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Member of the Month – Jacke Phillips

August 28, 2015

It’s all been very hectic here at HARN towers – conference on Tuesday, EAA beginning on Wednesday, our session on the Saturday (Clusters of knowledge production: conversation and creation of knowledge in archaeology) – so it’s particularly lovely that Jacke has sent her member of the month profile and I can kick back with a cup of tea and read her brilliant piece. Before I do that let me remind you the HARN conference is on Tuesday, do come along and if you can’t make it keep a look out here and on Twitter, I’m sure we’ll have masses of interesting material to post.

And now . . .  drum roll . . . I’ll hand you over to Jacke:

I’m usually beset with paralysis when I try to explain what I do in less than ten minutes of fast talking. My research is and has been (probably excessively) wide-ranging. I used to say I focus on ‘Egypt outside Egypt’ but that no longer covers it and I just say ‘connections’ instead. I started with Bronze Age Greece and Ancient Egypt (and still work on it) then emigrated southeast into both Ethiopia and Sudan where my work now encompasses just about every period in both countries. I’ve had a long-standing personal project looking at the Egyptian and ‘egyptianising’ material from the Bronze Age mainland Greece that seems to be stalled at the moment despite occasional toe-dipping in my spare time. Why? I’m currently working on three sites in the Sudan, one Napatan and Christian, the post-Meroitic material from another, and the third an Ottoman port site on the Red Sea coast, together with an Aksumite and ‘Mediaeval’ site and an all-encompassing survey in Ethiopia – most of them providing fragments of an income to keep me going financially. Even then I am expanding my horizons. The Ottoman port has me gazing as far as China and Scotland with the imports found there, and we are now developing a project to investigate this aspect in more detail. It has also had me looking at extended Muslim and Christian pilgrimage and trade connections and our site’s role in it. I’m particularly interested in cultural interaction and assimilation (‘connections’), and this led me to two further aspects, travel and early exploration.

Travel interests led me to join a wonderful organisation very similar to HARN called ASTENE ( that focuses on travelers (for whatever reason) in Egypt and the Near East as well as their surrounding countries. Although every era is included, in practice members’ interests focus on the 18th through early 20th centuries. This includes archaeologists, and I have focused on certain ‘fish out of water’ individuals beyond their own comfort zones, and the modern histories of certain ancient artefacts from countries where I work myself. I began with John Pendlebury, whose fieldwork alternated between Crete and at Amarna in Egypt, and whose groundbreaking book Aegyptiaca (1930) was the catalyst for my Ph.D thesis. But one of the most interesting tales is a pair of brief incidents in Flinders Petrie’s career. A browse through Peggy Drower’s biography led me to research his ventures into Palestine and Greece in the early 1890s, only a decade after he began working in Egypt. They actually were of little importance to himself but crucially important for the early development of archaeology in both regions.

Head-hunted by the Palestine Exploration Fund to excavate at Tell el-Hesi (then thought to be Biblical Lachish), he spent 16 very frustrating weeks battling authorities and his concession working conditions, workmen and inspector. He wasn’t used to dealing with the many stratified layers he encountered in the main gully running through the site, but he dated them by their excavated Egyptian finds and worked out a ceramic chronology on that basis. It is generally acknowledged as the first scientific excavation in the ‘Holy Land.’ He himself then returned to Egypt, but trained Frederick Bliss in his fundamental methodologies to continue his work at Hesi for another four seasons. Bliss rightly is credited with laying the foundations for Palestinian archaeology, and is called its ‘Father’.

Petrie’s work in Bronze Age Greek archaeology was even more decisive, although it did not involve actual fieldwork there. The first of two articles he submitted to the Journal of Hellenic Studies, provocatively entitled ‘The Egyptian Bases of Greek History’ (1890) proposed and factually argued specific dates for its pottery based on those he excavated at Kahun and Gurob through associated Egyptian pottery ‘at home’ in Egypt, much like in Palestine. He in fact introduced and defined the term ‘Aegean’ for Bronze Age Greek pottery. The following year he visited Greece for 19 days, staying at the British School and seeing Schliemann’s Mycenaean treasures in Athens, and visiting Mycenae, Tiryns and Menidi. His observations (of an ‘outsider looking on’) resulted in a second JHS article (1891), written in Athens, evaluating what he had observed and arguing for developmental typologies in Mycenaean architecture and artefacts by employing his knowledge of Egyptian material. Back in London, he spent nine months embroiled in a long, complicated and exhaustive public debate with the influential Classicist Cecil Torr, who profoundly (and at considerable length) disagreed with his ‘deductions by pottery’ and his conclusions. Each believed with absolute conviction that he was right – yet ironically both were wrong, but Petrie only because he found a crucial piece of evidence a few years later that clarified his argument. The overall effect on Classical scholars in Britain was substantial, especially for the Aegean archaeology. John Myers used Petrie’s relative dating for the Kamares cave pottery (igniting another debate with Torr), Arthur Evans purchased entire tomb groups with Aegean finds for the Ashmolean Museum and later used Egyptian finds from his first season at Knossos to date its stratigraphy. Moving even farther afield, Archibald Sayce used the Aegean pottery of types Petrie recovered in Egypt to date his associated Hittite material.

Petrie himself returned to Egypt, and continued to work there exclusively until 1926, when he returned to Palestine. I’ve become convinced that his two early excursions outside Egypt also influenced his own research in Egypt. He had put so much thought and energy into relating Egyptian material and dates to other civilisations and defending his ‘deductions by pottery’ to non-Egyptologists that his work in Greece and Palestine forms the visible genesis of his famous ‘Sequence Dating’ method of putting into tangible order the Predynastic pottery and other artefacts he recovered at Diospolis Parva (1900). With this volume, he introduced a ‘battleship curve’ framework for the cultural development of Egyptian prehistory that is the basis of its chronology in use today.

I’ve also investigated other early archaeologists and traced modern histories and influences of certain ancient artefacts, but Petrie’s largely forgotten yet highly influential contributions to the early archaeology of regions beyond his own remains a trumpet worth blowing. That seems to me what HARN was founded to do.

Thank you Jacke

Have a great weekend everyone,


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