Kenneth Russell: An Archaeologist with a Passion for the Power of the Question

Kenneth Russell: An Archaeologist with a Passion for the Power of the Question

By Ashley Lumb. Published June 4, 2020

Twenty-eight years have passed since North American archaeologist Kenneth Russell tragically died on May 10, 1992, in Amman, Jordan from complications arising from a tick bite. Ken was only 41 years old and in the prime of his scholarly career, having recently discovered the remains of a Byzantine-era (5th-6th century) church at Petra. He was appointed Director of the Petra Church Project, which was a co-partnership between ACOR and the Department of Antiquities and was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The excavation was due to commence with an opening ceremony attended by H.M. Queen Noor on May 15th, 1992. Sadly, the planned celebrations turned into a solemn occasion as Ken was instead laid to rest in Petra that same day, on a promontory overlooking the ancient city, leaving his friends and colleagues with a deep sense of loss.

The catalyst for this essay on Kenneth Russell is the addition of his collection to the ACOR Photo Archive: over one thousand color slides have been digitized and made freely available online. The photographs were taken between 1974 and 1991 in Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon, among other places. The whole Kenneth Russell collection can be browsed here.

To chronicle Kenneth Russell’s life is to participate in the history of the discipline to which he contributed notably, as his intellectual influence on ethnoarchaeology was significant [1] [2]. In this photo essay, we at ACOR present the principal projects he was involved with in Jordan, together with recollections from his former friends and colleagues Steve Simms, Jane Taylor, and Bert de Vries. We are deeply grateful for these insights into Ken’s life and we hope that this essay provides a starting point for further research.

Image 1: Petra, Tur Imdai, Steve Simms (left), Kenneth Russell (right), ca. 1990 (KR_J_S_1025)

Full of life and soul, Ken was well liked. Friends and colleagues have described him in many ways: driven and flamboyant, irrepressibly positive, witty, generous, passionate, a romantic, and an animated lecturer. He chafed at authority and at times had a short temper. He was known for his colorful style, his infectious enthusiasm, and loud laughter: he was once kicked out of a hostel for laughing too hard and too long. His friendships were many, his acquaintances legion. Ken blended the qualities of empathy and compassion with a brilliant mind, a love of learning, and tireless scholarship. A leading light in archaeology, Ken’s short but productive career has much to teach us.

Bert de Vries, former ACOR Director (1988–1991), whose photographic collection is also available online, recalled that Ken was engaged in numerous projects in Jordan, including studying pottery sequences from the Nabatean domestic structures, ethnoarchaeology studies of the Bdoul Bedouin community in Petra (also referred to as the Bedul), analyzing the sediment patterns and flood cycles at Tur Imdai, gathering data on earthquakes in antiquity, consulting on cultural heritage work at the Temple of Hercules at Amman Citadel and at Ayla in Aqaba, participating in Phillip Hammond’s Temple of the Winged Lions project, and launching the Petra Church Project. [3]

Image 2: Kenneth Russell in Petra, ca. 1974-1977. Creator: Steven Simms, (KR_J_S_802)

During the first few years Ken worked in Petra (1973–1977), he befriended the Bdoul while working as an area supervisor for the American Expedition to Petra (AEP). When he returned years later, the Bdoul still remembered him fondly, especially because he had once carried an injured boy down a hill in order to get medical treatment. Fellow excavator Steve Simms recalled that “Ken had worked with Phillip Hammond on the Temple of the Winged Lions in the 1970s. He pleaded with Hammond for years to let him [Ken] open a trench to excavate a domestic structure to the east of the temple, as so few had explored Nabataean dwellings until that time. Hammond was opposed to it but Ken pestered him long enough that he finally said ‘Go over and do your thing.’ Ken wanted to get a sequence of residential occupation, which he did.” [4] The results are depicted in the photo below.

Image 3: House excavations in Petra, 1974–1977 (KR_J_S_698)

Ken returned to the University of Utah in 1977 to work on his doctorate, but, in 1986, after a nine-year absence, he was eager to return to Jordan. Together with Steve Simms, Ken submitted a grant application to the Leakey Foundation, proposing to study the site formation processes of nomad pastoralist camps and how to ensure recognition for mobile peoples archaeologically. Upon visiting friends in Petra, Ken wrote back to Steve in Utah, excitedly, saying he thought the history of the Bdoul Bedouin [5] would be the perfect subject because there was a large group of people that had resisted pressures to settle and instead continued to live “the old way” in black tents. As a result, Ken and Steve began the Petra Ethnoarchaeological Project in 1986. This work differentiated them from other scholars in the Petra region who largely focused on the archaeology of the Nabataeans. The Bdoul Bedouin subjects formed deep relationships with Ken and Steve, as previously they had typically been engaged with archaeological excavations in limited roles including manual labor; no one had ever taken an interest in their own archaeology. As Steve recalled, “the Bdoul thought that someone was finally going to pay attention to them. And that was immensely satisfying to both of us.”

Image 4: Back of Qublan’s (Goblan’s) tent, Petra, 1986 (KR_J_S_072)
Image 5: Bdoul Bedouin man and detail of urn at Ad-Deir (Monastery), Petra, 1991 (KR_J_S_964)

Image 6: Bdoul houses, Petra, 1988 (KR_J_S_508)

Tur Imdai is located in the foothills of Wadi Araba, about 5 km northwest of Petra. Ken and Steve’s excavation of a rock shelter there yielded a record of habitation by pastoralists beginning about 1650 C.E. and continuing to the present. The name Tur Imdai can be translated as “spacious” or “perpetual shelter” and is said to have been a preferred site for winter encampments. The Bdoul Bedouin of Petra have been associated with the site for over a century. Dating back to the 19th century, the Bdoul often moved their goat herds out of the highlands around Petra to the lower elevations of the Wadi Araba to exploit the local winter vegetation and escape the wet plateaus. Wadis are valleys that are typically dry except in rainy seasons. Steve recalls that the elderly Bdoul revered Tur Imdai because it represented living “the old way.” They were consequently very supportive of Steve and Ken’s effort to document the history of the Bdoul.

Image 7: Remote storage unit #2, Tur Imdai, Petra, 1988 (KR_J_S_646)

Image 8: Storage structure S-1, Steve Simms looking out, Ron Holt standing, Tur Imdai, Petra, 1986 (KR_J_S_443)

Image 9: The team at Wadi Siyagh, Tur Imdai, 1990 (KR_J_S_990)

It took several years to get permission to begin excavations, but the project at Tur Imdai finally commenced in 1990. Steve remembers going on a long journey to reach the site, and as soon as they arrived, they found the whole archaeological sequence was right there in front of them, exposed due to a flash flood through the Wadi Musa and at the location pictured below (11) in Wadi Siyagh in 1963. This was the same flood that caused the drowning of a local guide and 22 French tourists in the Petra Siq. The flood altered the course of this wadi at Tur Imdai and caused a 2 m high, 18 m long entrenchment of archaeological deposits.

Image 10: Site 88-114, Utah archaeologist Monson (Bill) Shaver, Ken Russell, and a Department of Antiquities representative at Tur Imdai for the first time (KR_J_S_592)

Image 11: Site 88-14, Monson (Bill) Shaver, Tur Imdai, Petra, 1988 (KR_J_S_591)

Presumably, the shelter at Tur Imdai was repeatedly subject to events similar to the historic flood in the 1960s, with the stream periodically shifting its course. The very existence of the shelter was most likely due to stream erosion.

Here, Bert de Vries tells us more about Ken’s work with the Bdoul Bedouins and Tur Imdai:

“This is the project I am most fascinated with, because it reflects Ken’s scholarly gregariousness and scientific seriousness. The research field was paleobotany and climate. Tur Imdai is a cave located in a sharp bend of the Wadi Mousa to the west of the ancient city of Petra, after the stream plunges about 250 m straight down. In winter floods, the wadi would carry sediments into the cave, which were then periodically covered by ceiling collapse. You can see these alternating striations of sediment and bedrock in the Tur Imdai photographs. Because this ceiling collapse sealed the soil layers, it was possible to get a chronological profile of the changes in botanical species over the millennia it took to lay down these deposits. You can see this bend in the wadi from the outlook points west of the Petra Monastery [Ad-Deir]. Steve Simms finished the work and published reports as a post-mortem homage to Ken.”

When asked how he would describe what motivated Ken, Steve said this: “Ken had a passion for the power of the question. He really understood science as being the development of questions, rather than of answers, and in that regard we were really soul mates in that way. He would still be pursuing it today. He defined himself through his work, as so many scholars do.”

During intermittent fieldwork from 1986 to 1994, the Petra Ethnoarchaeological Project focused on the ethnography, ethnohistory, and ethnoarchaeology of the Bdoul Bedouin. In addition to their pastoral activities, the Bdoul traditionally cultivated fields of wheat, barley, and tobacco throughout Petra. Their agricultural fields were encountered and recorded by early travelers, and this showed that cultivation was a Bdoul practice dating from at least the 19th century. Archaeological evidence from Petra suggests that some fields there may even date to the medieval period.

Image 12: Inweijeh hand-feeding goats on ephedra. Umm el-Biyara, Petra, 1986 (KR_J_S_130)

Image 13: Agricultural fields south of Petra at Ras Wadi el-Batahi (Route to Wadi Sabra), Tulul Mutheilya to right. Possibly further north, 1986 (KR_J_S_210)

Image 14: Complete two-donkey ard, Petra, 1986 (KR_J_S_250)

At the time of Ken and Steve’s ethnographic study in 1986, many Bdoul cultivated wheat and barley during the wet seasons using local seed stocks and by using ards, a type of light plow. Steve recalls being out on an excursion and coming across a barley field and seeing that it was being harvested by hand. This chance find sparked high excitement. Ken suggested that they started measuring return rates on this process, and that soon became the project’s focus. The Petra Ethnoarchaeological Project, therefore, transformed from comparing living and abandoned tent camps in order to develop understanding about the camp formation processes into the study of Bdoul Bedouin harvesting methods. Of particular interest to Ken and Steve was the method of harvesting: dry or slightly green tillers of grain were gathered together with a sweep of the hand and broken off with a short jerk backwards, accompanied by a downward tilt of the wrist. This method continued until both hands were full of small bundles of grain, at which point they were laid on the ground in piles.

Image 15: Closeup of tall wheat in drainage north of Wahidat (Umm Seyhoun) and south of Beida. Wheat sample #4, 158 kg/du, 1986 (KR_J_S_181)

Image 16: Steve Simms, wild cereal harvesting, Petra, 1988 (KR_J_S_489)

In observing the Bdoul go about their work, Ken and Steve were able to compare the cost of hand harvesting with that of harvesting with different types of sickles. They found that harvesting by hand proved less costly than the use of early sickles, and hand harvesting of cultivated cereals was similar in cost to the harvesting of wild cereals, despite the investment in field preparation.

Image 17: Posed close-up of man hand harvesting wheat, Petra. Wheat sample W-S from this field, 1986 (KR_J_S_219)

These findings had important implications for the recognition of food production in the archaeological record. Comparing these figures showed that hand harvesting was as efficient as harvesting with advanced lithic and early metal sickles. Steve explained that “[i]n grass seed collecting, it is the processing costs that overwhelm all the other costs. Thus, ancient peoples were experiencing selection pressures as they made decisions about which grasses to exploit or ignore.” Therefore, Ken and Steve’s goal was not so much to find the “real” return rate for early cultivators as it was to identify potentially robust relationships within harvesting activities.

Image 18: Bdoul hand harvesting efficiency chart (KR_J_S_1225)

Image 19: Hand harvesting in wheat field at head of Wadi Marwan, Petra. Wheat samples 7 (tall, thick) and S (short, thick), 1986 (KR_J_S_221)

Image 20: Photo by Steve Simms. Kenneth learning to hand harvest barley under instruction from Sahlim Im-Mohammed (to left). Fields south of Petra. 67 kg/du, 1986. Creator: Steven Simms (KR_J_S_432)

Image 21: Two young boys gathering and stacking harvested wheat in field at extreme south of Petra. Field for W-S, 1986 (KR_J_S_217)

Image 22: Closeup of dry barley, Petra, 1986 (KR_J_S_161)

Image 23: Harvested section of barley field at Ras Wadi Muesra. Field of barley sample B-1, Petra, 1986 (KR_J_S_228)

Image 24: Threshing floor, stacked grain, and camel saddle, at extreme south of Petra, 1986 (KR_J_S_239)

Image 25: Phenotypic variability in wheat from same field, north of Wahidat (Umm Seyhoun), south of Beidha, Petra. Left: Wheat sample #3, 90 kg/du, Right: wheat sample #4 158 kg/du, 1986 (KR_J_S_158)

At the time of his death, Ken was about to begin excavations on the find of his life, the Petra Church. Ken had known about the structure since 1973 but formally recorded it only in April 1990. His untimely death so soon before breaking ground at the excavation site was especially tragic because Ken was the driving force behind the Petra Church Project and it was likely to have been a turning point in his career.

Image 26: Aerial image of Petra Church area prior to excavating, Petra, 1990 (KR_J_S_944)

Author Jane Taylor, whose photographic collection is available to browse here, also recalls her memories of Ken:

“Ken introduced me to some of the Bdoul Bedouin whom he knew from his work in and around Petra—people who knew the out-of-the-way places that I would want to photograph. In particular he introduced me to Dakhilallah Qublan and his family, who have been my friends ever since. Wherever he went in Petra Ken was greeted by the Bedouin with a touching blend of affection and respect. It seemed there was no place—within Petra or in the hinterland—of which Ken did not know its name and what had happened there. He was the perfect guide for someone wanting to delve more deeply into the story of the place.

“When I was offered the opportunity of photographing Petra from the air for my book, [6] Ken was the obvious person to ask to accompany me, to ensure I was able to find every site on the list we had put together. It was the first time he had seen Petra from the air—a place he knew so well from the ground.

“What I didn’t know then was that he was already convinced that Petra had had a very big and early church—almost certainly a cathedral—decorated with a wealth of mosaics. He surreptitiously photographed its outline from the air—and later started his successful campaign to get the funding to excavate it.

“But on the day in May 1992 when the excavation was scheduled to begin, instead all his friends, both from Amman and from the Bdoul Bedouin, attended his burial at a site—given by the Bdoul—that overlooked his beloved Petra.” [7]

Image 27: Dahkilallah Qublan on a picnic in Wadi Umm al-Alda, Petra, 1988 (KR_J_S_499)

Image 28: Umm Seyhoun, aerial shot, Petra, 1990 (KR_J_S_871)

Image 29: Royal tombs, Petra, 1990 (KR_J_S_952)

The excavation of the Petra Church continued after Ken’s passing, and it soon revealed that the church was built around 450 C.E. by Christian communities living in Petra. Two aisles of important mosaics were discovered, as well as a cache of 140 6th century papyrus scrolls that had been carbonized in a fire and thus preserved. ACOR has published several books on these exceedingly rare documents—the “Petra Papyri”—providing fascinating insights into late Byzantine-era society in Petra. The Petra Church, published in 2001, was dedicated to Kenneth Russell and his unswerving devotion to recovering Petra’s past. [8]

In 1997, Steve finished their work and published two articles that he co-authored with Ken: “Tur Imdai Rockshelter: Archaeology of Recent Pastoralists in Jordan” [9] and “Bedouin Hand Harvesting of Wheat and Barley: Implications for Early Cultivation in Southwestern Asia,” [10] thereby completing an important chapter in Ken’s professional career.

To honor Ken’s memory, The Kenneth W. Russell Fellowship was established with the support of family and friends. The fellowship is managed by ACOR and offers a yearly prize that provides financial assistance for Jordanian students enrolled in an archaeology or cultural heritage degree program in any country, as well as support for non-Jordanian students to conduct fieldwork in Jordan. The Russell Fellowship also supports the Bdoul of Umm Seyhoun through an annual Tawjihi prize, which goes to the highest performing male and female high school students in the village of Umm Sayhoun. You can support the Kenneth W. Russell Fellowship by setting up a one-time or recurring monthly donation on our website or by mailing a check to our U.S. office. Details on this and on general support for ACOR can be found here.

Ashley Lumb has served as ACOR’s Project Archivist from July 2019 to May 2020. Her term at ACOR is 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] G. Peterman, “In Memoriam: Kenneth Wayne Russell,” The Biblical Archaeologist 55(3) (1992): 111.

[2] S. Simms, “In Memoriam: Kenneth Wayne Russell 1950–1992,” Utah Archaeology 5.1 (1992): iv–vi.

[3] B. De Vries, personal communication, April 22, 2020.

[4] S. Simms, personal interview, April 18, 2020.

[5] S. Simms and D. Kooring, “The Bedul Bedouin of Petra, Jordan: Traditions, Tourism and an Uncertain Future,” Cultural Survival Quarterly 19 (1996): 22–25.

[6] J. Taylor, Petra. (London: Aurum Press, 1993).

[7] J. Taylor, J. personal communication, April 20, 2020.

[8] Zbigniew T. Fiema, C. Kanellopoulos, T. Waliszewski, and R. Schick, The Petra Church (Amman: American Center of Oriental Research, 2001).

[9] S. Simms and K. Russell, “The Tur Imdai Rockshelter: Archaeology of Recent Pastoralists in Jordan,” Journal of Field Archaeology 24(4) (1997): 471–472.

[10] S. Simms and K. Russell, “Bedouin Hand Harvesting of Wheat and Barley: Implications for Early Cultivation in Southwestern Asia,” Current Anthropology 38(4) (1997): 696–702.

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The ACOR Photo Archive: Mobilizing Digital Tools to Preserve Visual Heritage

ACOR Proudly Presents:
“The ACOR Photo Archive: Mobilizing Digital Tools to Preserve Visual Heritage”
An ACOR Public Lecture by Dr. Jack Green and Jessica Holland on February 11, 2020

About the Lecture

The ACOR Photo Archive contains rich collections of tens of thousands of photographs, but its reach also extends far beyond the images themselves. ACOR’s archival collections reflect the seismic shifts that have occurred in the region over the past 80 years, including early black-and-white photos of 1940s Amman, rare color slides of the technological and development boom of the 1980s, and photographs of heritage sites that have since been damaged by conflict in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen in the last decade. Newly digitized, these images and their associated metadata provide an especially valuable frame of reference with which to understand Jordanian heritage, demonstrating many applications within academic research and among cultural heritage professionals. In addition, given the rapid urban development Jordan has experienced within the past 30 years, the photos document social change in cities such as Amman and Aqaba and provide new generations access to alternative views of these places within living memory. The ACOR Photo Archive Project is driven by the values of sustainability and accessibility, and in order to make ACOR’s archival efforts sustainable in the long term, the Project trains Jordanian graduates in photo digitization and hosts workshops attended by Jordanian national and international heritage institutions. The ACOR Photo Archive Project is funded by the United States Department of Education (Title VI grant; 2016–2020).

A breakdown of the different presentation sections is as follows: Project Introduction (1:49–8:40), Changes Over Time: From Excavation to Restoration (8:41–27:55), Interdisciplinary Collections (27:56–44:01), Collaboration (44:02–46:20), Reuse of Archive Photos (46:20–48:28), and Future Directions (48:28–50:19).

To download a high-resolution, linked PDF of the lecture presentation, please click here

Background: About the ACOR Photo Archive Project

The ACOR Photo Archive collections is interdisciplinary, featuring works of interest to a broad range of specializations including anthropology, architecture, urban studies, history and art history, conservation, economics, geography, and cultural heritage studies. Each of the 27,000 photos online is described in detail, and the growing number of Arabic-language references continue to improve bilingual search capabilities within the free online database. Please note you can read more about the project onlinesearch the collection yourself, and follow project highlights on Instagram.

About the Lecturers

Jessica Holland is the ACOR Archivist. Her work specializes in digital curation and outreach activities as part of a long-term strategy to make ACOR’s significant archival holdings more accessible to the public. Jessica’s background is in art history, curation, and museums. Jessica received her B.A. from the University of Cambridge in History of Art (2013) and her M.A. from SOAS, University of London in Near and Middle Eastern Studies with Intensive Arabic, submitting her thesis within the digital humanities field (2018).

Jack Green at ACOR. Photo by S. Meyer

Jack Green joined ACOR as the Associate Director in October 2017. He supports ACOR’s activities, including the USAID SCHEP project. He also serves as the project director of the Temple of the Winged Lions Cultural Resource Management Initiative (TWLCRM) at Petra and co-Project Lead of the ACOR Photo Archive Project. Jack Green’s academic and professional background is in ancient Near Eastern archaeology, cultural heritage, and museums. He was curator of Ancient Near East at the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (2007–2011), chief curator of the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago (2011–2015), and deputy director at the Corning Museum of Glass. Jack Green received his B.A. degree from the University of Liverpool (1999) and M.A. and Ph.D from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London (2001 and 2006, respectively).

For more content such as this, please subscribe to the ACOR Blog and ACOR Youtube channel. A recent ACOR lecture given in Arabic may be found here

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On February 11th, 2020 a pop up exhibition took place at ACOR after a talk ‘The ACOR Photo Archive: Mobilizing Digital Tools to Preserve Visual Heritage’. Featured below are installation images and the panels from the exhibition. Click here to download the exhibition as a pdf.

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Unearthing the past: ACOR from 1988 to 1991 through the lens of Bert de Vries

Unearthing the past: ACOR from 1988 to 1991 through the lens of Bert de Vries

By Ashley Lumb. Published: 28th January 2020

ACOR has recently added the photographic collection of Dr. Bert de Vries (ACOR Director 1988 to 1991) to the online archive, which is the first part of the project that focuses on ACOR’s institutional archive. The archive can be seen here in its entirety and includes 831 color slides, taken around Jordan during his time as Director. Bert has been involved with ACOR since 1968 and he has the most extensive living history of the institution. His knowledge of its past provides a rich well from which we can draw illustrations about life at ACOR during the late 1980s, which was a very active time in archaeology and in Jordan.

Aerial photograph of ACOR and Khirbet Salameh, Amman, Jordan, taken October 2018 (APAAME_20181022_MND0831, photo by Robert Bewley/courtesy of APAAME).

Bert’s photo collection includes over 100 photographs of flowers taken between 1988 and 1991. This flora collection is mostly comprised of wildflowers around Khirbet Salameh, a late Roman-era and Byzantine farmstead, a site that was first surveyed in the 1970s by Dr. Mujahed Muheisin of Yarmouk University. An archaeological rescue survey of the land adjacent to the ACOR building in 1984 was conducted by Alison McQuitty and Cherie Lenzen from ACOR, and the University of Jordan, prior to the construction of ACOR’s headquarters, completed in 1985. Bert’s love of nature originates from his mother and a childhood spent in the Netherlands and Canada. These photographs of flowers at Khirbet Salameh were inspired by observations from the Director’s apartment, where Bert resided with his family.

Over the years he saw many cycles of blooming, and in times of difficulty he would leap out of his chair and go outside to photograph. Bert says, “It becomes you and a lens and a subject. To get everything right, you just lose everything else. It was a great escape and I really enjoyed it and keep going back.” The site is a haven for wildlife and in the 1990s, a survey of the species at the site revealed over 66 species of plants. A further study found that many of these species are disappearing from the city, so these photos act as a record of botanical presence. The site is currently home to animals, including foxes and many lizards.

The next three photos demonstrate an interesting architectural cross section of ACOR, as well as representing its geographic history. As director, Bert inherited the ACOR building as we know it today (minus the 6th floor and 5th floor extention), but has also spent time at both former locations that ACOR inhabited. He had a two-year fellowship from 1972 to 1974 when ACOR was just starting up. The picture below is of ACOR’s first building that Bert frequented with his wife Sally when they lived in an apartment nearby.  In those two years, except for the directors in residence, Bastiaan van Elderen and Henry Thompson, they were the only residents. Prior to this, in the summer of 1969, Roger Boraas excavated Rujm al-Malfoof the Iron Age tower located on the Department of Antiquities grounds near the 3rd Circle. He invited Bert to complete the architectural work as Field Project Architect at the site. They all lived in the ACOR residence: walking back and forth between ACOR and the site at Rujm al-Malfoof, completing fieldwork, and then returning home. Bert says that, “This was early Amman, where the 3rd Circle was still the suburb, and the urban landscape was so pretty with all of these nice houses and trees.”

Former location of ACOR at Abu Tamman Street; near 3rd Circle, Amman, Jordan, 1988-91 (BV_J_S_641)

Rujm al-Malfoof, Amman, Jordan, by Bashar Tabbah, CC BY-SA 4.0, 2013

The building below on the 5th Circle was the result of ACOR’s expansion in the late 1970s and 1980s when it was becoming a much larger operation. Bert resided in this building multiple times during his frequent trips to Jordan. He took a sabbatical from June to December 1977 and moved back to Jordan with his family. They lived near the American Community School where his wife Sally taught, and would spend a lot of time with other former ACOR Directors James (Jim) Sauer and David McCreery and his wife Linda McCreery. James and David’s photographic collections will be also made available on ACOR’s online in the near future.

Former location of ACOR, near 5th Circle, Amman, Jordan, 1988-91 (BV_J_S_642)

By the late 1970s it was clear that ACOR would need a much larger residence in order to fulfill ACOR’s ambitious plans. David McCreery, then director, oversaw the construction of the new ACOR premises which was completed in 1986. David and his wife Linda moved out in 1988 and Bert and Sally moved in, operating the ACOR program from this brand new building. This is Bert’s favorite picture of the building, with the morning sunlight and intersecting lines of the walls. At this time it only had five floors, with a sixth being added later by the same architect Farid Habib in 2005.

American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR), Amman, Jordan, exterior of new ACOR building, 1988-91 (BV_J_S_664)

A few years after Bert assumed the Directorship in 1988, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the First Gulf War broke out. According to Bert, this was a really trying period and August 1990 is a date forever engraved in his memory.

When the war broke out, USAID informed ACOR that, during this period of political uncertainty, they couldn’t do any further work and grants were postponed. During the Fall, the program wound down and they stashed the library in the basement. A number of ACOR’s fellows decided to take a Christmas vacation and never returned. Bert and Sally were the last people remaining in the building. The US had amassed over 500,000 troops and were mobilizing in Jordan. Iraqi troops fled from Kuwait and in this aftermath, non-Kuwaiti guest workers from India and Southeast Asia, as well as Palestinians, began to flow out of Kuwait and into Jordan. Pictured below are the guest worker refugees who would stay at a building across from ACOR for two to three days and then be flown back to India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia. This photo is a symbol of Jordan as a place of refuge, a recurring motif in the country’s history. “That’s something that fascinates me,” Bert says, “because then in the next cycle it was the refugees from Iraq, and now Syria, but they started with refugees from Palestine in 1948 and 1967.” Bert has been around for all these cycles (except for ’48), regularly writing contemporary pieces about the various migrations of refugees.

Ten days into the war de Vries came home to ACOR to find the Minister of Tourism and the Director of Antiquities waiting for him and said, “Ok, Bert, you’ve got to go, it’s not safe for you anymore.” He was touched by their words because it was a gesture of love; they had his safety at the forefront of their minds. So leave Jordan he did, only to return a few months later after the endangerment died down. The grants were then reinstated and Pierre Bikai took over as Director in July 1991, with Bert returning to his professorship at Calvin College in Michigan.

Refugees at apartment building across field, view from ACOR, Amman, Jordan, 1988-91 (BV_J_S_713)

Pictured below is Joe Greene, who was a Cultural Resource Management specialist at the time. ACOR had roughly eight personal computers, seven of which were donated by the Canadian government, and each with only 15 MB of memory. It was the ‘stone age’ in information technology, Bert recalls. Joe was very good at creating computer databases and was trying to create a GIS system: merging alphanumeric data with photographic data, an endeavor that fascinated Bert. Out of that work came JADIS (Jordan Antiquities Database and Information Systems), a program, made by ACOR in cooperation with the Department of Antiquities, that allowed one to immediately locate any archaeological site in the path of a construction project. It was established in 1990 and ran until 2002, when it then converted into MEGA-Jordan. When Joe left, Gaetano Palumbo replaced him and worked for some years developing the CRM project. Bert says that he really admired Joe for his pioneering work and for “having the courage to tackle stuff that was not available in software form.” Joe then went to work at the Harvard Semitic Museum and has spent his career as a curator there. He is still very active in the field and presents papers at ASOR meetings and visits ACOR regularly. 

Joe Greene in the CRM office at ACOR, Amman, Jordan, 1988-1991 (BV_J_S_604)

Another archaeologist that Bert knew well at ACOR was Kenneth Russell. Ken had been on Philip Hammond’s team at the Temple of the Winged Lions in Petra. Some years later, when Ken was a fellow at ACOR in 1989 and 1990, he discovered some boxes of potsherds from the project in a shipper’s warehouse. Russell himself had excavated this pottery some years earlier as a member of Hammond’s team from a probe Hammond had opened in an unexplored area east of the Temple.  Ken brought the pottery to ACOR and processed it, publishing the results of the work, through which he made a discovery near the Temple of the Winged Lions. Looking around, he noticed a curved wall which turned out to be the apse of a Byzantine Church and subsequently the focus of Petra Church project. Bert and ACOR applied for funding to start an excavation, with Ken set to be the director of the project, but the outbreak of the Gulf War halted their efforts. It was later implemented under Pierre Bikai when the war ended. Ken tragically died in 1992 at the age of 42. Bert had had a strong relationship with Ken, and still visits his grave in Petra to pay homage to a great friend and archaeologist.

Kenneth Russell, Nabataean pots, Jordan 1988-91 (BV_J_S_616)

Bert met celebrated Jordanian architect Ammar Khammash when Ammar was still in high school. Ammar’s career as an architect and artist blossomed very early, and Bert and Ammar worked on many projects together. Bert says that he admires the work Ammar does and how he teaches those who work for him. Ammar designed the Pella Resthouse with only local materials: he refused imported materials and ensured that there was no steel in the building. Bert recalls how Ammar replicated the 19th century Ottoman-era building methods by using donkeys and baskets to transport rocks, which were then combined with concrete to build the walls, and also by collecting reeds from the Jordan valley to help form the domed frame structure.

Resthouse from east, Pella, Jordan, 1988-1991 (BV_J_S_100)

Former ACOR director Jim Sauer pioneered a practice carried on by David McCreery and Bert, which was the organizing of weekly tours for the Friends of Archaeology group (now known as the Friends of Archaeology and Heritage); partly because they knew where everything was in Jordan. Bert remembers going to a mining site behind the Dibbeen Forest, trailed by a caravan of about 100 cars. It was his job to keep that caravan together and reach the destination. “It wasn’t just about organizing the tour but taking people there because no one knew where the locations were. That was a very interesting and rewarding part of the job. In this photo you can see Rami Khouri, an invited guest, leading the tour and pointing, Ruba Kana’an to his left, Jordanians, foreigners, and diplomatic communities. ACOR became well known, in part, from that sort of service that the Friends of Archaeology and Heritage organized.”

Rami Khouri, President of Friends of Archaeology addressing friends at Numeira, Jordan, 1988-1991 (BV_J_S_620)

The following photographs document two archaeological features that have disappeared, destroyed by both the natural elements and human hand. Bastiaan van Elderen invited Bert to Hesban as an architect, where he worked over six summers from 1968 to 1976. This picture shows Bert’s daughter Jenna emerging from a tomb, next to a large circular tomb door close to Tell Hesban, about eight years after it was exposed. The last time Bert visited it had been destroyed. This ‘rolling stone’ was soft limestone and when it was first excavated the surfaces where pristine limestone, but as is evident in the photo, the stones were badly deteriorated. Sadly, a decade later when Bert visited the site, the stones had been completely eroded and broken into pieces. Bert notes that the limestone is so soft that if you excavated through the surface you could dig it up by hand; it was like white mud and that’s why these tombs were so easy to construct in antiquity. They didn’t have to hammer and chisel the rocks, but could just dig them out and the surface would harden as it was exposed to air. However, being as far away from the hardness of marble as you can get, when exposed to the elements the limestone begins weathering very quickly.

Tell Hesban, Jordan, rolling stone tomb with Jenna de Vries Morton, 1988-91 (BV_J_S_241)

Bert is very fond of this next photo and has photographed this structure a lot. It’s a doorway at Umm al-Jimal, a site where he has done fieldwork for much of his career as an archaeologist and architect.  In this photo you see this second-floor doorway precariously balanced with one doorpost stone hinged out, with only about 3-4 centimeters of contact at its bottom. About four years ago, some young men leaned against it and it toppled over completely. This picture, however, could be used to reconstruct it. “It just shows how fragile and dangerous these buildings are” says Bert. The beauty of such structures and the dramatic tension between collapse and preservation their story tells have kept him a spellbound over the years of fieldwork at Umm al-Jimal.  

Umm el-Jimal, Jordan doorway to the sky, 1988-1991 (BV_J_S_086)

Since leaving ACOR as Director in 1991, Bert continued with his teaching career at Calvin College until he retired in 2013. In his retirement, he continued to administer the Archaeology minor program at Calvin and teach archaeology and history until his successor, Dr. Darrell Rohl, took over in Sept 2018. At the time of writing he still directs the Umm al-Jimal Archaeological Project.

Find out more about this collection, and the rest of ACOR’s collection in context, by watching this video: Mobilizing Digital Tools to Preserve Visual Heritage

Ashley Lumb is ACOR’s Project Archivist from July 2019 – May 2020. Ashley Lumb’s term at ACOR is 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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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: archives@acorjordan.org.

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. http://cbrl.ac.uk/british-Institute-amman.

Balderstone, Susan. “Crystal-M Bennett O.B.E., D.Litt., F.S.A.,” Breaking Ground: Women in Old World Archaeology. Accessed 24 November, 2019. https://www.brown.edu/Research/Breaking_Ground/results.php?d=1&first=Crystal-M&last=Bennett.

[3] McGovern, Patrick E. “Dr. Pat,” Patrick E. McGovern, Biomolecular Archaeology Project – About. Accessed 24 November, 2019. https://www.penn.museum/sites/biomoleculararchaeology/?page_id=10. 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. https://jordan.gov.jo/wps/portal/Home/GovernmentEntities/Ministries/Ministry/Ministry%20of%20Tourism%20and%20Antiquities/Department%20of%20Antiquities?nameEntity=Department%20of%20Antiquities&entityType=sub

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. https://www.pts.edu/David_McCreery.

[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 https://www.acorjordan.org/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/ACOR%20Newsletter%20Vol.%2020.1.pdf.

[7] Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain. 2019. “Welcome to the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain,” Home. Accessed 25 November, 2019. https://expeditiondeadseaplain.org/.

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. http://www.asor.org/news/2015/11/schaub/

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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” https://www.pts.edu/Nancy_Lapp, 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: https://www.pts.edu/Archaeology-Lectures, 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: https://followthepotsproject.org/?page_id=36, 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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Sharing Moments in Time: ACOR’s Photographic Database for Documenting Cultural Heritage

Sharing Moments in Time: ACOR’s Photographic Database for Documenting Cultural Heritage

Originally published in ASOR’s “The Ancient Near East Today”, vol. VI, no. 11 November 2018. Read the original here.

By Glenn Corbett and Jack Green. Published: 13th January 2019

The past two decades have seen rapidly expanding damage to archaeological and heritage sites across the Middle East, the result of urbanization, industrialization, and conflict. At the same time, there has been a dramatic digital revolution in archaeology, including the development of online photographic databases focusing on archaeological and cultural heritage documentation. One such collection is at ACOR, the American Center of Oriental Research, in Amman, Jordan. The need is clear – photographic resources in institutions, alongside archival records, carry essential information related to archaeological and historical sites, objects, landscapes, and people, yet these collections have often remained hidden from view. Digital preservation priorities, academic interest in archives, and limited prior publication have naturally led to a focus on the earliest phases of photographic documentation – especially with digitization of rare collections from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Photographs taken within living memory have had lower priority, including 35mm color slides that were so popular from the 1960s to the early 2000s. But as the technology to view slides is largely obsolete, there is now an important need to make these images accessible through digitization. The ACOR Library has an archival collection of more than 100,000 photographs preserved in a variety of formats, including 35 mm slides as well as negatives, prints, and born-digital images that document numerous archaeological and cultural heritage projects. Given its wide range of content and subject matter, this collection has become a critical resource for scholars from around the world involved in cultural and natural heritage preservation and management, as well as historical and sociological research.

Screenshot of ACOR Starchive

This archive is now presented through a new online database accessible at https://acor.digitalrelab.com/, launched as part of ACOR’s Library Photographic Archive Project, and made possible through a 2016 American Overseas Research Centers grant from the U.S. Department of Education (Title VI). Through the four-year course of this project, 30,000 images and associated metadata from ACOR’s collection will be digitized and put online. Over 10,000 images are already available online for research, teaching, publication and general interest.

With a strong emphasis on visual documentation of Jordan’s heritage, the archive includes images taken by ACOR’s long-term directors (since 1975) related to the center, its activities, projects, and events, as well as numerous archaeological sites. There are also important collections from individuals who have developed close ties to the institution, including Jane Taylor, Rami Khouri, Linda Jacobs, Nancy Lapp, and Kenneth Russell.

Al Khazne (Treasury), at Petra, 1999. Jane Taylor collection. Courtesy of ACOR, Amman.

West side of Jabal Khazali, Wadi Rum, Jordan, 1995. Jane Taylor collection. Courtesy of ACOR, Amman.
Aerial photograph of the Colonnaded street (Cardo maximus) from south to north, Jerash, Jordan, 1998. Jane Taylor collection. Courtesy of ACOR, Amman.

What is special about the ACOR Photo Archive is that it includes not only images from famous sites such as Petra, Wadi Rum, and Jerash, but also smaller and less well-known sites in Jordan visited and documented over the decades, as well as people and places in other countries. Taylor’s photography in Jordan and neighboring countries, for example, has spanned more than three decades, and includes aerial and on-the-ground images of important sites in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Iran, as well as now threatened or destroyed sites in war-torn and destabilized countries like Syria and Yemen. In addition, ACOR also maintains the photo collections and primary documentation of two important archaeological projects: The ‘Aqaba-Ma’an Archaeological and Epigraphic Survey and the American Expedition to Petra’s Temple of the Winged Lions excavations.

Beyond simply preserving and making available ACOR’s vast photographic collections, the ACOR Photo Archive is intended as a tool for researchers, educators, cultural heritage professionals, and local management authorities interested in assessing changes in archaeological sites and their surrounding landscapes over time. In particular, these digitized and archived photos, which cover nearly eight decades of change across the countries of the Middle East, provide invaluable visual documentation of cultural heritage sites that are now increasingly under threat from development, illicit excavation, and deliberate, targeted destruction by both state and non-state actors. Despite the role these images may play in preserving the memory of damaged sites, others tell the equally powerful story of how archaeological sites and landscapes—separate and distinct from their cosmopolitan or universalist heritage value—have always remained part of the essential fabric of the lived human experience of the region.

Conflict Heritage

One of the functions of the ACOR Photo Archive is to provide photographic documentation of archaeological and heritage sites as they existed prior to damage or destruction during recent regional conflicts and upheaval. The archive’s collections—whether Jane Taylor’s spectacular images of traditional Yemeni architecture in Sana’a from the 1990s or Linda Jacobs’s beautiful photographs from the early 1980s of famed Syrian archaeological sites like Palmyra, Mari, and ‘Ain Dara—capture these places and their settings before they came under siege or were even reduced to rubble by aerial bombardments. For programs like ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives or CAORC’s Responsive Preservation Initiative that aim to document these destroyed sites and the damage that has been done, such photos are now invaluable records of a heritage that, in most cases, will never be recovered.

Ain Dara, Syria, 1982. Linda K. Jacobs collection. Courtesy of ACOR, Amman.

Threatened Heritage

While there is now broad awareness of the plight of cultural heritage in conflict zones, there remains relatively little concern about the more mundane but no less significant threats facing heritage sites across the region. The ACOR Photo Archive serves as a invaluable tool in observing less severe changes in and around sites through time, whether from gradual encroachment of nearby towns and villages, the effects of sustained looting and illicit excavation, or even the neglect and slow degradation of sites after they have been excavated.

Kerak, Jordan 1995. Charles Wilson collection. Courtesy of ACOR, Amman.

From Charles Wilson’s photography of Karak in the 1940s, for example, we see the famed Crusader-era castle surrounded by a few dozen Late Ottoman farmhouses and relatively barren hillsides, a far cry from what one of central Jordan’s largest towns looks like today. Similarly, by comparing Jane Taylor’s 1998 photograph of the Bronze Age cemetery of Fifa in Jordan’s southern Ghor with a drone photo by Austin “Chad” Hill taken from nearly the same perspective in 2016, one can easily see just how much looting has intensified at the site over the past two decades. Lastly, the stunning image by Rami Khouri showing the freshly uncovered Neolithic statues of Ain Ghazal, Jordan, remind us of the importance of archaeological context and what might have otherwise been lost to development had the site not been carefully excavated in the 1980s.

Aerial photograph of Nabataean fortress and adjacent Early Bronze Age cemetery at Fifa, Jordan, 1998. Jane Taylor collection. Courtesy of ACOR, Amman.
Aerial photograph of Early Bronze Age cemetery at Fifa taken using a drone (UAV) in 2016. Compare the density of the looters’ pits with Taylor’s 1998 image. Photo by Austin “Chad” Hill. Courtesy of the Landscapes of the Dead project.
Neolithic statues being unearthed at Ayn Ghazal, Jordan 1983. Rami Khouri collection. Courtesy of ACOR, Amman.

Lived Heritage

The ACOR Photo Archive also preserves a vibrant record of the many ways that everyday people from across the Middle East have engaged with their traditions, landscapes, and cultural heritage across the decades. For scholars and researchers, for example, it is remarkable to see Charles Wilson’s 1945 photograph of camels being used to transport the wheat harvest to markets in Amman, or a Jane Taylor photograph from the Yemeni coastal Tihama that documents traditional methods of fishing. But much more than that, such photographs, like Rami Khouri’s stunning 1985 photograph of Amman’s Roman Theater packed for a public performance, remind us that cultural traditions and heritage sites, while certainly important to preserve for their historic and archaeological value, are invested equally with the memories, experiences, and identities of the local people who engage with these places every day.

Roman Theater during a performance, Amman, Jordan, 1985. Rami Khouri collection. Courtesy of ACOR, Amman.

Making Connections

The ACOR Photo Archive project also provides excellent opportunities for sharing and connecting diverse people, institutions, and resources. Social media is used to share recently digitized images through @acorarchives on Instagram, as well as on Twitter and Facebook. This helps build awareness of the collections, and connect with similar projects in North America, Jordan, and the wider world. It will be possible to widen the scope of research and collaboration with resources of well-dated and well-sourced images – for example, the Manar al-Athar Open Access project at Oxford University, the Arachne project coordinated by the German Archaeological Institute including its Syrian Heritage Archive Project, the APAAME aerial archaeology resource, the EAMENA project, and the crowd-sourced Yemeni Cultural Heritage at Risk project.

ACOR Photo Archive Project intern Hala Saqqa working on the image database. Photo by Steve Meyer. Courtesy of ACOR, Amman.

Although the archive’s content is all-important, the links between the photos and metadata, and their presentation online in an understandable and searchable format, could not be achieved without the support and assistance of our dedicated project team and staff. ACOR has also instituted an active internship program to manage the pace of its digitization efforts, which in turn is helping train a number of Jordanians in scanning, rehousing of photographic materials, and digital archiving – all skills which we hope may be applied elsewhere in the future. Other archives in Jordan have benefited from engagement with ACOR’s archive and the sharing of skills and knowledge. A workshop was first held in summer 2017 in Amman on archives, tools, and approaches. In July 2018, ACOR held its second workshop which focused on digitization of photographic archives, attended by a wide range of institutions from Jordan and further afield with a focus on archaeology, cultural heritage, history, library and information sciences, and arts and culture.

Participants at the Second Annual Skill-sharing Workshop for Libraries, Archives and Museums, held at ACOR, Amman, in July 2018. Photo by Njoud Abu Hweij. Courtesy of ACOR, Amman.

The workshop provided an opportunity for professional networking and sharing experiences, information, and challenges regarding diverse collections and projects. By leveraging technology to make these photographs available and freely accessible, ACOR hopes to better equip American, Jordanian, and international researchers and policy makers to monitor and assess the numerous threats facing heritage sites in the Middle East and especially Jordan. What is more, this project helps establish best practices for processing and digitizing its collection of photographic and archival records, particularly those related to archaeological and cultural resource management documentation. To find out more about the Photo Archive, go to https://photoarchive.acorjordan.org/, and also check us out at the ASOR Annual Meeting this November in the Cultural Heritage Management session.

Glenn Corbett is Program Director at the Council of American Overseas Research Centers based in Washington D.C. and is the former Associate Director of ACOR and former project lead for the ACOR Photo Archive Project.

Jack Green is Associate Director of ACOR based in Amman, Jordan, and current project lead for the ACOR Photo Archive Project.

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ACOR Library Photo Archive Notice and takedown policy

In making material available online the ACOR Library acts in good faith. However, despite these safeguards, we recognize that from time to time material published online may be in breach of copyright laws, contain sensitive personal data, or include content that may be regarded as obscene or defamatory.  If you are concerned that you have found material on our website, for which you have not given permission, contravenes privacy laws, is obscene / defamatory and in terms of copyright law is not covered by a limitation or exception, please contact us on archives@acorjordan.org stating the following:

1. Your contact details.

2. The full details of the material, including the exact and full title of the image(s) and filename(s). Filenames start with 2-3 letters (e.g. “JT” or “RK” or “LKJ” and are 10-15 characters long).

3. If the request relates to copyright, provide proof that you are the rights holder and a statement that, under penalty of perjury, you are the rights holder or are an authorized representative.

4. The reason for your request including but not limited to copyright law, privacy laws, data protection, obscenity, defamation etc.

Follow up procedure:

Upon receipt of notification the ‘Notice and Takedown’ procedure is then invoked as follows:

1. The ACOR Library will acknowledge receipt of your complaint by email and will make an initial assessment of the validity and plausibility of the complaint.

2. Upon receipt of a valid complaint the material will be temporarily removed from the ACOR Library website pending an agreed solution.

3. The ACOR Library will contact the contributor who deposited the material, if relevant. The contributor will be notified that the material is subject to a complaint, under what grounds, and will be encouraged to assuage the complaints concerned.

4. The complainant and the contributor will be encouraged to resolve the issue swiftly and amicably and to the satisfaction of both parties, with the following possible outcomes:

  1. The material is replaced on the ACOR Library Photographic Archive website unchanged.
  2. The material is replaced on the ACOR Library Photographic Archive website with changes.
  3. The material is permanently removed from the ACOR Library Photographic Archive website.

5. If the contributor and the complainant are unable to agree a solution, the material will remain unavailable through the ACOR Library until a time when a resolution has been reached.

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A Free Online Photo Archive Explores the Middle East’s Pluralistic History

Jordan. al-Salt, plumber, Rami Khouri Collection, RK_J_2_S_71_179

A Free Online Photo Archive Explores the Middle East’s Pluralistic History

This article was originally posted on Muftah and has been reprinted here with permission. The original may be found here, originally posted December 2017.

By Jessica Holland. Published: 10 January 2019

In September 2017, the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) in Amman, Jordan published an online archive of historical images from across the Middle East. The project is being supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Whilst working as an archivist, I helped start this ambitious project to digitize and publish 30,000 photos over four years.

In the process, I quickly discovered preserving relics of the past is far from the fusty hobby of be-spectacled, basement-dwelling librarians. Rather, it is a stubborn act of resistance; a refusal to let a rich cultural resource become irrelevant by giving it new life as an accessible digital collection.

Antiquities in the Attic

Digitization offers a fundamentally new and different way of interacting with archives. According to the traditional process of accessing archival images, one must first gain institutional permission to access a photo archive. One must then locate the right slide or photo print boxes, which are commonly cloistered away in dusty corners of basements or attics, and then obtain a working light box or slide projector to properly view the details of film slides. Even getting to this stage depends on the author of the photographs having been conscientious enough to label their work clearly. On top of all this, the photographs themselves must still exist, decades after production.

With the launch of the ACOR Photo Archive, this time-consuming analogue process has been whittled down to that of a Google-search-like experience. Content can be accessed across the globe, on a single platform. The images are searchable by the name of the cultural heritage site (designed to adapt to the varying transliterations of Arabic), the objects found in the photo, the names of the people represented, and many other types of information embedded in the photo’s metadata. New tags are added every day, so that going forward, the site can act like a visual bibliography. For example, if you search for Qasr Amra, the most famous of Jordan’s desert castles, the results will not only return images of the castle itself, but also photos of all the country’s other desert castles.

An Important and Growing Movement

ACOR Photo Archive’s material is a unique collection due to the diversity of subjects it includes. It currently provides a representative record of Jordan’s archeological and social history spanning from 1955 to the early 2000s. Photos soon-to-be-digitized will feature subjects from the 1970s onwards in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Palestine, and Iran. Its historic photos of important sites are free to use and could be mobilized to support research proposals and grant applications.

The archive is currently made up of two main photography collections. One was donated by Jane Taylor, a British long-term resident of Jordan, a published author famous for her photographs of Petra. The second was donated by Jordanian-American, Rami G. Khouri, a published author on Jordan’s archaeology and respected political analyst who writes an internationally syndicated column for Agence Global. These large collections of around 15,000-20,000 images are accompanied by the photography collections of other travelers and archaeologists, which together offer a visual and textual record stretching back to the 1950s.

What all the authors of ACOR archive’s photos have in common is the desire to share knowledge of archaeology & the history of the region. Writing after the death of renowned archaeologist Jim Sauer, Khouri summed up this sentiment best: [Jim Sauer] made the complex easy to understand, distant history relevant to life in Jordan today, and intricate technicalities of archaeology and pottery a source of endless wonder and joy for lay people like myself.”[1]

The ACOR’s archival images are valuable as records of change for both archaeological-cultural heritage sites (more than two-hundred are represented in Jordan alone), as well as daily life in the Middle East over the past seventy years. Indeed, this record of change means that the archive has the potential to impact future heritage preservation projects across the region. They allow visual comparison with the past, thereby illustrating recent damage and helping experts and local communities decide how sites should be managed in the future.

ACOR’s Photo Archive is part of a growing trend of digital archives across the region. NYU Abu Dhabi’s archive has an extensive collection of historic photos featured on its Instagram page (widening its popular appeal through more tongue-in-cheek posts). Darat al-Funun, an art gallery housed in Amman’s fashionable Jabal al-Webdeih district, also hosts an exhaustive online archive of video and images relating to the gallery’s exhibitions. It also features artist talks and musical performances over its almost thirty-year history. On a smaller scale, there are commendable efforts at documenting the modern visual heritage of the region, such as the Sultan-al-Qassemi-managed Instagram dedicated to highlighting the architectural heritage of the Emirate of Sharjah in the UAE. (You can check out ACOR’s instagram here.)

Threats to Cultural Heritage

One of the motivating factors for digitizing and uploading the archive is the imperative to document and preserve the heritage of the Middle East, as it goes through another decade of dramatic aesthetic and political change. The stakes involved in these transformations are highlighted by the saddening example of Khaled Assad, director of antiquities at Palmyra Museum in Syria. Assad went to his grave in 2015 protecting the location of priceless artifacts under his care from ISIS.

Armed conflict is not the only threat needing to be faced. Far less dramatic, but potentially as destructive, is the ordinary process of ageing photographs, which, if lost, would erase vast amounts of cultural history. Digitizing as fast as possible is essential to ensuring that old images can survive as a reliable historical record.  By making digital copies of past images accessible, present and future knowledge production is positively impacted, and the active or accidental suppression of knowledge is avoided. 

ACOR Photo Archive’s digitization project has already born fruit in this respect. It is possible to access a digitized image of the Umayyad mosque in Aleppo, Syria, photographed in 1982, by archaeologist and author Linda Jacobs. The photograph offers a stark contrast with the current mosque; severely damaged by heavy fighting with its minaret reduced to rubble in 2013. In the future, collating such images could be of significant help to restorers and conservationists seeking to faithfully repair this and other monuments.

Umayyad mosque in Aleppo, Syria, 1981. Photo by Linda Jacobs, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive.

The ACOR Photo Archive also depicts the very forces threatening cultural heritage in the region. For example, it includes photographs of the archaeological digs of 1982 and 1983, in which the Ayn Ghazal statues – among the earliest large-scale depictions of human forms in the world (from the mid-7th millennia) – were unearthed in Jordan. As the photographs illustrate, the excavation site lay mere feet from the highway, highlighting the threats to physical cultural heritage posed by routine urbanization. Archeologist Gary Rollefson, a key member of the team that discovered the Ayn Ghazal statues, has participated in the digitization project, providing extensive background information on the digs cataloged in the archive.

Ayn Ghazal excavation site near major road, 1982-83. Photo by Rami G. Khouri, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive.
The upper layer of the cache of plaster human statues and busts found at Ayn Ghazal, 1982-82. Photo by Rami G. Khouri, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive.

Contributions to the ever-growing archive

The ACOR archive is not just designed to reach a large audience. It is also meant to inspire widespread participation. The project’s online platform, created by Digital Relab, is designed so that researchers, experts, and knowledgeable members of the public can contribute greater detail to specific photos in the form of tags.

In particular, the project seeks contributions from Jordanians who could provide details to accompany the images of daily life in Jordan in the 1970s and 1980s. The addition of more personal histories, such as the life story of Amman’s steam train driver, Mr. Fathalla (as photographed by Jane Taylor below), or identification of the men drinking coffee in the Ottoman-era capital of Jordan, As-Salt, would foster a sense of local ownership and participation in the writing of the country’s history.

Mr. Fathalla, Hejaz Railway steam train driver. Photo by Jane Taylor, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive.
Two men in As-Salt, 1982. Photo from Rami Khouri collection at ACOR.

By encouraging people to see their old family photographs as intimately connected to the public history of Jordan, Palestine, and the rest of the region, the archive aims to encourage citizens to take steps to preserve and digitize their own personal collections.

Un-told stories exposed

Access to information determines who can take part in the construction of history. By digitizing ACOR’s photographic film archive, unique content is being made available worldwide, for free. My hope is that the archive can provide a platform for local people in the region to take an active role in writing their own history. It will also provide a resource for people worldwide to access more nuanced portrayals of a part of the globe often misrepresented by over-simplified headlines. This will lead to the broader appreciation of under- or un-told stories of the wider Middle East.

The ACOR archive project is about more than just making images digital. Rather, it is about providing the raw materials for new interpretations of the present and the past in the Middle East, both amongst researchers and the general public.

Views are my own and do not necessarily represent those of American Center of Oriental Research, Amman (ACOR).

[1] Khouri, Rami G., ‘James A. Sauer,(1945-1999), An Appreciation and Remembrance’, ACOR Newsletter, Winter, 1999, Amman, Jordan.

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Thirty years of stories retold: Celebrating the digitization of the Jane Taylor collection at ACOR

Thirty Years of Stories Retold: Celebrating the Digitization of the Jane Taylor photo collection at ACOR

By Jessica Holland. Published: 19th December 2018

Major changes have occurred in the archaeological, natural and social landscapes of the Arab region from mid-1970s to the present day. Jane Taylor’s collection has captured pivotal moments during these changes, and their recent re-presentation online, in an accessible, public format, allows for these stories to be retold using visual primary resources. The Jane Taylor collection housed at ACOR features 7,000 photos of cultural heritage sites, landscapes, events, architecture and people in countries throughout the region and Asia, spanning more than 30 years. Taylor lived in Amman from 1989 to 2015, and wrote and photographed Jordan prolifically. Taylor’s collection also includes photography from across the region, including images from Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, and Pakistan.

Taylor’s collection, donated to ACOR in 2017, has been digitized over the past year thanks to the ACOR Photo Archive project supported by a Title VI grant from the US Department of Education (2016). The project focuses on the potential of the photographs as objects themselves, as pieces of cultural and community heritage, as well as the sites they depict, to serve as records in an era where the changing borders of states and cities have threatened – and in some cases obliterated – heritage. I refer to cultural heritage or community heritage here informed by Shatha Abu-Khafajah, (2014) who advocates for the use of ‘community heritage’ rather than ‘community archaeology’ within the post-colonial context of Jordan. Abu-Khafajah brings to light the connotations of foreign interventions and the British mandate that the Arabic translation of ‘archaeology’ (athar) holds, in contrast to the connotations of ‘heritage’ (turath), used to refer to things that shape individual and collective identities. The ACOR Photo archive aspires to represent a multitude of sites, subjects and time periods from across the region together on a level playing field. This may encourage research into alternative narratives about Jordan and the region, contributing to a more diverse production of knowledge from a wider variety of actors. The ACOR Photo Archive project is making Jane Taylor’s images accessible to the public online, searchable in English and Arabic, making it possible to link images of history back to the communities that they came from.

Taylor’s varied collection provides an excellent starting point for such plurality of interpretations. In her writing, Taylor choses subjects that are aesthetically stunning which also have compelling narratives, preferring to tell the ‘fascinating’ story of a place, avoiding the rather dry-sounding ‘history’ of it. (Hear more on this podcast).

Whilst Taylor’s photographs by no means provide a complete record of 30 years of history across the region, they do offer a plurality of (hi)stories latent with possibilities for re-telling. Taylor’s photographs offer rare – and sometimes bird’s-eye – views of previous decades. These sometimes focus on areas of national pride offering stunning portrayals of known tourist attractions. Sometimes the images end up ensuring a place for traces of working peoples’ histories within the archive, validating their place in history. In this way Taylor’s collection represents community heritage.

This photo essay will showcase but a fraction of the archaeological, art historical, and anthropological knowledge distilled in Taylor’s visual bibliography. The rest can be found by searching the archive here.

Dramatic conservation

Taylor spent more than a quarter century working in Jordan, and as her specialty, its cultural heritage plays a large role in ACOR’s collection of her work. For example, Taylor’s photos of the mid-8th century frescoes at Qusayr ‘Amrah, in Jordan’s Eastern desert, provide stark contrast with the bright frescoes today, after the intervention of a  lengthy conservation process initiated by the World Monuments Fund in 2008.

Qusayr ‘Amrah, mid-8th century Umayyad desert complex, 2004, Jane Taylor, courtesy of the ACOR Photo Archive.

Taylor (2005) tells the ‘story’ of Qusayr ‘Amrah, as a meeting place used by the Umayyad caliphs for sustaining connections with the bedouin tribes of the desert, on whose support they depended (p.80). Qusayr ‘Amrah’s main features are an audience hall of three barrel-vaults, a bathhouse with under-floor hypocaust heating, and a well-house complete with a mechanism for raising water. Taylor highlights Qusayr ‘Amrah’s extraordinary frescoes depicting, in ‘joyous naturalism’, diverse subjects including: hunting scenes, musicians, dancers, women and children bathing; ‘the earliest known representation of the night sky in the round’ and the Byzantine and Sassanian Emperors, the Visigoth King of Spain, and the Emperor of China apparently paying homage to an Umayyad Caliph (Taylor: 2005).

Qusayr ‘Amrah mid-8th century Umayyad palace, domed calidarium with fresco of constellations, 2004, Jane Taylor, courtesy of the ACOR Photo Archive.

When Taylor was writing this work, and taking the associated photographs, the identity of the Umayyad caliph was unknown. An inscription found in the spring of 2012, ‘revealed that the building was commissioned by Walid Ibn Yazid sometime between A.D. 723 and 743 before his short reign as caliph (A.D. 743-44)’ (WMF).

Qusayr ‘Amrah, mid-8th century fresco of a gazelle in vault of Apodyterium, 2004, Jane Taylor, courtesy of the ACOR Photo Archive.

Vault of the Apodyterium after conservation, June 10, 2014. Photographer: Gaetano Palumbo/World Monuments Fund.

Further afield, Taylor’s photographs capture stunning Islamic art in Iran and Pakistan, as well as the people who have painstakingly conserved it.

14th century portal tilework within Masjed-e-jameh, Yazd, Iran, 2006. Jane Taylor courtesy of the ACOR Photo Archive.

Lahore old city, Wazir Khan mosque, 17th century, Pakistan, 2006. Jane Taylor courtesy of the ACOR Photo Archive.

A man restoring marble in Jahangir tomb, Lahore, Pakistan, 2006, Jane Taylor collection, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive.

Stonemason in Petra, 1999. Jane Taylor collection, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive.

Taylor’s photographs of Petra, and her works on the subject, Petra and Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the Nabataeans earnt much well-deserved recognition of a great achievement. The ACOR Photo Archive has more than 1000 photographs of Petra and the surrounding region featuring not just the monumental Nabataean city, but the traditions of the people that still live in the area, including an important collection on the social and traditional craft history of the Bdoul (or Bedoul) Bedouin.

Tor Imdai, Bdoul Bedouin Sheikh Saad and his daughter. Photo from the Jane Taylor collection, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive.

Taylor’s photographs often show the juxtaposition of modern and ancient architectural elements, as can be seen in Lebanon, where the Temple of Venus stands next to the modern buildings of Baalbek. Taylor’s photographs do not idealize ancient monuments and ruins, but show them authentically brushing shoulders with modern development. Taylor’s photos show community heritage as part of the modern living and working spaces of local communities.

Temple of Venus, Baalbek, Lebanon, 2005, Jane Taylor collection, courtesy of the ACOR Photo Archive.

In Turkey, a unique composition can be found where the colonnaded street of ancient Pompeiopolis joins the vista of the modern day city of Viranşehir, Turkey.

Photo from Jane Taylor collection, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive, 2006.


Goddesses and exorcist-priests

Taylor’s essay with Christopher Tuttle, in Humberto da Silveira’s Hegra, about the area of Mada’in Saleh [the cities of Saleh] ancient northwest Saudi Arabia paints a picture of the social lives of those who lived there and built its distinctive funerary monuments.

Qasr al Bint, Tomb on west side, Mada’in Saleh, Saudi Arabia, 1994. Jane Taylor, collection, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive.

The trade route known as the Incense Road, the focus of a travelling exhibition currently on show at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, ran through the Nabataean Arabian settlement of Hegra (Al-Hijr), which flourished due to a profitable trade in myrrh and frankincense. Trade enabled the Nabateans of Hegra to build the impressive monuments pictured here 2000 years ago, allowing its civilians and soldiers to be buried in as lavish style as they could afford (Taylor and Tuttle, 2013). One of the earliest tombs, dated 1 B.C.E., was commissioned by “Kamkan daughter of Wa’ilat daughter of Haramu, and Kulaybat her daughter”, who traced their descent through the matrilineal line, and threatened those who dared to disrespect the ‘eternal rest of the tomb’s occupants with curses from the goddesses and fines to the exorcist-priest’ (Taylor and Tuttle, 2013).

With aesthetics strikingly similar to the Nabatean city of Petra in modern day Jordan, Taylor highlights features such as the ‘bold Assyrian crowstep design’, seen above and in Tomb 100 below (Taylor and Tuttle, 2013).

Tomb 100, Jabal al-Khraymat, Mada’in Saleh, Saudi Arabia, 1994, Jane Taylor collection, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive.

Taylor and Tuttle share so much information about the owner and commissioner of this tomb (100) because of the inscriptions that are prolific in Hegra including even the master-mason’s names, carved into the designs. Protection would also appear to be implied by the representation of sphinxes: ‘fearsome creatures particularly suited to guarding the marginal realm between the living and the dead’ (Taylor and Tuttle, 2013).


Monumental Landscape Photography

Taylor’s collection also includes stunning landscape photography from across the region, often including aerial shots putting cities in context.

View from north spring, from Mount Sinai/Jabal Mousa, Sinai, Egypt, 1999. Photo from the Jane Taylor collection, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive.

Jabal Harraz, Hajjarrah, Yemen, 1995. Photo from the Jane Taylor collection, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive.

Taylor’s photos show the stunning beauty of Yemen in the 1990s, a sharp contrast to the international conflict of the present. Taylor’s photographs provide an informative record of the condition of heritage sites before the recent devastation and loss of human life. The city of Sana’a was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage City in 1986, and the Old Walled city of Shibam, Hadhramaut, in 1982; both were added to the World Heritage in Danger list in 2015 (Marchand, 2017).

Shibam, near Sana’a, as seen from above in Kawkaban, Yemen, 1995. Photo from the Jane Taylor collection, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive.

Shibam, Wadi Hadhramaut, Yemen, 1995. Photo from the Jane Taylor collection, courtesy of ACOR Photo Archive.


Documentary photography

Alongside her cultural and community heritage, and landscape photography, Taylor also practiced documentary photography for UNICEF and other relief agencies, in April-May 1991 and January-February 1992, in Iraq, to record the effects of the war on the Iraqi people, and on particular the children. Taylor photographed similar scenes at the St. John Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem in 1989. Due to the graphic nature of some of these images, they are available only upon request by researchers interested in relevant topics.

In reflecting on Jane Taylor’s photo collection, I have tried to emphasize the broadness of the scope of the collection, and the importance of making such an excellent source of visual knowledge accessible to the public. By conserving physical photographic collections, whilst digitizing and identifying each image and then publishing these online, ACOR Photo Archive is creating a resource which is essential for the research community, but more than that, stands a chance at resonating with the communities to whom the heritage is a landmark and focal point of their everyday lives. In a period when heritage and human life are often in danger of disruption, conserving heritage in an accessible way, makes it possible to save a memory of the cornerstones upon which identities are formed. The work that has gone into digitizing and uploading the Jane Taylor collection now shifts to another kind of knowledge production – that of a multitude of stories to be retold.

N.B. ACOR Photo Archive’s collection does not hold the entirety of Jane Taylor’s photograph collections. Some are held with Jane Taylor, and with her photography agent.

[1] al-Makaleh, Nabil and al-Quraishi, Fahd, in (Ed.) Marchand, Trevor H., Architectural Heritage of Yemen: Buildings that fill my eye,

[2] Marchand, Trevor H., (ed.) Architectural Heritage of Yemen: Buildings that fill my eye,

[3] Taylor, Jane and Tuttle, Christopher, ‘A Brief History of Hegra’, Humberto da Silveira, Hegra, (Rio de Janeiro: 2013).

[4] Taylor, Jane Jordan: Images from the Air (Al Uzza Books, Amman: 2005).

[5] Taylor, Jane High Above Jordan, Jordan (1989).

[6] Taylor, Jane, Website. [Accessed 3rd December 2018]. http://www.janetaylorphotos.com/index.html

[7] The National, ‘Roads of Arabia’ exhibition. [Accessed Nov 23rd 2013]: https://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/art/inside-louvre-abu-dhabi-s-new-roads-of-arabia-exhibition-1.789222

[8] Shatha Abu-Khafajah, ‘They are hiding it…Why do they hide it? From whom, and for whom?’ Community Heritage at Work in the Post-Colonial Context of Jordan’ in Suzie Thomas and Joanne Lea, (Eds.) Public Participation in Archaeology (The Boydell Press: 2014).

[9] World Monuments Fund, ‘Qusayr Amra’. [Accessed 23rd November 2018] https://www.wmf.org/project/qusayr-amra

Jessica Holland is ACOR’s Project Archivist from August 2018 – December 2018.

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