Mushatta. (Rami Khouri collection.)

Due to the significance and beauty of the historic fortresses in Jordan, immense efforts have been undertaken to preserve, interpret, and present these majestic structures for tourists and the local community. The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, in cooperation with the American Center of Research and other Jordanian and foreign institutions, led projects to conserve the inherited treasures of Jordan’s castles.

In the ACOR Digital Archive, we have astonishing photos of these castles in several collections and spanning many years. They are open access, for all to see, and you are all invited to have a look and discover how these sites had changed over the decades.

خوري، رامي. (1988). القصور الصحراوية. ترجمة: غازي بيشه. الكتبي، ناشرون

المومني، سعد. (1987). القلاع الإسلامية في الأردن: الفترة الأيوبية المملوكية. دار البشير للنشر.

Ilyan, Jamal. 2003. “New ‘System’ of Presentation of Umayyad Desert Castles in Jordan. Integral Museum of Umayyad Civilization.” In ICOMOS 14th General Assembly and Scientific Symposium, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, 27-31 October 2003: Place, Memory, Meaning—Preserving Intangible Values in Monuments and Sites.Victoria Falls: ICOMOS.

Jordan Times. 1989. “More Riches at Kerak Castle.” Jordan Times, 17 May 1989, p. 3

Kennedy, Hugh. 2001. Crusader Castles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

UNESCO. n.d. “Qasr Al-Mushatta.” UNESCO Tentative List.

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A Record of Archaeologists Past

HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY A Record of Archaeologists Past After 50 years of working in archaeology in Jordan, Nancy Lapp has met generations of scholars. In addition to well-known figures from the 1950s and 1960s, the Paul and Nancy Lapp collection features numerous archaeologists of varying levels of fame, and provides a unique record of life on an excavation. Continue Reading

A Record of Archaeologists Past

By Rachael McGlensey. Published: 7th December 2019

One thing that comes of working in the same field for 50 years is that you meet pretty much everyone. The Paul and Nancy Lapp photographic collection at ACOR reflects this fact. American archaeologists and scholars Paul and Nancy Lapp first excavated in the Middle East in 1957, and remained in the region for the next ten years, using the American School of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Jerusalem as their home base (today the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research). Although Paul Lapp tragically died in a swimming accident in 1970, Nancy has continued to be involved with archaeology in the region, and has the pictures to prove it.

This photo essay will highlight the people who feature in the Paul and Nancy Lapp collection. Among them are some of the more well-known figures from the 1950s and 60s. As Nancy’s collection develops through time, however, we meet other scholars with perhaps less renown, but just as much expertise. Archaeologists at various stages in their careers, students getting their first taste of excavation, and local technical workers are all subjects of the Lapps’ excavation photography. All photos are from the Paul and Nancy Lapp collection at ACOR unless otherwise noted.

Who’s Who

Archaeologists may no longer acquire celebrity status the way they once did, but some names are still remembered even outside the field. I would be remiss not to include one of the most well-known names, that of Dame Kathleen Kenyon. Kenyon (below image, top) visited the excavations Paul Lapp (below image, bottom) was leading at Iraq al-Amir in Jordan in 1961, as he visited those she led in Jericho a few years earlier. A pioneer of stratigraphic (layer by layer) excavation, Kenyon is most well-known for her work at Jericho (ancient Tell es-Sultan), although she also excavated in Jerusalem and at several sites in her home country of England.

Iraq al-Amir, 2 May 1961. Square I.1.21. From top to bottom: Kathleen Kenyon, Roland de Vaux, Paul Lapp (NL_J_2_S_35_229)

Also pictured in the above photo is Père (Father) Roland de Vaux (center). De Vaux was a French Dominican priest who was director of the École Biblique school in Jerusalem from 1945–1965. Although he never formally studied archaeology, he learned in the field from experts such as William F. Albright and Kathleen Kenyon. His team excavated the site of Qumran, just northeast of the Dead Sea, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.[1]

Qumran, 12 March 1958. Roland de Vaux to right of tent pole (Q_5805.18)

Nancy Lapp also took Kenyon (below image, second from right) on her first visit to Bab edh-Dhra’, an expansive early Bronze Age site southeast of the Dead Sea which was first excavated by Paul. Along on this tour was Crystal Bennett (below image, third from right), founder of the British Institute at Amman for Archaeology and History in 1978 (now the British Institute, part of CBRL). Bennett worked with Kenyon in Jerusalem for many years before becoming interested in the biblical Edomites, and leading excavation and study of several sites in southern Jordan between 1960 and 1982. In addition, she was invited to direct rescue excavations at the Amman Citadel in 1975, in preparation for a proposed addition to the museum onsite.[2]

Bab edh-Dhra‘, 26 July 1977. Eating lunch with Kathleen Kenyon (right) and Crystal Bennet (left) (NL_J_7_S_4_707)

Among celebrity archaeologists today, there may be none so well-known as those who have been dubbed “beer archaeologists.” Patrick E. McGovern, pictured below, is popularly called the “Indiana Jones of Ancient Ales, Wines, and Extreme Beverages.” Through his pioneering work in molecular archaeology, he has recreated several ancient fermented beverages by examining the microscopic remains clinging to pottery containers from as many as 9,000 years ago.[3]

Local Celebrities

I came to Jordan without knowing much about the country’s archaeology, but thanks to the Lapps’ photographs, I could now likely name nearly every archaeological site in Jordan. Nancy Lapp visited many of these sites in the midst of their excavation, which means that she has also met numerous archaeologists and other figures in the cultural heritage scene who have achieved something of a local celebrity.

Through archaeology, Nancy has interacted with some leading figures in Jordan, including several Directors of the Department of Antiquities (DOA). Before undertaking excavations in Jordan, archaeologists must always get the approval of the DOA.

Nancy has also known many of these individuals throughout their careers. David McCreery (below image, center) was first Paul’s and then Nancy’s student. As an archaeologist specializing in the Near East and Early Bronze Age agriculture, he has worked at several sites in Jordan including Bab edh-Dhra’, Numeira, and Tell Nimrin. He served as ACOR Director from 1981–1988 and is currently both a Director Emeritus and a Trustee Emeritus.[5]

Robin Brown (below image, right) first came to ACOR in 1976, working on material from Iraq al-Amir after excavating there with the Lapps more than ten years prior. She then became a key figure in acquiring material for the steadily growing ACOR library, a member of the ACOR Library Committee, and later Assistant Director in ACOR’s first U.S. office from 1993–1995.[6]

Karak excavations, 2 July 1987. Colin Booker, David McCreery, and Robin Brown discussing stratification. Smoking and archaeology appear to have been more closely related in the 1980s than today (NL_J_2_S_5_047)
Tell er-Rumeith, April 1967. R. Thomas Schaub (1933–2015) (at tripod) and local workers surveying. Tom Schaub was called to archaeology after Paul Lapp invited him on his expedition to Bab edh-Dhra’ in 1967. He then completed his Ph.D. under Paul’s mentorship, and Tom and his wife Marilyn became lifelong friends with Paul and Nancy. Schaub later established the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain project with co-Director Walter Rast (1930–2003), which excavated several early Bronze Age sites and cemeteries southeast of the Dead Sea from 1975–1990.[7] The data collected from this project is still being analyzed and published today. (NL_J_1_S_12_095)

Archaeology and Life Onsite

The Paul and Nancy Lapp collection contains a unique record of life at an excavation. Filled with detailed information and precise context, Nancy’s images document not only the digging itself but also the individuals involved, as well as some off-duty activities.

Iraq al-Amir, April 1961. Glenda Zink drawing glass objects. Drawing objects is important to archaeology because it can help to more clearly see details that may not be as visible in photographs (NL_J_2_S_35_188)
Feifa, 8 January 1990. Susanna Rast (1929–2019) excavating. Excavation requires a variety of tools and careful hand in order to unearth objects without damaging them. Every object is recorded and given an identification number, and often organized into tagged plastic bags, as seen above (NL_J_7_S_8_013)
Khanazir, January 1990. Young local workers during excavation. Far left, Abdullah; others unknown (NL_J_7_S_6_087)

As demonstrated by the occasionally limited data, however, not every individual in the collection is identified with a full name, or any name at all. ACOR intends to make efforts to identify these people, so if you recognize any of the unidentified individuals in any of our collections, please contact us at:

Named or not, it is clear that the individuals in Nancy’s photos made valuable contributions to knowledge of Jordan’s past.

As evidenced by many of Nancy’s images, archaeology is often a family affair. There are plenty of tasks to be done by both young and old, both skilled and non-specialized individuals.

Iraq al-Amir, April 1961. The edh-Dhib family, a local family who worked at the site. Left to right: Ahmed, Falah edh-Dhib, Hamid, Fafidhi, Subhen, Ghalib. Falah and his three older sons worked at the site (NL_J_2_S_35_019)
Karak, April 1979. Becky (surname unknown) cleaning bones at rest house, children assisting (NL_J_2_S_5_020)

Whether or not you arrive onsite with friends or family, you’re bound to leave with them.

Iraq al-Amir camp, fall 1962 (NL_J_2_S_35_360)
Tell er-Rumeith, 1962. Workers dancing (NL_J_1_S_12_006)

Rachael McGlensey is from Pennsylvania and recently completed her MA degree in Museum and Artifact Studies at Durham University, UK. Read Rachael’s first ACOR blog post about Nancy and the Lapps’ photographic collection here. Rachael McGlensey was ACOR’s Project Archivist from January – December 2019. Rachael McGlensey’s term at ACOR was part of the ACOR Research Library Photographic Archive Project (also known as the ACOR Photo Archive Project) which is supported through a Title VI grant from the U.S. Department of Education (2016–2020).

[1] Humbert, J. and Chambon, A. 2003. The Excavations of Khirbet Qumran and Ain Feshkha: Synthesis of Roland de Vaux’s Field Notes. Friborg: University Press.

[2] “The British Institute in Amman – About,” Council for British Research in the Levant, 2019. Accessed 24 November, 2019.

Balderstone, Susan. “Crystal-M Bennett O.B.E., D.Litt., F.S.A.,” Breaking Ground: Women in Old World Archaeology. Accessed 24 November, 2019.

[3] McGovern, Patrick E. “Dr. Pat,” Patrick E. McGovern, Biomolecular Archaeology Project – About. Accessed 24 November, 2019. See this site for an overview of all of Dr. McGovern’s projects and publications.

McGovern, Patrick E. 1986. The Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages of Central Transjordan: The Baq`ah Valley Project, 1977-1981. University of Pennsylvania Museum Monograph 65. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum.

[4] The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. “Department of Antiquities, Historical Background,” Government Entities – Ministries – Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Accessed 24 November, 2019.

Kalman, J. and du Toit, J. 2010. Bibliography of Canada’s Big Biblical Bargain: How McGill University Bought the Dead Sea Scrolls. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. P. 364.

Find Dr. al-Dajani’s work in the ACOR Library here.

[5] Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. “Distinguished Alum David McCreery: Archaeologist and Academic.” Accessed 24 November, 2019.

[6] Brown, Robin M. Summer 2008. “ACOR Library: The Early Years,” In ACOR Newsletter Vol. 20.1 (40th Anniversary Edition). Amman: National Press. Pp. 14-16. Retrieved from

[7] Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain. 2019. “Welcome to the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain,” Home. Accessed 25 November, 2019.

Schaub, Helen. 22 October, 2015. “Scholar of Near Eastern Archaeology, Dr. R. Thomas Schaub, Dies at Age 82,”Past ASOR News, Month by Month. Accessed 25 November, 2019.

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Images From a Lifetime Dedicated to Archaeology: The Paul and Nancy Lapp Collection

HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY Images from a Lifetime Dedicated to Archaeology: The Paul and Nancy Lapp collection at ACOR Nancy and Paul Lapp first entered the field in Palestine in 1957. They continued to work and raise a family at ASOR in Jerusalem until 1968. Despite that she never set out to be an archaeologist, Nancy did not shy away from the responsibility to publish Paul's excavation material after his death in 1970. Since then, her involvement in the field has touched generations of scholars. Continue Reading HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY Images from a Lifetime Dedicated to Archaeology: The Paul and Nancy Lapp collection at ACOR Nancy and Paul Lapp excavated and brought up their family at ASOR in Jerusalem between 1957-1968. Nancy did not set out to be an archaeologist, but she took on responsibility for publishing Paul's excavation material after his death in 1970. Her dedication to the discipline has since touched generations of scholars. Continue Reading

Images From a Lifetime Dedicated to Archaeology: The Paul and Nancy Lapp Collection

By Rachael McGlensey. Published: 26th June 2019

“Her enthusiasm for a life in archaeology came across so easily and so readily.”

Half a century is a long time to be an archaeologist- but Nancy Lapp has been working for 50 years and then some. Born in 1930, Nancy has been engaging with archaeology in Jordan and Palestine since 1957. In recent decades, her primary focus has been publishing volumes on the excavations directed by her husband Paul Lapp, which he was unable to publish himself due to his untimely death in 1970.

Fortunately, photographs do not take nearly as long to publish. Nancy Lapp recently donated the Lapps’ photographic collection to ACOR and over the past six months these images have been steadily digitized and published online by myself as Project Archivist, and my colleague Eslam Dawodieh, Digitization Intern. Given the long timespan of their photographs- from 1957 to 2002- their collection provides valuable insight into the field and how sites have changed over time.  Their digitization, metadata creation, and online publication is part of the larger ACOR Photo Archive project, which is supported by a U.S. Department of Education Title VI (2016) grant.  All photos presented here come from the Paul and Nancy Lapp collection at ACOR, unless otherwise noted.

The volumes Nancy has published have been incredibly valuable for understanding the history and archaeology of the Holy Land in Jordan and Palestine. In 1970, Paul tragically died in a swimming accident, leaving Nancy with five children and the majority of his excavations unpublished. This included sites such as Iraq al-Amir, Tell er-Rumeith, Bab edh-Dhra, and Tell Taanach/Ta’anak. After this, she felt a huge responsibility to continue his work, saying “The publication of excavations that take place are an obligation to the academic world, an obligation to the country in which you are working, and an obligation to all those who have supported the work. I knew I must see to the publication of his excavations as I was able.” (PTS lecture). A close colleague of Nancy’s confirms her dedication to this work: “I’m not sure I have met many other people who are so wholeheartedly committed to the people and places of Jordan and Palestine…the ethical commitment to publishing the results of research done in the sixties is admirable” (Morag Kersel, personal communication.). Nancy’s research and publication of all of this excavation material has enabled countless scholars to use that information in their own studies and further advance ideas and knowledge about ancient society in the region.

Nancy’s contributions have not gone unacknowledged. In 2015, ASOR named their new award for Nancy: The Nancy Lapp Popular Book Award. Although her own excavation volumes might not fall under this category, she said: “They named the award after me because to write a good popular book about archaeology, you have to have done the technical research that lies behind it.”[1] And Nancy has certainly done that.

Nancy’s impact has not just been limited to scholarly publication. In March, she gave a public lecture at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, which is now available online (see below). [2] As also remarked by Morag Kersel (personal communication), “She had that room full of some 150 people captivated. She’s an amazing storyteller…she had great anecdotes that were also filled with information. I can’t imagine she wasn’t a great instructor in the same way. Her enthusiasm for a life in archaeology came across so easily and so readily.”

Nancy Lapp did not initially set out to be an archaeologist. During her undergraduate studies, Nancy became intrigued by the study of the Old Testament. Her professors, George Ernest Wright and Frank Moore Cross, had studied under influential biblical archaeologist William Foxwell Albright and they encouraged Nancy to do the same. At Johns Hopkins University, Nancy became Albright’s first female student, as well as his secretary. During this time Albright also gained another student, whose mastery of both modern and ancient languages was immediately reported to the other students by an impressed and intimidated Nancy. As recounted in her lecture, this worrisome student turned out to be Paul Lapp, her future husband! They married after their first year together at Johns Hopkins and were described as a team from then on.

In 1957, Paul and Nancy joined the excavations at Tell Balata (biblical Shechem, present-day Nablus) to gain excavation experience. At Tell Balata, Paul was assigned to excavation work, while Nancy was assigned to object registration and pottery analysis, tasks that were at the time often considered ‘domestic’ women’s work. This sort of gender-biased task assignment was the norm when women first began to join excavations, but by the time Nancy entered the field, British women such as Kathleen Kenyon and Diana Kirkbride had been excavating in the Middle East for years with outstanding results. American women had been directing excavations in other areas of the Mediterranean, but Lapp claims that it was perceived as early days for them working in this region. Things started to change in the 1950s and early 1960s, however, and Lapp remembers that “quite a few of my women colleagues had their beginnings at Gezer or places like that,” working in the field under Wright (Interview with author, 2019).

Despite that tasks such as object analysis were initially cast off on women and regarded as not as important as the actual digging, objects are crucial for understanding a site and its sociocultural settings. The material an object is made from can tell us if it was traded from far away. If we can figure out who used certain objects and who didn’t, it can indicate social stratification. Generations of ‘archaeologists’ wives’ undertaking this work highlight the truth in the phrase “Behind every great man there is a great woman.”[3] Today, women are able to command respect as archaeologists in their own right. Accomplishing tedious tasks like pottery sorting is now much appreciated, but women are able to choose their own path.

Objects documented in the Paul and Nancy Lapp photo collection:
Carnelian cylinder beads from Tomb 7 at early Bronze Age Feifa (NL_J_7_S_8_24).
A seal from Structure B1 at Khanazir, depicting the Egyptian god Seth. From the Late New Kingdom, corresponding with the late Bronze to early Iron Age (NL_J_7_S_6_105).

After the Suez crisis in 1956, there weren’t many tourists in the region. Mindful of the sensitive political climate which meant things could change at any moment, Nancy and Paul decided to travel after excavating in 1957 and “tried to see as much as they could as fast as they could” (PTS lecture).

When they weren’t traveling, the Lapps studied and worked at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem (ASOR; today the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research), and in 1960 Paul Lapp became Director there. With Nancy helping share the burden of directorship, Paul instigated numerous digs in what is today the Jordan Valley and West Bank, including work with other institutes – the British, French, and German. Nancy Lapp mentions that learning from the others was very important to them, in this “circle of scholarship,” as E.F. Campell Jr. called it.[4] Working at an institution like ASOR also connected the Lapps with some big names in scholarship, including Pere Roland deVaux, Martin Noth, and Kathleen Kenyon, all of whom worked with Paul at various points.

Tell er-Rumeith 1967 excavation staff ( NL_J_1_S_12_044).

Like many of their contemporaries, Paul and Nancy Lapp identified themselves as biblical archaeologists, and Nancy provided the biblical as well as the present-day names for many of the sites in their photographic collection. But since ‘biblical archaeology’ is not a term used as commonly today, during my interview with Nancy, I was curious to hear Nancy’s thoughts on the reputation of biblical studies and archaeology. Nancy explained:

“This was a constant all through my career, [us] saying that we are not out to prove the Bible. Some churches are, and some archaeologists are, which is what really gets the headlines…But we were trying to understand the Bible, saying ‘Well how do we interpret the Bible, what’s its meaning?’ It’s not a literal book, it’s what the people were after, what people used to explain what they believe. So I would say it [‘biblical archaeology’] does get a bad rap, but it’s understandable too.” (Interview with author, 2019).

After Paul stepped down as director in Jerusalem 1965, he and Nancy continued to work, travel, and raise their children at ASOR. Nancy relates that they initially begin taking photographs to record their travels like any tourist. However they soon realized that they would likely want to use their photographs for teaching- and use them they did. Many of their 35mm slides are marked up with various series of lecture numbers from multiple uses. Later in life Nancy used their slides to prepare tours she led in Jordan and Palestine.

In 1965, Paul first surveyed and then began excavation at the expansive early Bronze Age cemetery of Bab edh-Dhra. He directed another season there in 1967, but after 1970 it was taken over by Walter Rast and Tom Schaub, who was first Paul’s and then Nancy’s student. That work expanded into what became known as the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plains project (EDSP), and included several more early Bronze Age sites southeast of the Dead Sea. David McCreery, former director of ACOR in Amman (1981-88), was also a student of Nancy’s and assisted at EDSP and other excavations in Jordan. Nancy assisted with several subsequent seasons of excavations, which is where a large portion of her photographs come from. Through EDSP alone, Nancy has touched generations of archaeologists. Directorship of the project has been transferred more recently to Meredith Chesson and Morag Kersel, both of whom got to know Nancy through this work. Kersel monitors the impact of looting at these sites. Photography is vitally important to documenting such activities and tracking its impact over time, as shown by aerial images of the increasingly pockmarked site of Feifa. The careful process of photography and documentation of artifacts and their contexts by archaeologists lies in direct contrast to the process of looting and deliberate destruction of heritage, which leaves little or no information behind.[5]

Since 1970, Nancy has taught at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and been Curator at the university’s Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology . The impact of a passionate teacher on students is incalculable. But when that passion is put into education through museum exhibitions, it can expand the range of impact enormously. Creating exhibits on her own excavation material would not only reach invested scholars, but also members of the public, especially if Nancy herself was on hand to provide additional insight. The museum website details its permanent exhibitions, many of which contain material from Paul and Nancy Lapp’s excavations.

Tomb group from F1 at Bab edh-Dhra on display at the Kelso Museum, including a photo of the objects in situ, 1984 ( NL_J_7_S_4_419).

Nancy Lapp never set out to be an archaeologist, which makes her dedication to the field all the more admirable. She and Paul “drifted into” the field at a time when such a thing was still possible, but their contributions have had a lasting impact. Between their two lively personalities and in-depth knowledge of sites, they undoubtedly inspired countless students. Their photographs provide a unique insight to both their professional and personal lives, as well as an insider’s look into an earlier era of archaeology.

Rachael McGlensey is Project Archivist for the ACOR Photo Archive Project between January-July 2019. She is from Pennsylvania and recently completed her MA degree in Museum and Artifact Studies at Durham University, UK. Read more about Rachael and her activities at ACOR here.

[1] Pittsburgh Theological Seminary website, no date. “Book Award Named After Museum Curator Emirata”, last accessed June 26, 2019.

[2] Lapp, N. March 2019, “Adventures and Discoveries from Half a Century of Life as an Archaeologist.” Lecture given at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, PA, March 2019. Available online at:, last accessed 20 June, 2019.

[3] See Cohen, G.S. and Joukowsky, M.S. (eds.), 2004, Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press), for analysis of the historical ‘great man’ narrative, and for biographies of some fantastic women archaeologists.

[4] Campell Jr., E.F. May 1970. “Paul W. Lapp: In Memoriam,” The Biblical Archaeologist 33(2), pp. 60-62.

[5] Chesson M. and Kersel, M. 2019. “Frequently Asked Questions,” Follow the Pots project website:, last accessed 20 June, 2019.

Rachael McGlensey was ACOR’s Project Archivist from January 2019 – December. Rachael McGlensey’s term at ACOR (2019) was part of the ACOR Research Library Photographic Archive Project (also known as the ACOR Photo Archive Project) which is supported through a Title VI grant from the U.S. Department of Education (2016–2020).

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