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Palestine Exploration Fund

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Title: Palestine Exploration Fund  
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Subject: Al-Majdal, Tiberias, Sharafat, East Jerusalem, Samaritans, Beitunia, Tabsur
Collection: 1865 Establishments, Archaeology of Israel, British Archaeologists, History of Palestine, Organizations Established in 1865
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Palestine Exploration Fund

Rock used by the PEF to mark the level of the Dead Sea in the beginning of the 20th century

The Palestine Exploration Fund is a British society often simply known as the PEF. It was founded in 1865 and is still functioning today. Its initial object was to carry out surveys of the topography and ethnography of Ottoman Palestine with a remit that fell somewhere between an expeditionary survey and military intelligence gathering.[1] Consequently, it had a complex relationship with Corps of Royal Engineers,[2] and its members sent back reports on the need to salvage and modernize the region.[3]


  • History 1
    • Early projects 1.1
  • PEF today 2
  • See also 3
  • Further reading 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6
  • Bibliography 7


The beginnings of the Palestine Exploration Fund are rooted in a literary society founded by British Consul James Finn and his wife Elizabeth Anne Finn.[4] Many photographs of Palestine have survived from this period

On 22 June 1865, a group of Royal College of Music and was responsible for Grove's Dictionary of Music. Its founders established the Fund "for the purpose of investigating the Archaeology, Geography, manners, customs and culture, Geology and Natural History of the Holy Land."[5]

The preliminary meeting of the Society of the Palestine Exploration Fund took place in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey. William Thompson, the Archbishop of York, read out the original prospectus at the first organisational meeting;
[O]ur object is strictly an inductive inquiry. We are not to be a religious society; we are not about to launch controversy; we are about to apply the rules of science, which are so well understood by us in our branches, to an investigation into the facts concerning the Holy Land. "No country should be of so much interest to us as that in which the documents of our Faith were written, and the momentous events they describe enacted. At the same time no country more urgently requires illustration ... Even to a casual traveller in the Holy Land the Bible becomes, in its form, and therefore to some extent in its substance, a new book. Much would be gained by ...bringing to light the remains of so many races and generations which must lie concealed under the accumulation of rubbish and ruins on which those villages stand ...[1][5]

The PEF conducted many early excavations of biblical and post biblical sites around the Levant, as well as studies involving natural history, anthropology, history and geography.

In 1875, the Earl of Shaftesbury, a prominent social reformer, told the Annual General Meeting of the PEF that "We have there a land teeming with fertility and rich in history, but almost without an inhabitant — a country without a people, and look! scattered over the world, a people without a country". It was one of the earliest usage by a prominent politician of a phrase which was to be come widely used by advocates of Jewish settlement in Palestine.[6]

In 1878, the Treasurer's statement listed over 130 local associations in the United Kingdom, (including Ireland). There were also branches in Canada and Australia as well as Gaza and Jerusalem. Expediture in 1877 amounted to £2,959 14s 11d.[7]

Among other noteworthy individuals associated with the fund were:

Early projects

  • Excavations in Jerusalem (1867–1870); conducted by Charles Warren and Henry Birtles
  • The Survey of Western Palestine (1872–1877); The majority of the work of the survey was carried out by men from the Royal Engineers. Originally the survey was led by a Captain Stewart but he was forced home due to ill health. He was replaced by Major Wilson with Lieutenant Condor. Following the death of Tyrwhitt Drake from malaria Lieutenant Kitchener joined the group. The survey was suspended for 15 months following an incident in July 1875 when its members were attacked near Safad. The work around Beersheba was delayed due to fighting amongst the bedouin. Besides being a geographic survey the group collected thousands of place names with the objective of identifying Biblical, Talmudic, early Christian and Crusading locations. The survey resulted in the publication of a map of Palestine consisting of 26 sheets, at a scale of 1:63,360, the most detailed and accurate map of Palestine published in the 19th century.[8]
  • The Ordnance Survey of Sinai (1872); undertaken by Edward Palmer.
  • Excavations at Tell el-Hesi (1890–1893); under the direction of Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, and Frederick J. Bliss.
  • Excavations resumed at Jerusalem (1890); led by F. Bliss, focussing on the southern edge of Mount Zion round to the Pool of Siloam.
  • Excavations at Gezer (1902-1908); led by R. A. Stewart Macalister.
  • Excavation at Beth-Shemesh (1911); led by Duncan Mackenzie.
  • The Wilderness of Zin Archaeological Survey (1913–1914); conducted by Sir Leonard Woolley and T.E. Lawrence.
  • Excavation at Ashkelon (1920s); led by John Garstang.
  • Excavation of paleolithic site on the Mount Carmel (1925); led by Dorothy Garrod.
  • Excavations south of Gaza and at Beth Pelet (1929-1933); led by Petrie.
  • Excavation at Samaria (1931-1933); led by John W. Crowfoot with Harvard and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
  • Excavation at Tel el-Duweir (1934-1938); led by James Leslie Starkey until his murder in 1938. Finds included some of the earliest examples of Hebrew written on over twenty ostraca.

The Palestine Exploration Fund was also involved in the foundation of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem in 1919. The School worked with the Fund in joint excavations at Jerusalem's Ophel in the 1920s. The School's second Director, John Winter Crowfoot, was Chairman of the PEF from 1945 to 1950.[9]

PEF today

Today the fund's office is located at 2 Hinde Mews, W1U 2AA, off Jason Court and Marylebone Lane north of Wigmore Street in the Marylebone section of the City of Westminster, London. It holds regular events and lectures and provides annual grants for various projects. The PEF's offices also house collections of photographs, pictures, maps and various antiquities. The journal of the PEF devoted to the study of the history, archaeology and geography of the Levant is Palestine Exploration Quarterly which has appeared since 1869 (as Quarterly Statement up to 1937). There are currently three volumes published each year.

See also

Further reading

  • Gibson, S. 1999. British Archaeological Institutions in Mandatory Palestine, 1917-1948. Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 131, 115-143.
  • Moscrop, J. J. 1999. Measuring Jerusalem: The Palestine Exploration Fund and British Interests in the Holy Land. London: Leicester University Press.
  • Levin, N. 2006. The Palestine exploration fund map (1871–1877) of the holy land as a tool for analysing landscape changes: the coastal dunes of Israel as a case study. The Cartographic Journal, 43(1), 45-67.


  1. ^ a b Kathleen Stewart Howe, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, St. Louis Art Museum (1997) Revealing the Holy Land: the photographic exploration of Palestine University of California Press, ISBN 0-89951-095-7 p 37
  2. ^ a b Joan M. Schwartz, James R. Ryan (2003) Picturing Place: Photography and the Geographical Imagination I.B.Tauris, ISBN 1-86064-752-9, p 226
  3. ^ Ilan Pappé (2004) A history of modern Palestine: one land, two peoples Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-55632-5 pp 34-35
  4. ^ Reminiscences of Mrs. Finn. London. Marshall, Morgan,& Scott. 1929. p. 252.
  5. ^ a b Shehadeh, 2007, p. 46.
  6. ^ Palestine Exploration Fund (1875). Quarterly Statement for 1875. London. p. 116. 
  7. ^ Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement. April, 1878. p.102; Treasurer's Report pp.28-31.
  8. ^ Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement. January, 1878. pp.6,12.
  9. ^ Palestine Exploration Fund, n. d. John Winter Crowfoot, 1873-1959. Available from:

External links

  • Palestine Exploration Fund - official web site
  • Palestine Exploration Quarterly
  • The Survey of Western Palestine map, 1880, web interface and downloadable MrSID file, from David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.
  • Quarterly Statement, volumes 1-40 (1870-1908) with omissions, from the Internet Archive.
  • Definition, from PEF website
  • American Palestine Exploration Society was inspired by the Palestine Exploration Fund, and organized in New York in 1870
  • Condor, Claude Reignier, Horatio Herbert Kitchener Kitchener, Edward Henry Palmer, and Walter Besant. The Survey of Western and Eastern Palestine. London: The Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1881-1889

Survey of Western Palestine

  • Volume 1 Introduction
  • Volume 2 Galilee
  • Volume 3 Samaria
  • Volume 4 Judaea
  • Volume 5 Jerusalem
  • Volume 6 Flora & Fauna
  • Volume 7 Memoir on the Physical Geology and Geography
  • Volume 8 Special Papers
  • Volume 9 Arabic and English Name Lists
  • Volume 10 General Index

Survey of Eastern Palestine

  • Volume 1 Memoirs


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