History of the BSAJ

The British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem (BSAJ) was founded in 1919 by Robert Mond, who became its first Treasurer, following the establishment of the British Mandate in Palestine. The School’s first Director was Professor John Garstang and its UK offices were at the Palestine Exploration Fund at 2 Hinde St, London; indeed the School and the Fund remained closely linked for the next 50 years. Professor Garstang was also appointed Director of the new Palestine Department of Antiquities in July 1920, and held the joint appointment for some years. The School was initially intended as a training ground for the department, and following a process of familiarization and survey in Palestine by its staff, the first excavations were undertaken at Harbaj, Amr and Kussis in 1922 and the results recorded in the pages of the new Bulletin of the BSAJ. The Assistant Director of the School, W.J. Phythian-Adams, also directed the excavations of the Palestine Exploration Fund at Ascalon, (Ashkelon), and was responsible for the organization of the Palestine Museum. By 1924 the School was running classes in excavation training and what today would be described as seminars on excavation method, which were attended by representatives of the American School and the Ecole Biblique, with whom there existed close relations. By 1923 the work of the School was extended to Dor on the Mediterranean coast, and to Amman in Transjordan.

During this time the library was greatly improved by the gift of his books by Phythian-Adams, and the School also benefited from the financial support of Robert Mond. In 1924, K.A.C. Creswell's work on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem was published by the School. Also in 1924 Horsfield began work at the Amman citadel building, and the following year at Jarash; John Crowfoot also excavated at Jarash between 1928 and 1930. Robert Hamilton, who joined the Department of Antiquities in 1931 and became its Director in 1938, first came to Palestine under the aegis of the School and participated in Crowfoot's excavations at Jarash. Crowfoot went on to direct the Joint Expedition to Samaria from 1931-1935.

Kathleen Kenyon on excavation in JerusalemIn 1952, after the hiatus of World War II, Kathleen Kenyon re-established the School as an educational charity in receipt of grant-aid from the British Academy and it was the principal sponsor of her excavations at Jericho (1952-1958). In 1957 Kenyon re-established School premises in the Husseini Building in East Jerusalem and during the summer it was the base for her major excavations in Jerusalem (1961-1967). A small hostel, a secretary/librarian, annual students (British and Commonwealth) and eventually a director were appointed. The library, which had been cared for in the American School, was reinstated in the new building. In 1967 the School moved to the current premises in Sheikh Jarrah, the former home of the British Consul in East Jerusalem. Many excavations were conducted in the region during these years, including those at Iskander, Petra, Beidha, Umm el-Biyara, Samaria, Tarabi, Ghassul, Iktanu and Amman. In 1968 the School began a major project to survey the surviving Mamluk buildings in Jerusalem, which was later continued by surveys of Ottoman Jerusalem and Crusader and Islamic Palestine.

The School had always sponsored projects elsewhere in the region, but this became increasingly difficult after 1967. In 1968 two truckloads of excavation and camp equipment were moved from the BSAJ east of the Jordan and in 1975 Crystal Bennet, the Director of the BSAJ, set up the (as yet unofficial) British Institute of Archaeology in Amman. Crystal Bennet remained the director of the BSAJ as well as directing the Amman Institute and, with the permission of the British Academy, divided her time between the two. In 1978, the British Academy recognized the Amman Institute and gave it full status as an Academy research body and a grant-in-aid, renaming it the British Institute at Amman for Archaeology and History (BIAAH). Crystal Bennet, who had retired from the BSAJ, became its full-time director.

Twenty years later, following a review of its research centres abroad in 1998, the British Academy decided that British research in the areas formerly in the BSAJ's remit should be managed by CBRL.

If you are interested in knowing more about the projects conducted by the BSAJ and the location of the archives and persons responsible for publication, please click here.

Further reading on the history of the BSAJ:

Auld, A.G. 1993. The British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, pp. 23-26 in A. Biran and J. Aviram (eds) Biblical Archaeology Today, 1990. Proceedings of the Second International Congress on Biblical Archaeology, Jerusalem

Davies, G.I. 1988. British Archaeologists, pp. 37-62 in J.F. Drinkard, G.L. Mattingly and J.M. Miller (eds) Benchmarks in Time and Culture: An introduction to Palestinian Archaeology, Atlanta

Gibson, S. 1999. British Archaeological Institutions in Mandatory Palestine, 1917-1948 Palestine Exploration Quarterly 131, 115-143

For details on the activities of the CBRL, see: the CBRL Bulletins